What’s So Great About Group Therapy, Anyway?

group therapyI was at a party chatting with a stranger when he asked me what sort of work I do. I told him I am a marriage and family therapist who specializes in group therapy. “Group therapy!” he said. “I thought that went away after the ’60s.”

I’m happy to report that group therapy did not, in fact, go away in the 1960s. However, many people, like the guy at the party, don’t realize that group therapy exists as a powerful therapeutic option to consider instead of, or in addition to, individual therapy.

People may dismiss group therapy because it’s a therapeutic approach more often utilized in hospitals and treatment centers than in private practices. It can be difficult to find private practice therapists who run groups. Sometimes, it requires a lot of research and phone calls to find a group. However, plenty of therapists do run groups in their private practices, and this unique experience is worth the effort it might take to find it.

So, what’s so special about group therapy?

  • It provides community and connection. Challenges tend to be harder when there is no one to share them with. In group therapy, individuals find relief through sharing their thoughts and feelings. Personal sharing creates connection and emotional support.
  • It’s an opportunity to learn from others. In group therapy, members learn from the other members. They see others successfully coping with depression; hear multiple perspectives on problems; observe others take emotional risks and be rewarded; and discover things about themselves by seeing those things in someone else. For example, seeing a fellow group member judging themselves can help a person understand the injustice and cruelty of his or her own self-criticism.
  • It can bring about shame reduction. Receiving acceptance and understanding from fellow group members about something that feels shameful and uncomfortable may reduce shame and promote self-growth.
  • It cultivates honest input from multiple sources. Defense mechanisms prevent people from receiving the insight they seek from therapy. Defenses ignore what a therapist might say because that’s just one person’s opinion, but when a group of people say the same thing, it’s not so easy to ignore. Helpful input breaks through the defenses, increases insight, and facilitates therapeutic change.
  • It’s a safe space for interpersonal learning. One of the greatest benefits of group therapy is interpersonal learning. In individual therapy, people talk about their relationships; in group therapy, people engage in relationships with the other members of the group. If a person is very passive in his or her relationships—never asking for things, never saying “no”—he or she is likely to be passive in relationships with the other group members. Whatever a person’s relationship style, it will eventually be reenacted in the group. This reenactment allows all parties to become aware of this relationship dynamic. Once a person is aware of his or her typical way of interacting with others, the group provides a safe laboratory in which the person can try behaving differently. Standing up for oneself, setting boundaries, and expressing intimate feelings are the types of healthy relationship behaviors that can be developed in group therapy.
  • It’s generally a more affordable option. Although cost varies from setting to setting and from therapist to therapist, group therapy rates tend to be more affordable—in some cases, roughly half the cost of individual therapy. This allows people to stay in therapy longer than their financial situation might otherwise allow them to.

No, group therapy is not dead. All around the country, people are gathering in groups to be more truthful, more engaged in relationships, and more open to insight than they are the rest of the time. Group therapy is very much alive! Are you ready to give it a try?

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Rena Pollak, LMFT, CGP, therapist in Encino, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 8 comments
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  • Olivia

    Olivia

    October 13th, 2015 at 10:21 AM

    Personally I like to view it as a way to see maybe the same scenario from differing points of view. You may go in with your eyes really opened to how someone else could feel about the same exact thing that you are going through and yet they have an entirely different experience with it.

  • gordo

    gordo

    October 13th, 2015 at 3:27 PM

    In a group where everyone else has been there and done that too, there will always be those people who will call you out on your bs and some of us need that sometimes! It’s a little “constructive feedback” if you will that you might not get any other way.

  • frannie

    frannie

    October 14th, 2015 at 10:56 AM

    It’s definitely more affordable and there are some groups that may only ask for donations instead of an actual copay that you are responsible for. All in all I think that there are some really great therapy options that are available no matter what your price point happens to be. And if it happens to be free, then there are chances to have that as well. I just don’t think that in today’s world when there are so many resources available that it always has to be about the fact that you don’t have any money. Heck if that’s the case there are tons of informational sites available online that could at least help you get started.

  • Vikki

    Vikki

    October 15th, 2015 at 10:21 AM

    I haven’t ever been in therapy but I am not too sure that I would like sharing all of my secrets with a bunch of strangers. I know that talking to a therapist one on one would still be a little like that, but that is only one person, not a whole bunch of people. I think that I would feel judged.

  • Bob

    Bob

    October 16th, 2015 at 11:10 AM

    Well I am sure that even after just one session you could possibly feel a whole lot better about yourself!

  • Cassandra

    Cassandra

    October 17th, 2015 at 10:31 AM

    I can’t speak for others but I do know that for me this has been a real lifeline to normalcy. It is so nice meeting with others once or twice a week who assure me that the things that I am feeling are completely normal and that I can get through this. It is nice to always have someone there to support you and for me this is what my therapy group is. I know that my family needs me and loves me, but these are the people who GET me.

  • bobbie

    bobbie

    October 19th, 2015 at 11:22 AM

    I could go and be an active listener but I think that it might probably take me a while to feel comfortable enough in that setting to share my own story.

  • Wilkie

    Wilkie

    October 20th, 2015 at 2:45 PM

    you will find “your people” there

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