Group Therapy: What Is It and What Does It Involve?
Group therapy is a treatment that has become popular because of its effectiveness. In short, it consists of grouping several people together to work on certain psychotherapeutic techniques. Like individual therapy, it provides group members with strategies and cognitive and emotional resources to help them in their process of improvement or change.
This therapeutic model emerged more than a century ago through the work of Joseph Pratt, who was doing psychoeducational work on tuberculosis. However, it was not until decades later that group psychotherapy became popular thanks to therapists such as Jakob Levy Moreno, the founder of psychodrama, and the psychoanalyst Horst-Eberhard Richter.
Today, group therapy is an established treatment used in both psychology and psychiatry. Its effectiveness has been proven, and it features many different benefits.
In this article, we’ll explain all the details.
What exactly is group therapy?
Group therapy is characterized by one or a maximum of two therapists and a small group of patients who usually sit in a circle. Its dynamics are quite different from individual therapy. While both share talking about each person’s problems, being in a group brings more nuances.
Often, the therapist begins the session by recapping the previous meeting, introducing a topic to talk about or commenting on something that concerns the group members. Then, they give way to one of the participants to explain their current situation. The rest of the group listens until the end and then gives feedback.
Depending on how the session evolves, the therapist may propose certain activities. Some of them can be, for example, acceptance dynamics, role-play exercises, or the practice of group cohesion techniques.
Typically, the format is usually quite flexible. Thus, there is more talking in some sessions, and in others, there are more exercises. Sessions typically last from one and a half to two hours, and their frequency is usually weekly, fortnightly, or monthly.
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The characteristics of group therapy
Therapeutic groups differ from individual therapy in a number of ways.
To begin with, the relationship between the participants in this type of therapy is very important. The person is committed to change for themselves and because they’re part of a group that is moving towards change.
Thus, the patient feels supported and not judged within the group, as the members support each other. This cohesion provides great motivation and, incidentally, increases their commitment and participation in the group.
In addition, the group setting becomes a therapeutic strategy in itself since the participants give and receive feedback from the other members of the group. All this strengthens their sense of security, since it’s very satisfying to contribute ideas or life experiences and that these are useful for other people.
Among other things, it’s worth mentioning that the members of a certain therapeutic group may have certain characteristics in common. However, this is not always the case. Some are heterogeneous and consist of people of different ages, personalities, backgrounds, and problems.
Requirements for participation in a therapeutic group
Most people can participate in this type of treatment. However, ideally, the therapist must analyze whether it’s a good time to work in a team due to the individual characteristics and the patient’s current situation.
Of course, to participate in group sessions, a series of requirements that favor the good dynamics of the group must be fulfilled. These include the following:
- Motivation to join the group.
- Similar objectives to the other members of the group.
- Commitment to attend the sessions.
- Desire to participate in the dynamics.
- Respectful attitude towards the opinions of others. The person must not be in the group to judge anyone.
- Confidentiality. The person must agree not to explain to anyone else what happens in the sessions.
What difficulties are treated in group therapy?
Group treatment is successfully applied in most psychological disorders or specific emotional difficulties. Thus, therapeutic groups for addictions such as alcohol or teams working on eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are well known.
Programs oriented towards the following conditions are also common:
- Bipolar disorder or schizophrenia
- Anxiety and depression
- Personality disorder
- Grief management for the death of a family member
- People at risk of suicide
- Patients who want to promote their social skills
Also, psychotherapy programs can be set up in outpatient, in day hospital groups, or inpatient admission.
The drawbacks of group therapy
Group therapy is a very effective tool. However, not all people feel comfortable once they become part of the group. Some of the most common negative aspects they report are the following:
- Feeling of not belonging to the group when someone joins an already formed group.
- Frustration when observing that there are people who advance faster than others.
- Low involvement when dealing with topics that do not interest the patient.
- Lack of interest in certain dynamics.
- Indifference towards some people’s explanations.
- Feelings of exclusion when they don’t fit in with some members of the group.
Other disadvantages can arise when working in a group involving some members monopolizing too much attention or their commitment to the group being irregular.
In this case, the therapist is the one who must be skilled enough to redirect the dynamics adopted by some components of the group. The therapist must also ensure that all members of the group feel motivated and involved in the change.
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Some final thoughts on group therapy
Group therapy has interesting advantages for a wide variety of patients. It’s a type of treatment that helps the person not feel alone in the face of their problem, which is usually the case.
Its main advantage is that it’s compatible with other treatments, whether they be individual psychotherapy, couple psychotherapy, or pharmacological treatment. However, it has the disadvantage of not always corresponding to a person’s unique current situation.
Nowadays, many groups work online, which makes it easier to find options that adapt to every need. In any case, this is a therapeutic option that should not be discarded, as its benefits are quite interesting.