Psychotherapy: Understanding group therapy
Group therapy is one of the core practices incorporated within psychotherapy and typically involves 5 to 15 patients who meet regularly in order to overcome mental health challenges. Group therapy is a great way to facilitate strong connections and support networks, which can alleviate much of the pain and frustrations associated with recovery. Group therapy is a highly flexible method that can cater to a variety of mental health challenges, and is designed to focus on specific issues such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, addictions, grief, anger, and loneliness, to name a few. There's no end to what group therapy can do, with its activities clinically proven to increase the quality and standard of life for clients who are facing psychological well-being problems. Individuals can learn from the experiences of one another, with group therapy serving as an effective sounding board to hold individuals accountable for their behaviors, habits, and goals. As an incredibly effective tool, it's important to understand the nuances of how it works so you can better utilize group therapy practices within your service.
Principles of group therapy
According to academics, there are 11 key principles of group therapy, which if integrated effectively, can lead to higher therapeutic outcomes and greater success.
- Instillation of hope: One of the key components of group therapy, is that it works to foster an optimistic environment to boost confidence in the idea that recovery is possible for every participant.
- Universality: Participants are not alone, and many others can relate to their experiences, thoughts, and feelings.
- Imparting information: Group therapy is a place to learn more information, and educate others about the topic at hand.
- Altruism: All participants are present to support and encourage one another.
- The corrective recapitulation of a primary family group: Dysfunctional family or relationship patterns can be identified and reformed into healthy forms.
- Development of socializing techniques: Group therapy is a place to develop social skills, enhance empathy, and promote greater interpersonal relations.
- Imitative behavior: Members are encouraged to practice healthy thought patterns, even if imitative, in order to establish directional goals.
- Interpersonal learning: Group members are encouraged to share their experiences, as others may gain valuable insight from their thoughts and feelings.
- Group cohesiveness: Unity and togetherness are encouraged to create a strong sense of belonging.
- Catharsis: It is encouraged that group members release repressed emotions in order to gain greater understanding, as well as develop more positive outlooks, and relieve stress.
- Existential factors: Group therapy is a place to explore philosophical concepts of death, freedom, and purpose, in order to relate to the fundamental human experience.
Effectiveness of group therapy: Findings
Various research studies and academics have consistently highlighted the clinical effectiveness of group therapy. Multiple researchers have found that group therapy is effective in alleviating the conditions of several mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, and eating disorders, to name a few. Acknowledging this information means you can run successful group therapy sessions more effectively in knowing their worth.
For example, Norwegian researchers Thimm and Antonsen (2013), conducted a study to evaluate the difference in scores of depression diagnostic criteria before and after cognitive behavioral group therapy. With over 143 individuals analyzed from a hospital database, the researchers concluded that the participants experienced a significant reduction in depression symptoms after attending group therapy sessions. Scores within the Beck depression inventory had decreased following repeated group therapy visits.
Iranian researchers (Jabbari et al., 2020) evaluated 24 social anxiety participants and also assessed their anxiety scores following group therapy sessions. 12 of the participants were in a control group who did not receive group therapy treatment, whereas the other 12 received support in numerous sessions. The researchers found that there was a significant reduction in not only social anxiety but also depression symptoms. Specifically, participants' evaluation of self-compassion, external shame, social anxiety, acceptance, and action, as well as difficulty in emotional regulation, found that there was a significant improvement across all facets.
Finally, there's also evidence to suggest that group therapy is highly effective in those with eating disorders. Australian researchers (Byrne et al., 2011) assessed 125 individuals with eating disorders and discovered that cognitive behavioral group therapy contributed to complete or partial remission for individuals with anorexia. This is in addition to promoting significant improvements in eating behaviors, with the group therapy sessions focusing on education, progress review, maintenance of gains, and relapse prevention.
These are just a few studies of thousands that demonstrate the effectiveness of group therapy for those who face mental health challenges and struggles.
Benefits of Group Therapy
There is also an abundance of benefits to group therapy, beyond its practical uses, which include the following.
Provides insight into social skills
Placing clients in a group setting is a great way to gain greater insight into the client's social skills, and how they respond in social situations. The therapist can witness the client's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors within a natural environment first-hand, and can identify certain client tendencies. You can better recognize potential triggers for the client, what intrigues them, as well as what specific aspects of their personality are showcased in certain social situations. Group therapy allows for greater development in regards to understanding clients as a whole, and what potential treatments may be most effective for their challenges at hand.
Offers role modeling
An excellent aspect of group therapy is that participants can serve as role models for other group members. As others share their experiences, positive outlooks, and thoughts and feelings that the client can relate to, it is more likely the client will embody an optimistic perspective when it comes to recovery. The client can witness that recovery is possible, with others providing grounded evidence that the client can integrate within their own life. Clients can imitate and model the positive behaviors of other group members, which in turn, helps facilitate greater accomplishments. Having others within the group as role models can help influence clients to make good decisions and achieve greater success.
Provides safety and support
Naturally, group therapy is a fantastic way for clients to foster strong connections with others, create a support network, and receive encouragement that promotes higher psychological well-being and success. Having group therapy, where individuals facing similar problems are able to come together in a safe space, means clients can recognize that they are not alone. Over time, clients are more likely to open up and share valuable insight pertaining to their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors without fear of judgment. As I'm sure you know, humans are very social creatures, and doing life alone can be incredibly difficult at times. Group therapy is a great way to overcome mental challenges, and increase support to achieve higher mental health outcomes.
Provides a voice
Many clients come to group therapy with an apprehensive mindset, and at first, may be less willing to share their thoughts and experiences. Some clients come from traumatic backgrounds, or may have experiences where sharing their thoughts is perceived as weak and overbearingly vulnerable. Others come to sessions speaking private thoughts that they've withheld from others for so long, and many group members often feel ashamed of their behaviors. Regardless of the mental barriers that each client brings to each session, group therapy is a safe space where clients over time can feel comfortable connecting with others. Clients can bring to light issues weighing on their chest, and take comfort in knowing every session is confidential. What happens in group therapy stays in group therapy.
Helps in personal growth
Learning from others’ experiences and having a support network means that clients can face their challenges head on, and develop productive goals to work towards over time. Group therapy participants significantly benefit from stronger connections, which allow for progress that can be tracked, with many group members holding clients accountable for their actions. As a result, personal growth lies at the heart of group therapy and means clients can recover more effectively and efficiently from their mental health challenges.
Group therapy is undoubtedly a highly effective tool that can be used by therapists from a multitude of disciplines to help clients feel supported and encouraged when facing mental health difficulties. Clients can benefit from accessing a safe space to connect with others, who can relate and share vulnerable experiences, thoughts, and feelings, with no judgment. Not only this, but clients can also benefit from significant alleviation of symptoms associated with their psychological challenges, and work towards more effective and faster recovery.
- Thimm, J. C., & Antonsen, L. (2014). Effectiveness of cognitive behavioral group therapy for depression in routine practice. BMC Psychiatry, 14(292).
- Byrne, S. M., Fursland, A., Allen, K. L., & Watson, H. (2011). The effectiveness of enhanced cognitive behavioural therapy for eating disorders: An open trial. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 49(4), 219–226.
- Jabbari, S., Basharpour, S., & Narimani, M. (2021). The effectiveness of self-acceptance group therapy on students with social anxiety disorder. Health and Development Journal, 9(4).