Written by: Amanda Levison, M.S., LMHC, LPC, CCBT
A misconception in life is that you have to do and figure out everything on your own, but the reality is you shouldn't have to, and therapy is an excellent resource for that.
Seeing a therapist takes work. You are invited to be vulnerable and share things you wouldn't necessarily share with family or friends. It can be uneasy to have a one-on-one experience with a therapist that is essentially a stranger as your first encounter with therapy. However, that doesn't mean there aren't other options.
Group Therapy can be a significant first step into getting the assistance, care, and support you need. Groups create an atmosphere of people dealing with the same or similar issues and can be less intimidating as all the attention is not focused on one person, you.
It's no secret that in many communities, therapy is still being talked about in whispers as if there is something wrong with seeking help with the challenges people face. One of the ways to get over the stigma the world has wrapped around therapy is to get in a room with others dealing with some of the same trials you are.
Knowing you are not alone, hearing and seeing other perspectives, and getting support from others like yourself can be an incredible way to gain the support you need.
Every group aims for participants to learn new skills to help them live at their best. Participants may be encouraged to own their feelings, learn from each other, and better understand how they interact with themselves and other people. Joining a group of strangers may sound intimidating at first. Still, as long as you are honest, willing, and open to sharing, you can succeed in group therapy.
What is Group Therapy?
People think it is like what is on TV, but it is very different. Group Therapy is a support group for like-minded people dealing with similar challenges, usually led by a clinical professional. The group can be as specific or as broad as the facilitator sets it up to be. There are several types of group therapy. The one that most people think of is a support group, but there are also psychoeducation groups, skills development groups, cognitive-behavioral therapy groups, and interpersonal process groups, to name a few.
What Should I Expect in a Group Therapy Session?
As a different facilitator or clinical professional curates each group, what you can expect can be slightly different for each group you attend; however, there are plenty of standards.
A group can be formed around just about any topic, as many people deal with the same challenges in life. A group can consist of anywhere from 3 to 15 participants. They can be 1 or 2 hours long and are designed to target a specific problem, such as depression, obesity, panic disorder, social anxiety, chronic pain, or substance abuse.
General focuses for groups are also options and can include improving social skills and helping people deal with various issues such as anger, shyness, loneliness, and low self-esteem.
Grief groups often help those who have experienced loss, whether a spouse, a child, a pet, or someone who died by suicide.
What are the Benefits of Group Therapy?
There are many benefits to joining a group or a group therapy experience. The advantages of group therapy include:
Providing a safe space.
Feeling less alone.
Learning from others with similar struggles.
Promoting social skills.
Below is a breakdown of the general benefits many group participants have shared.
Spending time with the same group creates mutual trust and friendship among all who regularly join. Much like a sports team begins to build relationships and bonds after daily or even weekly meetings, a group therapy group can do the same.
Often when a person is dealing with a problem, they operate with only their perspective on how it happened, what happened, and the reasons behind it. Sharing a story with others invites people to validate your perspective and opens doors for people to reframe and help you see others. Groups consist of people from many different cultures, races/ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds, which allows diverse perspectives. Sometimes the one thing a person may need to help heal from whatever it is that they have joined a group to learn they may get from someone of a diverse background or experience. Hearing that different perspective may help them to see a way through their wounds.
Having two or more people committed to change and growth on the same journey is the definition of accountability. Just like you would have a gym buddy hold you accountable to getting to the gym 3-4 times a week, you can have a group buddy or buddies as you cultivate relationships with the other group members.
Humans operate as their best selves when they feel needed, heard, understood, and confident. When you are surrounded by people who build you up, support you, and encourage you to walk in your strengths, you can't help but boost your self-esteem and self-confidence. Groups can help get you there.
In a group where a person is gaining new perspectives, getting support from others, and actively sharing their experiences, it is only natural to uncover or discover who they are and what they stand for. Even if someone already understands themselves, it can be refreshing to be understood and validated.
Developing skills you can carry throughout your life is one of the essential benefits groups can offer. In group therapy, clients learn and practice recovery strategies, build interpersonal skills, and reinforce and develop social support networks. These things are essential to handling and transitioning through the many challenges life throws at us every day.
It is a safe space where people can communicate their feelings without being judged or persecuted for their thoughts. All groups are set up to have a Las Vegas mindset "What happens in the group stays in the group." This atmosphere provides a safe and confidential atmosphere for everyone to excel in their growth. This mindset also allows others to feel closely connected with the group members like they have each other’s back.
Goals in Group Therapy
Yes, like in individual therapy, you can have active goals in group therapy. Those goals can be personal and just for you, or they can be a collaborative effort with the other members of your group. What works best for you is what you should do.
Create goals for yourself first, and once you get comfortable, you can share those goals with the clinical professional in the room, and as your confidence grows, you can share them with other members. You will be surprised how many people have similar goals as you do. Over the weeks of attending the group, you will be making progress toward these goals and may even need to create new ones.
Be prepared to receive encouragement and give it to those around you. The success of group therapy depends on your level of participation and engagement within the group. There’s a saying, “It works if you work it.”
Another positive takeaway from group therapy is a way to develop a strong support system that can potentially build lifelong friendships. The growth one learns in a group setting only helps one connect with others who have experienced the same or similar things.
By the time a person gets to therapy, whether individual or group, they are usually desperate. A positive benefit to group therapy over individual therapy is that one can see that they are not alone, that others can understand them, who will not judge them for what they have experienced, and who will support them toward wellness and beyond.
How to Get the Most out of Group Therapy
Group therapy can be intimidating. You are in a more vulnerable position as you are sharing your story and experiences with strangers. Here are a few things you can do to get the most out of it.
Take an Honest Pledge
Group therapy should include a contract for every participant and allows everyone to be on the same page. When everyone is on the same page and knows what they’ve signed up for, it can quell fears or hesitation about participating openly and honestly. The contract also ensures that everyone is comfortable in the group and trusts that respect and anonymity will be guaranteed.
Be a Willing Participant
Therapy can be challenging, but the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. Even when you show up and are not feeling it, try to put as much energy into the session as possible.
Be Sure to Share
Opening up will help you, but there can be much more to it. You may be the one key to someone’s breakthrough. Of course, you shouldn’t ever feel obligated to share, and you definitely shouldn’t feel like you owe someone else anything. Remember, though, what you share might be huge for someone else. Just like you may have one of those A-HA moments when someone says something that resonates with you, your willingness to share might do the same.
Group Therapy Common Misconceptions
Let's discuss common misconceptions about group therapy to help ease your possible fears. These misconceptions can be what is holding you back from joining a group.
“I will be forced to tell the group all my deepest thoughts, feelings, and secrets.”
You control what you say, how much you speak, and when you share with the group. Most people find that a group can be beneficial and affirming when they feel safe to share what is happening or troubling them. You are not forced to share until you are ready to. You can also be helped by listening to others and thinking about what they are saying can be applied to you.
“Group therapy will take longer than individual therapy because I will have to share the time with others.”
Often group therapy is more efficient than individual therapy. You can benefit from the group even if you share very little or do not share when you focus on what others say. Group members find they have more in common than expected as you work on a concern and learn more about yourself. Group members often bring up something that resonates with you but you might not have been aware of or brought up yourself.
“The leaders and other group members will verbally attack me.”
It is essential that group members feel safe. Group leaders are there to help develop a secure environment. Feedback is often difficult to hear. As group members come to trust and accept one another, they generally experience feedback and confrontation as positive, as if it was coming from their best friend. It is rare to find friends who gently point out how you might be behaving in ways that hurt yourself or others, but this is what the group can offer. This will be done in a respectful, gentle way so that you can hear it and make use of it.
“Group therapy is second best to individual therapy.”
If group therapy is offered to you, the intake counselor believes this will be the best way to address your concerns. People are not told about group therapy because there is no space in individual therapy or because we want to save time. It is recommended when it is the most effective method to help you.
“I have so much trouble talking with people. I’ll never be able to share in a group.”
Most people are anxious about being able to talk in a group. Almost without exception, within a few sessions, people will find that they do begin to speak in the group. Group members remember what it is like to be new to the group, so you will most likely get much support for beginning to talk.
Ask Yourself, Can Group Therapy Work for You?
Life can be a beautiful journey, and it also can be a devastating one. No one should have to live life alone. Group therapy is one of the aspects of life that helps you to understand that you have other options than trying to do things on your own. It is a place where you are encouraged to give and receive support.
Many people find their voice and have their confidence boosted because of the safe space group therapy creates for them. There is freedom and power in numbers, and group therapy cultivates that. Group therapy will help you relate to others and yourself in many healthy ways.
Gaining the necessary coping skills and mindfulness techniques will have you well on your way to operating as the best, strongest, and most authentic version of yourself.
Need more information on groups, you can look up group therapy options at any local counseling center. Therapists and counselors are always open to providing for the needs of those interested. To inquire about groups at the Neurofeedback and Counseling Center of Pennsylvania, check out our Support Groups & Events page, or call us at (717) 202-2510. We are here to support you!