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What is Group Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

By T. Carrier
Updated May 17, 2024
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Group cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy used worldwide. It is based upon the principles of behaviorism and cognitive psychology. The method combines aspects of three different therapeutic types: cognitive therapy, behavioral therapy, and group therapy.

The theory that states that thought processes influence how individuals feel, and thus how they act, is called cognitive behavioral theory. According to this theory, negative thoughts produce stress, which in turn causes individuals to act out in ways which are harmful to themselves or others. When people perform damaging behaviors, they induce stress, and are thus reinforcing negative thoughts and sustaining the cycle.

Attempts to correct maladaptive thinking styles constitute cognitive restructuring techniques, and such techniques lie at the heart of most cognitive treatments. In addition, the role of core belief systems through which individuals evaluate the world — known as schemas — are also evaluated. Other important focuses of cognitive therapies include evaluating how a patient’s brain stores information, how he or she patterns behavior after others, and motivation. Cognitive therapy teaches patients to question and invalidate negative thinking patterns while replacing those patterns with more positive thought processes.

The second component of cognitive behavioral theories and therapies is behaviorism, which focuses on how individuals react in response to certain stimuli. Behaviorists seek to study and sometimes manipulate these reactions by introducing other factors such as reward or punishment systems. Behavior therapies typically focus on weakening the connections between negative stimuli and negative reactions.

Group therapy involves more than the two individuals — therapist and patient — prevalent in traditional therapy. The sessions may be supervised and led by multiple licensed therapists and assistants. Three or more patients gather for therapy meetings, and these patients are treated as a group. Interaction with individuals facing similar issues is believed to be a strong benefit of group therapies. Support, empathy, sharing of coping skills, catharsis, and improved interpersional communications can all result from group therapy sessions.

In group cognitive behavioral therapy, typical sessions occur on a weekly basis, and an entire program can be completed in just under twenty sessions. Each session concentrates on achieving a specific goal, and these goals are dependent upon the addressed condition. For example, in a form of cognitive behavioral therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder, the patients are forced to confront different sources of anxiety without resorting to ritualistic behaviors. Eventually the patients should come to realize that the absence of the compulsive actions does not result in negative consequences. In essence, the behaviors are halted and therefore the cycle-maintaining thoughts are extinguished.

Since individual and group cognitive behavioral therapy strongly advocates education and learning, patients are included in treatment planning goals as much as possible. When patients begin actual therapy, frequent homework assignments are given so that the patients may learn to apply techniques in a real world setting. In addition, patients are asked to monitor progress by filling out charts and questionnaires. Such therapy may supplement or sometimes replace prescribed drugs like anxiety medication.

A critical aim of group cognitive behavioral exercises is to teach individuals how to approach thoughts and apply behaviors in a calm, reflective, and rational manner. Group cognitive behavioral therapy has proven beneficial to many types of psychological issues. Success stories include treatment of depression, anxiety disorders, and alcohol and substance abuse.

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