Definition and Overview

Group therapy is a therapeutic method that harnesses the benefits of support groups made up of people who share common situations or disorders. The group regularly meets and discusses their personal experience in dealing with their condition and sharing ideas and insights on getting better. Although it does not have any direct physical benefits, group therapy focuses on providing emotional support for all members of the group.

In a group therapy, the support group is usually led by a member who is undergoing or has undergone the same experience as the rest of the group. The leader is usually chosen depending on who is trained or skilled in facilitating group activities and discussions. In formal group therapy sessions, the leader can be a psychologist, therapist, psychiatrist, nurse, or a social worker, but in a self-help support group, a variant of group therapy, ordinary members of the group are chosen as the leaders.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

Due to its emotional and psychological nature, group therapy is most commonly used and is most appropriate for the treatment of mental health conditions.

Group therapy has been found effective in helping those who are:

  • Experiencing deep emotional grief, which could be due to many reasons such as bereavement
  • Coping with behavioral disorders, such as drug or alcohol addiction
  • Coping with serious medical conditions, such as cancer

It is also often incorporated into the treatment plan for:

Below is the list of benefits compiled by Irvin Yalom (a psychiatrist and educator who has written extensively about existential psychotherapy).

  • Universality
  • Altruism
  • Imparting knowledge and tips
  • Instilling hope in the patient
  • Corrective recapitulation of the family experience
  • Cohesiveness
  • Existential factors
  • Imitative behavior
  • Socializing techniques
  • Catharsis
  • Belongingness

By joining a support group and having an avenue where the patient can release and share his own experience, thoughts, and feelings, the patient realizes that he is not alone in what he is going through. This alone often brings significant relief to the patient. On top of this, patients also receive insights that can help them deal with their situation better.

How Does the Procedure Work?

Group therapy varies in format, but the basic concept is the same; people suffering from or dealing with the same problem are placed in a group that is scheduled to meet on a regular basis. The objective of these meetings is to provide mutual support. The only different factors are:

  • The person facilitating or leading the discussion
  • The nature of participants; some groups may be exclusive to individuals who are suffering from specific disorder (example: bulimia nervosa); others may be open to people who are suffering from different disorders but fall under the same category (example: all types of eating disorders or all types of cancers).

While many people feel uncomfortable sharing their thoughts, feelings, and private details regarding their situations, most participants in support groups eventually find comfort and acceptance as they undergo group therapy. This also adds yet another benefit of group therapy, in that, it develops healthy skills in interacting socially with other people.

Group therapy is considered as a highly effective yet very affordable way of supplementing ongoing treatment plans. Since the patients are treated in groups, joining one is more affordable than paying for one-on-one sessions.

Possible Complications and Risks

Although group therapy may seem risk-free or completely harmless, it has its fair share of possible complications and adverse outcomes. Here are some of the disadvantages that should be considered prior to the start of a group therapy programme:

  • Group therapy requires people to talk or relate closely with other people, which may trigger a person’s common social phobia.
  • There is a risk that a patient’s personality will clash with that of another member of the group. Some members of the group may be more aggressive, while some may be very fragile. This raises the risk of further emotional damage.
  • It is not effective or safe for patients who are having suicidal thoughts; these patients should receive individualized support.
  • There is a possibility that some members of the group break the required confidentiality.
  • Some people might have a fear of rejection or having their feelings dismissed or belittled.
  • Some patients take a long time before they open up and develop a trust for other group members.
  • There is a challenge in finding the right group where a patient can fit in.
    References:

  • American Group Psychotherapy Association

  • Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology
  • Encyclopedia.com
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