Reviewed by Angela Sheddan, DNP, FNP-BC
Written by Our Editorial Team
Aristotle famously said that humans are social creatures. And of course, we know this to be true, as friends and family can be sources of happiness.
So perhaps it’s no surprise that one beneficial type of mental health treatment involves being with people in a group therapy setting.
Unlike individual online therapy, which — much how it sounds — involves working one-on-one with a therapist, group therapy is a therapy session with anywhere from five to 15 patients and one or more psychologists.
The group typically meets for an hour or so every week to discuss specific issues, emotions or experiences.
So, does it work? There have been more than 50 clinical trials involving group therapy, and each has shown it to be an effective therapeutic method to help treat a wide range of conditions including depression, social anxiety and even obesity.
Read on to learn more about group therapy, and to see if it might be right for you.
The benefits of group therapy are not necessarily the same as what you’d get from individual therapy mainly because of the social setting.
The benefits can depend, too, on how supportive the facilitator might be, how the others in the group behave and the sense of community you might feel.
Here are some typical group therapy benefits:
It’s pretty human to sometimes feel alone when it comes to personal issues, and sharing in a group setting can help you know that others might be experiencing the same thing, or at the very least — that you’re not alone.
Group therapy can give you a support team to lean on and learn from, which can provide a sense of relief.
When you’re in a group therapy session, you are actively listening, sharing and boosting your social skills. And the same goes for the others in the group, so you can feel heard.
Carefully hearing others’ stories and perspectives can also help you become a better listener, and you can learn to build your own unique voice in a supportive environment.
Because group therapy involves meeting with a range of individuals vs. working with one individual therapist, you will get a unique set of perspectives from each session.
And unlike other social situations, you do not choose these individuals, so you may be exposed to new people and perspectives.
Learning more about others’ experiences and perspectives can help you gain new insight into what you are experiencing, and potentially help you solve problems.
One of the benefits of group therapy is that you can see what works for other individuals — and even see others experience success.
Seeing how others handle their situations can potentially help you feel less isolated and perhaps more confident that you, too, can find success.
You can look at what works for others and decide to model that behavior.
Many different people can benefit from group therapy — and ultimately, it comes down to individual choice.
Here are some of the issues or experiences group therapy has been shown to help:
Group therapy has been shown to be advantageous for those with substance abuse disorders.
For example, Alcoholics Anonymous is extremely popular, and involves a group therapy setting meant to support those struggling with alcoholism.
There are several different types of groups meant for those experiencing different kinds of addictions, too, and the benefits truly can relate to “strength in numbers.”
For example, if you’re trying to practice abstinence in some form, being in a group can help keep you motivated and on track. It can also be helpful to see others stay the course, too.
As mentioned above, group therapy can help you know you are not alone and give you positive support in a community setting.
If you’ve received a tough diagnosis like cancer, group therapy can help provide a safe environment to share what you might be experiencing.
You can share your physical pain or fears, and know you are not alone. Working within a group who may be experiencing the same can help you feel supported as you move through your treatment.
Group therapy has been shown to help HIV/AIDs patients experience lower levels of stress during on-going sessions.
Research has also shown that patients in cognitive-behavioral stress management groups report less depression and anxiety.
If you’re experiencing a diagnosis like HIV or cancer, group therapy may be helpful.
If you have a personality disorder, group therapy may help you improve your social skills, mood control and self-esteem.
In addition, group therapy has been shown to help reduce suicidal thoughts and tendencies for those with certain personality disorders.
Group therapy can help ease symptoms of general depression and address specific causes of depression like the grief from the loss of a partner, child or other loved one.
Group therapy can provide a space to be heard and sometimes feel healing. For some, it can offer a sense of hope.
Group therapy has been shown to be helpful for those with specific eating disorders. For example, research has shown group therapy sessions can help reduce symptoms such as binging and purging.
Attending a group therapy session or exploring group support online might depend on what you’re seeking.
For one thing, it can be more economical than individual therapy, though, you may also prefer to work with a therapist alone.
As mentioned above, there are several benefits to group therapy, and it can apply to several different types of experiences.
If you are looking for a sounding board and social support, group therapy may be right for you.
There are some potential disadvantages to group therapy — which relate to you as an individual. For example:
You might find it uncomfortable or triggering to hear about someone else's experience.
You get less one-on-one attention with a licensed therapist.
You could find it challenging to speak openly and honestly if you struggle with speaking in groups.
If you are worried about these disadvantages — or if you experience them — you can always switch to individual therapy sessions or do individual therapy in combination with group sessions.
Group therapy, whether in person or online, can be a vital step for your mental health and offer a sense of community.
Finding a supportive, safe group to be a part of might aid you in your own self-discovery journey and healing.
If you are looking for an easy place to start, you can find our online anonymous therapy or look into local community groups or health centers.
Dr. Angela Sheddan has been a Family Nurse Practitioner since 2005, practicing in community, urgent and retail health capacities. She has also worked in an operational capacity as an educator for clinical operations for retail clinics.
She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, her master’s from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, and her Doctor of Nursing Practice from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. You can find Angela on LinkedIn for more information.
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