The thought of sitting in a group for therapy can be quite intimidating and often provokes various responses- from a simple “no thanks,” to “are you out of your mind recommending that!” Sitting in a room full of strangers while divulging your personal thoughts may seem like a bizarre aspect of treatment, however it has benefits you may not otherwise see in individual therapy or in your personal lives. So, while this recommendation is initially met with resistance and doubt around my competency as a therapist— once clients understand why group therapy is a helpful addition to their treatment, the option to participate is met with willingness and intrigue (and belief in my competency restored). Here’s why:
1. Group therapy offers a place for support and feedback.
Some individuals with a mental health diagnosis do not like to talk about their difficulties or minimize what they are going through to reduce possibly burdening others in their life. In group therapy, you will be sitting in a group with others who can relate to your experiences in a manner that others in your life, including your individual therapist, may not. This form of connectedness can provide a sense of relief and validation that you are not alone in your experience. Whether you are in a group for depression, to learn general skills, or to manage an eating disorder, having a place to openly discuss these topics and be vulnerable in your experience may have profound benefits to your growth in treatment. Groups can also be a sounding board if you are having a difficult experience and need some feedback on how to maneuver through it. The use of group support and feedback can be very healing and powerful for group members.
2. Group therapy offers new insights into yourself.
Group therapy will provide insights into how you interact with others and provide teachable moments that you may not otherwise have available to you. In individual therapy, it is just you and your therapist, and the naturally built in power differential that presents in the professional relationship. In group therapy, you are among peers who are more transparent and personal when sharing and relating. Through having a metaphorical mirror being held up to us in group, different emotional responses may be evoked in us that allow for a more “real” moment.
3. Groups hold you accountable.
One of my favorite parts of facilitating group therapy is how the group holds each other accountable. Each person is participating in group therapy for their own reasons, and holds a mutual respect towards another for what they are working through. We tend to push ourselves more when in the presence of others to reduce the risk of receiving disconfirming feedback and to increase the chance of being accepted by the group. I also observe that group members who invest in the group tend to invest in each member as well. Whether you are having a tough time in group, not attending group, or showing a lapse in treatment, group members tend to compassionately confront the group member and hold them accountable to work through it.
4. Group therapy offers diversity.
One of the strongest benefits to group therapy, in my opinion, is the diversity group members bring to group. Participation from members of various socioeconomic statuses, races, sexuality, gender, ethnicity, religions, diagnoses, etc leave room for various perspectives to be offered to group members and challenge members to view situations in ways they may not have otherwise considered. There is so much opportunity to learn from each other and group therapy creates the space for this to occur.
5. Group therapy costs less than individual therapy.
Let’s be honest- no matter how much we may love therapy and feel motivated to attend, treatment can be expensive. Group therapy can be a great way to supplement your work in individual therapy at a lower cost. Rather than not attend treatment as often or engage in additional individual sessions, ask your therapist if group therapy is an option so you don’t have to miss out.
6. Group therapy is helpful for clients stepping down from PHP or IOP.
Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP) and Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) are group heavy, so when clients transition to outpatient treatment they lose the support and community from group members. Group therapy is a recommended service to offer to clients, in addition to individual therapy, to maintain the structure and connectedness that helped foster their progress.