If you’re struggling with a mental health condition and have considered therapy, you probably have lots of questions about what group therapy can actually do for you and how it works. Believe it or not, there are several types of group therapy — and not all work the same way.
Aside from the snack table, free coffee and circle of chairs, most of us know very little about group therapy. What’s most important to know, however, is that it offers many benefits — to many people.
Group therapy benefits the patient by letting them see they’re not alone. It benefits the group by showing them that their feelings, symptoms and experiences are shared. A person you might have nothing in common with on the surface can feel like a long-lost twin the moment you hear them unpack what’s going on inside their head.
Group therapy has been used by communities ranging from recently discharged tuberculosis patients to current inmates. It also benefits medical professionals like therapists, who can see, help and offer guidance to a number of individuals struggling with the same problems in one convenient location.
Point being: everyone can benefit from group therapy if they know how to use it. Of course, this requires participating in the right type of group therapy. For instance, a person who isn’t grieving isn’t going to get much out of a grief support session.
To help you pick the right type of group therapy, let’s start by taking a look at the different things it can help with.
One of the most important elements of group therapy is that your bond and connection with the group grows, which in turn facilitates growth and progress on your part.
You don’t need to be attending each other’s weddings to feel that bond. But practicing intrapersonal communication skills and growing your empathy and altruism — all of this benefits both your character and your therapeutic journey.
When you begin to realize you’re surrounded by people who share similar thoughts, experiences and struggles, what you’re really feeling is the universality of your condition.
Here are a few types of group therapy sessions you can attend.
The first form of group therapy on our list is also the most structured. Psychoeducational groups help patients learn about their conditions, inclinations and behaviors.
They’re also a way to work through the consequences and challenges of living with those behaviors. These groups may help people with a range of issues, from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) to addiction.
Sessions typically follow a curriculum, and everyone sits in a horseshoe configuration facing the organizer or provider. Patients are highly encouraged to talk and share, but presentations and activities will add structure.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) groups help people to solve varying problems by altering beliefs and perceptions. These groups are often helpful for symptoms of depression and other mood disorder-adjacent conditions that might make a person feel unlovable or different because of their mental health concerns.
Ultimately, the goal is to help a person learn to love themselves and feel less alone and isolated. This is generally accomplished by having a moderator or group host make connections between members’ stories and experiences.
Patients with disorders and conditions that may make day-to-day life difficult are often most aided in their treatment by a type of group therapy known as a skills-development group.
Skills-development groups teach people with the same conditions how to solve recurring shared problems and reach a common goal. Coping methods, socialization and emotional control are often a big part of these groups, as it’s common for people to feel frustrated by their challenges.
These groups are highly interactive and include both discussions and the practice of practical skills.
If you experience social anxiety, need to improve your social skills in a safe environment, and or want to stop missing out on life experiences because of a fear of social interactions, this group therapy may offer additional benefits because, you know, it includes a social element.
You can think of support groups sort of like maintenance therapy, a form of treatment that occurs when the healing process or improvements have already begun.
A support group is designed to “support” members in maintaining improvements and habits that are positive. It also reinforces the system of belief and patterns of thought that contribute to its success.
You’ll circle up in group therapy sessions, and the host is really only there to facilitate conversations, connection and the awareness of similarities between you and the other members. Often, they’ll limit comments to positive reinforcement, as judgemental comments can cause conflict.
There are a number of places you can find support groups and group therapy. Community centers are a great place to search for self-help groups and art therapy, as well as support for domestic abuse, substance abuse and addictive behaviors in a supportive environment.
First, it’s important to decide on a format. Generally, people recommend in-person group therapy, but there are places where online and virtual group therapy can be found if access to local resources is difficult.
More commonly, however, when people are looking for group therapy, there are three places they should look. This includes local religious and community organizations, local governments, schools and universities.
Churches, universities and local health departments can all typically direct you to the best resources in your area. If you’d prefer a religious affiliation for your therapy, your own congregation or religious organization likely provides in-house resources.
If you’re really in a pinch, resources like the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) therapy finder or the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) support affiliate database can give you some starting options in your search.
Of course, you could always find your group by exploring individual therapy sessions first and taking recommendations from there. In fact, we’d recommend you start that way.
The benefits of therapy are manifold. Therapy can be beneficial for a number of disorders, including substance use disorders, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), borderline personality disorder and other mental disorders.
Group therapy may be the best option for your individual needs, but there’s still reason to consider other approaches first. In the end, if you’re going through a mental health crisis or are in the throes of something like depression, you may need more care that can initially be provided by a group.
We’re not saying group therapy can’t be a great mechanism for growth, healing or management — just that ruling out other conditions that might benefit from individual therapy is a smart, proactive way to make sure you’re getting the treatment you need.
If you haven’t spoken with a mental health professional yet, consider doing so before hopping into a group.
We can help. Our mental health professionals are available 24/7 on our online therapy platform. You can also use our mental health resources to learn more about the symptoms you’re experiencing and what conditions they might be associated with.
Groups can help. But take care of yourself first. Get started today.
Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.
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