ABCs of Mental Health Care

Treatment Types

print FAQs About Group Therapy

How does group therapy work?

A group therapist appropriately selects people (usually five to 10) who would be helped by the group experience and who can serve as learning partners for one another. In meetings, people are encouraged to talk with each other in a spontaneous and honest fashion. A professionally trained therapist, who provides productive examination of the issues or concerns affecting the individuals and the group, guides the discussion.

Not every group is alike. Different groups use a variety of styles. For instance, some focus more on interpersonal development, with much of the learning actually coming from the interaction of members themselves. Others address cognitive behaviors, with the emphasis on learning how to control negative thoughts, address phobias or relieve anxiety-inducing situations.

If someone is in a group therapy, do they also need individual therapy?

It depends on the person. Sometimes group therapy is used as the main or only treatment approach. Sometimes it’s used along with individual therapy. Often people find that working simultaneously in both group and individual therapy stimulates growth in complementary ways. Clients may see two different therapists for individual and group therapies. In such cases, it’s generally considered important for the two therapists to communicate with each other periodically for the client’s benefit. Ask your therapist about the type of therapy that will best meet your needs.

How is group therapy different from support groups and self-help groups?

Group therapy focuses on interpersonal relationships and helps people learn how to get along with other people under the guidance of a professional coach. Group psychotherapy also provides a support network for specific problems or challenges. The psychotherapy group is different from self-help and support groups in that it not only helps people cope with their problems, but also provides for change and growth. Self-help groups usually focus on a particular shared symptom or situation and are usually not led by a trained therapist. Support groups, which are generally led by professionals, help people cope with difficult situations at various times but are not geared toward change.

Why is group therapy useful?

When someone is thinking about joining a group, it’s normal for him to have questions or concerns, such as "What am I going to get out of this?" "Will there be enough time to deal with my own problems in a group setting?" or, "What if I don’t like the people in my group?

Joining a group is useful because it provides opportunities to learn with and from other people, to understand one’s patterns of thought and behavior and those of others and to perceive how group members react to one another. We live and interact with people every day and often other people are experiencing or grappling with things that can be beneficial to share with others. In group therapy, you learn that perhaps you’re not as different as you think or that you’re not alone. You’ll meet and interact with people, and the whole group learns to work on shared problems—one of the most beneficial aspects. The more you involve yourself in the group, the more you get out of it.

What kinds of people should participate in group therapy?

Group therapy can benefit many different people, from those having difficulties with interpersonal relationships to those dealing with specific problems such as serious medical illnesses, loss, addictive disorders or behavioral problems. With adolescents, for example, group therapy teaches socialization skills needed to function in environments outside the home.

Will there be people with similar problems in my group?

The therapist’s role is to evaluate each member’s problems before forming the group. Usually the group includes a mix of members who can learn from each other. While some members will have similar circumstances, it’s not necessary for all members in the group to be dealing with exactly the same problem.

What kind of commitment do I need to make?

The time commitment depends on the type of group and the nature and extent of your problems. Short-term groups devoted to concrete issues can last anywhere from six to 20 weeks. Support therapy groups, for example, those dealing with a medical illness such as cancer, may be more long-term. There are also more open-ended groups in which members work at their own pace and leave when their particular needs or goals have been met. It’s best to talk with your therapist to determine the length of time that’s right for you.

What if I’m uncomfortable discussing my problems in front of others?

It’s not unusual to feel uneasy or embarrassed when first joining a group, but soon you begin to develop feelings of interest and trust. Most clients find that group therapy provides a great deal of relief because it allows them a chance to talk with others who are experiencing similar problems- in a private, confidential setting. Many people who have experienced group therapy believe that working together with others is helpful and they feel better by participating in this form of therapy.

What does group cost?



The cost varies depending on the type of therapist and perhaps even the geographic area of the country. Typically, group therapy costs about half the price of individual therapy.

Is it covered by insurance?



Insurance coverage is similar for both group and individual therapy. In addition, most managed care companies cover group therapy much the same as individual therapy.

How do I find a good group therapist?

It’s important to consider the qualifications of a potential therapist. A professional group therapist has received special training in group therapy and meets certain professional criteria. That’s where the American Group Psychotherapy Association (AGPA) can help. Clinical members of the association have received special training in group therapy. In addition, a certified group psychotherapist will have met strict professional criteria as well as ongoing continuing education requirements.

When talking with therapists, here are four simple questions you may want to ask.

  • What is your background?
  • Given my specific situation, how do you think group would work for me?
  • What are your credentials as a group therapist?
  • Do you have any special training that is relevant to my problem?

© 2000 Reprinted with permission from the
American Group Psychotherapy Association

 

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