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What Is Group Therapy?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy conducted by psychiatrists, psychologists and licensed counselors. Rather than participating in a one on one psychotherapy session, the main dynamic of group therapy is that you will be interacting with a number of people at the same time who may be facing similar issues to the ones you face. Numbers of participants in a therapy group range from about six to ten or twelve members, and depending upon the type of group, number of attendants may fluctuate.

In the US and the UK, the idea of trying group therapy and developing a way to practice this form of psychotherapy evolved at approximately the same time, right after World War II. In mental institutions, the practice had been fairly common, and practitioners involved in group therapy’s evolution noted that many people benefited from the group experience. This type of therapy was also a means for some patients to save money. A therapist working with a group could afford to charge each person less.

Group therapy may be issue based, where each person participating is working out a particularly difficult issue. There are groups that focus on panic disorder, bipolar, living with depression, divorce, parenting ill children and many others, and sometimes the group is composed of people whom a therapist handpicks. The group may be made up of people who are working on enhancing life skills but who may not have a specific challenge or an issue in common. The reason the therapist is directly influenced in choice is because the goal is to create a group environment of people who will fit well together. Issue specific groups may mean anyone can join without prior therapist approval, though a therapist can ask someone who is disruptive to the group to leave.

Two types of group therapy have become popular. One is called time-limited and the other continuous. Time-limited groups have a defined number of sessions, with all members beginning and ending the sessions together. Continuous groups can go on for years, with members joining or leaving at any time.

Some of the benefits of group therapy include helping each participant realize the universality of his or her condition. Other people may be facing the same challenges, fears or struggles, which often helps group participants feel less isolated. People have the opportunity to help each other in groups, and these acts of altruism may lift spirits. Another element experienced by many is that hearing other people discuss their issues can be cathartic, providing a means to express emotions more freely as other people recount their stories.

A few people cite disadvantages of group psychotherapy. Though other people are asked to keep communications in this form of therapy private, only the therapist is bound by law to keep group therapy confidential. Some people may fear disclosure of personal details, or they may in general have a difficult time talking about their problems with a large group of people. Group dynamics can also be positive or negative. One or two people who monopolize most of the time without much intervention from the therapist leading the group may make the group a less positive experience for other participants. If group therapy is not for you a psychiatric service animal might be a good place to start. You might be able to qualify a pet with a legitimate ESA letter.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By mutsy — On Nov 22, 2010

Oasis11- Self esteem group therapy often involves changing the participants’ feelings toward themselves.

The thoughts that they have are powerful, but the feelings are even more powerful and can be directed elsewhere in order to improve one’s self esteem.

When we are young we are most at risk of having lower self esteem because we have not yet developed a databank that stores positive accomplishments.

It is our recall of positive accomplishments when we are feeling unworthy that helps us change our feelings to enhance our self esteem.

This is very effective in an adolescent group therapy programs because they are at the highest risks of having low self esteem.

A group therapy topic might involve discussing the journal entry that included disclosing three significant achievements and discussing them at length.

By having the participants retrieve these esteem building memories from the participant’s past they start creating building blocks that lead to higher self esteem.

By oasis11 — On Nov 22, 2010

Suntan12- I agree. It is very difficult to truly understand the loss of a loved one until you have experienced yourself.

Losing my mother at age 30 was difficult, but over time I was able to manage the pain better because the pain really never goes away.

This is why a group therapy program for people suffering from grief can be really beneficial.

I know that there a lot of group therapy models out there. The Adlerian group therapy method espouses that people really believe that they are somewhat inferior and strive to overcome this in other areas to compensate.

The idea is that people become aware of others ability early on as children and the neurotic feelings develop in order to protect our self esteem from further deterioration.

Aldrien group therapy is really beneficial for those people who suffer from an inferiority complex that can not control their emotions. This also a great method for group therapy with adolescents.

By suntan12 — On Nov 22, 2010

Sneakers41- I just wanted to say that a group therapy program might involve bereavement in which all of the members suffered the loss of a loved one.

The therapist might offer a homework assignment to the members of the group to read a particular book, or engage in a journal writing exercise at home in which they write a letter to the deceased in order to heal unfinished conflicts.

Sometimes the therapist may ask the participant to share the feelings of the letter with the group so that the group can learn that others are suffering as well and to offer support to the person that opens up in that fashion.

Talking about feelings in the open with people who have experienced a similar trauma may be the only way that these people might learn to manage their grief.

By sneakers41 — On Nov 22, 2010

A group therapy program focuses on the needs to the group. The insecurities or difficulties that a group experiences is discussed in a group format by the psychotherapist.

This ensures that all of the participants benefit. The group therapy topic is carefully chosen by the therapist in order to engage the participants to offer their individual insight on the issue

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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