Group Therapy is a shared therapeutic experience which includes the presence of others who are working through similar issues. Group Therapy can focus on interpersonal relationships or on particular concerns shared by the group members. Group therapy is offered to help you reach a myriad of different therapeutic goals. With this in mind, groups are usually divided into two larger types, either “psychoeducational” or “process oriented.” There are numerous psychological and emotional issues that are treated with group therapy, ranging from addiction to abuse. Participants in group sessions find discussing their problems with others who have experienced similar events provides them with an environment of support and assimilation. Clients in group therapy often report a sense of “belonging” and gain encouragement from other participants. Additionally, clients in group therapy are often able to provide support and direction for others struggling with issues they have faced in the past.
Topics Addressed in Group Therapy
- Some of the topics addressed in group therapy include:
- substance abuse
- post-traumatic stress
- caregiver issues
- domestic violence
- addictions (gambling, internet, shopping, and many others)
- eating issues
- parenting issues
- trust issues
- sexual/sexual identity issues
- relationship problems
Psychoeducational Group Therapy
Essentially, a psychoeducational group is focused on providing you with information about specific topics in order to give you additional resources or information. These kinds of psychoeducational groups are more structured; you will be provided with specific topics or modules to discuss and learn about. The intention is to provide you with more information about the topic, which is often identified in the name of the group.
Process-Oriented Group Therapy
On the other hand, a “process” oriented group focuses on the experience of being in a group, itself, as the healing opportunity. For example, the process of expressing your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the group, “in the here and now” can be the very vehicle by which you discover change.
What is Group Therapy Like?
The criteria for joining a group depends on the intention of the group, what subject matter is to be addressed, and who would benefit the most from attending it. Who attends your group also depends on whether it is a “closed” or “open” group, as well as the criteria for joining it. If group members can pop in and out of group and new members can join, it is called an “open” group. On the other hand, once they become established, some groups become “closed” to new members, but may open up again in the future.
For example, group membership may be as specific as: an open group for any male or female adolescents, between the ages of 12-18, seeking to maintain sobriety from alcohol or drugs. In contrast, it may be as general as being open to anyone who has been impacted by sexual abuse. Know that you have a right, and can expect to learn about the guidelines and goals of the group, at the very beginning, or when you initially meet with the therapist to join the group. Guidelines regarding confidentiality, for example, should be shared with you.
How often your group meets will depend on what you are working on in group therapy, and what you and your therapist determine will best meet your needs. Some groups only meet one time a week, whereas some are more intensive and meet three times a week, and then may decrease over time. Group therapy sessions can be held in various places. It is not uncommon to find groups running in community centers, therapy offices, hospitals, libraries, peoples’ houses, or churches.
Activities in Group Therapy
Group therapy activities are designed to encourage communication, trust and insight. Ice breakers are common introductory group therapy activities that allow the members of the group to get to know one another in a unthreatening and playful way. By using toys, such as balloons, bean bags or balls, members catch an item, say something about themselves, and then toss the item on. Physical activities such as dancing, knot tying (with arms) and cooking require people to work in groups and achieve a desired outcome together. These exercises facilitate collaboration, trust and respect. Creative activities such as acting, painting or playing music are often used during group therapy. These experiences allow clients to use non-verbal forms of communication and emphasize the importance of physical behaviors. Therapy groups who desire to strengthen trust bonds will integrate wilderness activities, role playing and other trust building games into their sessions in order to help the members develop confidence in their peers and in themselves.
Ethics of Group Therapy
Group Psychotherapists inform clients of the type of therapy they will be engaged in and make them aware of their obligations to participate, as well as their rights within the therapeutic group before they begin their treatment. All members of group therapy agree to keep session content confidential and protect the anonymity of the other members. Unless a member has authorized release of information, no member, or therapist, can discuss another member’s personal history with any other member or any individual outside the group. The therapist is, however, obligated by law, to inform the proper authorities if a member has expressed intent to harm themselves or others. The group therapist is responsible for maintaining a professional, respectful and ethical environment free from discrimination, sexual inappropriateness or other behaviors that could cause a member to become uncomfortable or violated. It is the therapist’s role to ensure that the group therapy progresses in a non-judgmental, collaborative and productive fashion for its entirety.
Group Therapy’s Place in the Healing Journey
You may choose to join group therapy to supplement your primary therapy, to give you additional support, or as the sole component of your healing work. No matter what it is that you want to address in therapy, group therapy allows you the opportunity to share your healing journey and experiences with other members. Many attending group therapy report that it as a way to know that they “are not alone” and that there others, with similar experiences, who are supportive of them.
What actually “happens” in the group depends on who attends, what is being discussed, and any specific “modalities” that the therapist uses in group. For example, you may learn that the therapist uses art or psychodrama, which uses drama and movement, as part of the group process. No matter what is addressed, change occurs as you move through the various stages of group development. The relationships that you build, interactions you have, and things you discuss, give you opportunities to do your healing work. As you are getting to know people, even working through conflicts as they come up, your experiences in the group become restorative, in and of themselves.
There have been several strong advocates and leaders in the field of Group Therapy, especially Irving Yalom, who wrote the book The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy. Yalom’s research emphasizes the impact of group therapy on the individual, as well as the factors that contribute to healing in a group setting.