What Exactly is Group Therapy? Could it Work for Me?
You’ve likely seen many offerings during your time searching for a therapist, or even during your recovery journey, surrounding groups. There are many types of groups used in the therapeutic process, and they all hold their unique advantages when it comes to supporting folks in recovery. Groups are a form of psychotherapy and can be a standalone treatment or used to supplement your existing treatment with your own personal therapist. Groups are typically focused on certain topics such as depression, anxiety, grief, trauma, or substance use, but they can also center around particular modalities like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Seeking Safety, and many others.
I typically hold groups that combine psychoeducation (which basically means learning more about issues related to mental health and emotional wellbeing), skill-building, and peer support so that each member can get the most out of the experience. I’ve facilitated groups since my start as a therapist, and I’ve heard many concerns folks have about stepping into the group setting.
Group isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay! It’s my hope that you glean something from this post that supports you in determining whether or not you would like to give it a shot. It’s important to note that my particular approach in combining types of groups is not the standard. Some groups focus on psychoeducation, which means they are aimed at educating you on a particular topic, supporting awareness of how these topics relate to your personal life, and help you develop coping skills related to the chosen area. There are also groups, such as DBT groups, which are focused on skill-building. They may use handouts to provide information on particular skills, then ask you to experiment with said skill outside of the session. They help fill your toolkit with handy tools to pull out and use when needed. There are also groups that focus on general support. They bring folks together in a safe space where they can share their stories and have a sense of fellowship during difficult times. It’s probably true that most groups mix these to a certain extent, but you may find that some focus on certain areas more than others. You can experiment with different types to know exactly what kind of support you’re seeking when you reach out for more information on offerings.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF GROUP THERAPY?
Group can be an affordable alternative to individual therapy. Most providers charge less for a single group therapy session than individual sessions as there are multiple people present.
You can learn and grow during each session, even if you don’t talk! Many of my clients have shared that listening to someone with similar experiences helps to instill hope and introduces new ways of coping that they didn’t consider before.
Group shows you that you are not alone. There are many situations that create a sense of isolation and leave us believing that no one else could possibly understand. We often feel like our experiences are so unique that we can’t connect with another person. This is true to a certain extent. Our experiences and associated pain are unique to us, but there are also people out there in similar situations. You’d be surprised just how much you can find connection with these folks. You may also hear reflections shared by others that give you some insight into your own patterns of behaviors, thought processes, or emotional experiences, and you can use this to conduct your own self-exploration.
The group setting allows you to work on social and interpersonal skills. Since your therapy session is shared by others, you will learn how to share the space and communicate with others in a respectful manner. If you are someone who struggles with relationships, the group space can be perfect for introducing you to healthy relationships. This is done through the development of the therapeutic relationship with your therapist and fellow group members. You will engage in icebreakers to learn about the people in the setting with you. Your therapist will expect healthy interactions, communication, and boundaries between members, and time can be allotted for safe processing if problems arise … And conflict will arise! We are all human after all. We have different beliefs and viewpoints. Those may clash at times with fellow group members, but your group facilitator is tasked with assisting this conflict to a healthy resolution for all. You will even find that you are shown how to effectively end relationships when the group therapy terminates. Even if you are not in a group focused specifically on interpersonal difficulties, group as a whole has these skills implied through your interaction with others. Bonus!
Group can provide you with community resources you are not currently aware of. Even if this is not the group focus, you will often hear helpful resources others use that may help situations seemingly unrelated to your reason for entering therapy. Some examples may be low-cost healthcare clinics, domestic violence shelters, job openings, legal assistance, etc.
DEBUNKING GROUP THERAPY MYTHS:
Group therapy is less effective than individual therapy. This is false! Research has shown that group therapy can be just as effective as individual and, in fact, can actually be more effective in maintaining longer term recovery goals. The reasons stated above show this. You have time to work on yourself and can pick up on areas through the reflections shared around you that you may not get to in individual therapy sessions.
Group therapy means I will be forced to share intimate details about themselves or experiences with strangers. This is also false! Group time is an opportunity to be open and share, but you aren’t forced to. No one has to share their story until they are good and ready. It’s absolutely okay to join a group and be a respectful observer for a few sessions. You’ll likely find that you want to open up and share once your comfort level with the group has increased. If your facilitator attempts to pull you into the discussion, know you can share as much, or as little as you want in that moment. You can also politely request to pass and let the group know you are still processing.
Group therapy won’t allow me the opportunity to address their primary reasons for starting therapy. This is also false! In fact, the more you comfortably open up and share about your experiences and obstacles, the more your facilitator can tailor the group to the needs of each group member. Even if it seems like your situation is different from others, there is likely a similar underlying thread that the facilitator can pick up on so the material they present can relate to you. You can also feel free to ask the group if anyone has ever experienced (insert thing here). I’m sure you’d be surprised at how many “OMG, yes!” you hear in response. This can be a time to connect and explore difficulties with the group, so that everyone benefits from the support and skill-building inspired by your situation.
A FEW MORE POINTS ABOUT GROUP THERAPY:
Group will always be what you make it. This is the same for all therapy. It’s important for you to show up to the sessions, even if you choose to remain silent. You can’t benefit if you’re not present!
Boundaries are important in group therapy. You should respect group guidelines, suggest guidelines you feel are missing, and communicate any concerns regarding boundary violations with the group or your facilitator. Remember, it’s your facilitators job to ensure the group experience is safe and structured. Most welcome your feedback so changes can be made in real time to ensure this is true for all involved.
It’s okay if you try it and decide group isn’t for you. If something isn’t working, you can always approach your facilitator to share this. They will listen to your concerns, collaborate with you to identify solutions, or provide referrals for treatment that will fit your needs better.
Group works even if you have social anxiety! One of the secrets I can share as a group clinician is that most people I assess and screen for group have social anxiety. Your group facilitator may have social anxiety. I know I do! Being in the group setting, even if it’s just for 5-10 minutes, can help that anxiety decrease. This is because you get into the space and realize the perceived danger isn’t really as bad as you thought. In fact, I’ve had a lot of clients with anxiety come in and truthfully admit that they are scared shitless and just want to run out of the room or leave the Zoom call. Every person in the room has always validated that and may provide some helpful tips for ways they cope through that anxiety when they enter group.
Remember, everyone in group is there for a reason. They are all seeking some type of support. Even if some seem like they are in a different stage of their recovery, they are still sitting in the same seat as you. You can learn from and support them in much the same way they can for you. Group therapy is still therapy and can provide you with wonderful benefits if you decide to give it a shot.
I hope this post has answered some questions or addressed concerns you may have about group therapy. Stay tuned for upcoming posts about the therapeutic process and issues related to mental health in upcoming weeks. Until then, take care!
To talk about how you can get started working with a therapist, give Jill a call at 828-407-0243 or send us an email at email@example.com.