WHAT IS GROUP PSYCHOTHERAPY?
Group psychotherapy, like individual psychotherapy, is intended to help people improve their ability to cope with difficulties and problems in their lives and their relationships. One or two professionally trained therapists meet with group members who are pre-selected as likely to benefit themselves from group therapy and to be useful partners to others within the group. The group therapists help guide the process, including focusing on interpersonal interactions, so members have the maximum opportunity to help and learn from each other, which provides benefits that individual therapy may not.
HOW DOES GROUP PSYCHOTHERAPY WORK?
Group members are encouraged to talk together honestly about their lives as well as their reactions to others in the group and developing relationships. While sharing can initially be difficult, people usually find that they have many commonalities and begin to feel less alone and find support and tools for dealing with life challenges. Members provide feedback to each other about their behavior in the group, which can provide important opportunities for awareness. The supportive group can then be a safe place to experiment with change and practice new behaviors. Talking and listening to others helps you develop empathy, deepen your relationships, and put your own problems in perspective. Frequently the people you meet in the group represent others in your past or current life with whom you have difficulty. In group therapy you have the opportunity to work through these situations.
WHO CAN BENEFIT FROM GROUP PSYCHOTHERAPY?
Group psychotherapy is suitable for a large variety of problems and difficulties, from people who would like to develop their interpersonal skills to those with emotional problems such as anxiety or depression, as well as those with stressful life circumstances such as illness, loss, trauma, retirement and aging.
Group psychotherapy is especially effective for people with interpersonal difficulties and problems in relationships including issues like intimacy, trust, and self-esteem. The group interactions help the participants to identify, get feedback, and change the patterns that are problematic. The great advantage of group psychotherapy is that these issues can be addressed in the “here and now” – in a situation much closer to the real world than is found in individual therapy. In fact, some people find it is very useful to graduate from individual therapy into group therapy to further refine the gains they have made. Others find that participating in both individual and group psychotherapy at the same time (with either the same or different therapists) can be a particularly powerful way to work.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF GROUPS?
There are many kinds of groups. Self-help groups usually involve people with similar problems and are not professionally led. Support groups are usually led by a professional and are usually symptom-focused. Psychotherapy groups are professionally led and focus both on dealing with problems and on change and growth. Groups vary from classic psychotherapy groups, where process is emphasized, to psychoeducational, which are more focused on education about an area of concern and tend to be time-limited.
Various techniques and approaches are used in group psychotherapy. These each have their advantages and drawbacks and a good evaluation is needed to determine what best matches the individual’s needs
HOW TO CHOOSE A GROUP PSYCHOTHERAPIST
When choosing a group psychotherapist you should look for a well-trained, reliable, and ethical professional who has specific training in conducting group psychotherapy. If you are in individual therapy you should consult your therapist and be sure that your group and individual therapists can collaborate. Reputable group psychotherapists usually belong to professional associations. In the U.S.A, for example, clinical membership in AGPA (the American Group Psychotherapy Association), and certification as a Certified Group Psychotherapist (CGP) by the International Board for Certification of Group Psychotherapists assures some degree of expertise. An experienced group therapist will interview you before your entering the group and will answer your questions about the group and his/her experience without being uneasy. Make sure you clarify the costs and commitments. Above all, trust your feelings: If you do not feel you can work with a particular therapist, find another.
WHAT IS EXPECTED OF THE PARTICIPANT?
The participant in the group is expected to be present for each meeting and come on time. Information brought up by group members and their names must be kept confidential by all the group members. In some groups, the participant is asked to commit for a specified length of time at the beginning of the group, often this is between 3 to 6 months, in order to determine if the group is appropriate and helpful. Members are not required to talk nor to reveal intimate issues but the more you participate openly, sharing your feelings and your thoughts, the more you can gain from the experience.
Usually, there are between 8 to 12 members in the group. Sessions last from 75 to 90 minutes and occur once or twice a week. How long you should attend the group depends on many factors such as the severity of the issues and the changes sought. You should allow 4 to 6 months in order to feel the effect of the group and a few years participation may be needed to get the maximum effect.
Considering psychotherapy? Think about group therapy!