Why would anybody want to attend group therapy? Understanding mental health treatment. Part 3: Group therapy

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We have arrived at part 3 of the series on understanding all the different types of therapy! This article will provide insight into the world of group therapy. This is usually a less intense and less personalized version of individual therapy where people are generally stable enough to return home after session and can be seen with less frequency. If you are at this level of treatment and are able to maintain progress, then you should feel pretty good about that because you doing relatively well! I will talk about what you can expect as well as some of the pros and cons.

What is the purpose of group therapy? Generally speaking, people are resistant to group. I can totally understand that! There is nothing quite as inorganic in life as group therapy. First of all, you are in a group filled with people you do not know with the common ground of a problem you do not want to really expose or share. Then you are sitting in a semi-large circle staring at each other while a facilitator is leading discussion. It can be very weird at first! So what are the benefits of group? One of the biggest benefits of group is that you get an opportunity to be with people who understand your struggles on a personal level because that is why they are there too. There is something powerful and reassuring to know that you are not alone with your challenges. You form a special kind of support and community that can be found nowhere else quite like group. Another big benefit to group is that it sets up an environment to practice certain skills and interactions that cannot be simulated in individual therapy. For example, if someone has challenges making new friends with their peers at school, it would be much more beneficial for a teen to be a part of a teen group rather than talk about ways to interact with peers with an adult therapist. Clearly it is just not the same! A teen may speak eloquently and confidently in front of me, but that does not mean it will translate over to interactions with people his or her age. This is often true with family situations where the relational system needs to be examined and modified. Lastly, in some cases group therapy is offered more frequently so one can engage in treatment and learn more quickly compared to less frequent sessions with their individual therapist.

There are two kinds of groups that you may want to be aware: 1) Skills-based groups and 2) Progress-based groups. Skills-based groups as the name implies focuses on learning skills that you can use to better manage your life. These skills may include coping strategies, social skills, communication skills, managing symptoms of different disorders (e.g., PTSD, Depression, Anxiety), and a wide variety of other topics. There is usually very little sharing required about your personal situation and more about learning the skills. The hope is that you can take the newly learned skills and work with your individual therapist on how to implement them into your personal situation. Process-based groups is much more about sharing personal experiences and talking through challenges so that there is a deeper understanding of the problems as well as collaborative ways to solve them. A certain level of vulnerability is required to benefit from process-based groups but the reward can be so much richer in getting the emotional support you need. If you are ever wondering about the nature of any group, I would recommend contacting the therapist and asking if it is a primarily a skills-based or process-based group!

The time frame for group therapy can range from multiple times a week to once every two weeks or month. There are so many possibilities with the groups in terms of topic and style. Some examples of groups offered here in Kaiser Permanente include social skills group, depression group, happiness group, adults affected by childhood sexual abuse group, work stress group, parenting skills group, middle school boys group, anger management group, etc. Most clinics or centers that have groups will only be able to have a select number of topics depending on how many staff members are able to lead these groups.

Just like there are benefits to group therapy, there are also some inherent drawbacks. One potential drawback is that the group may sometimes feel irrelevant. Many times with skills-based groups, there is a teaching curriculum that the therapist follows to cover all the necessary topics. I remember one teen telling me that his main issue was anxiety but the group topic that day was about anger management which was not a relevant topic for him. Another common complaint is that the group feels less personal and there isn’t enough time to share. Depending on how large the group may be or how much content the facilitators want to cover, an individual may feel like there is very little time to process or share his or her thoughts. Many times facilitators give an opportunity to do a check-in update with every group member. That may not be enough for you which is where individual therapy can fill in some of those gaps. There are also incidences where you may not get along with a group member or simply feel like an outsider. That can make it challenging to share personal information.

In conclusion, I believe group therapy can be very beneficial and powerful for people’s treatment and personal growth. Group therapy is often adjunct and supplemental to individual therapy rather than something that takes place of individual therapy. I also believe that group therapy is not for everyone as well. I would recommend giving group therapy a chance by attending at least two times with an open mind before deciding whether or not to continue. At the end of the day, do what is healthy and moves you forward in life. For more entries like this, please visit me on my blog.