If you are one of the millions of Americans who are struggling with your mental health, it is important for you to know that you are not alone, and that there are professionals who would be more than happy to work with you. There is no shame in asking for help, the truth is that it takes strength to ask for help when you need it. In this post, I discuss the advantages and disadvantages of participating in group therapy.
Narrowing Your Search For Therapy
When you begin looking into treatment options, you will likely come across inpatient and outpatient treatment options. Inpatient treatment programs will have you engage in scheduled programming throughout the day and live at their treatment facility for the duration of your treatment. Outpatient treatment options can provide you with a long-term option for mental health treatment, and can be worked around your routine and responsibilities. Outpatient treatment options can range from several days per week to one day per week, depending on your needs at the time.
Once you narrow down the level of care that you need, there are then additional options for your mental health treatment. You may find that local professionals can provide you with individual and group therapy. If you find yourself wondering what group is group therapy, you are not alone. Group therapy sessions can be educational groups, or process therapy groups.
Individual sessions occur between a client and with one Counselor or Therapist. These sessions will focus on you and your needs. Educational group sessions can be focused on particular topics such as addiction, various mental health concerns, and family dynamics. These tend to be a short-term option and focus on providing group members with education. Since these groups are focused on providing information, they do not typically include getting into your personal experiences and struggles. Your other option for group therapy would be engaging in a process therapy group.
What is Group Therapy?
When you are looking at treatment options and you see group therapy as an option, they are usually referring to process group therapy. Group therapy sessions can occur on an outpatient and inpatient basis. As an example, someone who is seeking treatment for a substance abuse disorder, may be exposed to group therapy at an inpatient rehab as well as by an outpatient addiction treatment provider.
These groups will include anywhere from 4 to 10 individuals with a similar mental health concern or life circumstance. As an example, you may find groups for those struggling with addiction and groups that are designed specifically for men or women. Group therapy sessions can include one or two counselors. There should be a consistency to the group members who engage in your group.
Some groups run on a continuous basis, meaning that it is offered on a long-term basis. In these situations, you will overtime see some shifts in regards to the group members. Other group therapy options are short-term and may run for 8 to 12 weeks. These groups tend to be more structured and are less likely to have new members join throughout the group’s duration.
In the beginning stages of group formation, time will be spent establishing group rules and norms. Common topics for these discussions include group confidentiality, attendance, expectations regarding participation and body language, determining if beverages and snacks would be allowed in the group, and any other concerns that the group agrees are mutually beneficial. Establishing these group rules and norms can help create consistency, trust, and accountability among the group members. Additionally, time will be spent discussing what will occur when a rule or norm is violated or broken by a group member.
How often group therapy sessions are offered will vary on several factors, such as the level of care, and the focus of the group. Group therapy offered in an inpatient setting may be offered daily as well as those in a Partial Hospitalization Program. Outpatient group therapy sessions can occur several days a week, or just once per week. The expectation for the group’s duration and frequency will be available to group members before the group begins. This allows them to ensure that they have time to commit to the group’s planned schedule.
Advantages of Group Therapy
Group therapy is known to be an effective form of therapy for a variety of mental health concerns. Because of this, many treatment facilities will offer a combination of group and individual therapy. Here are some advantages of group therapy:
1. Lower Price
Group therapy tends to be a more affordable option when compared to individual sessions.
2. Relate to Others
One benefit of group therapy is that it can help group members connect with individuals who can relate to their experiences. This can be a validating, and reassuring experience that allows individuals to move forward with their mental health goals.
3. Learn From Others
Additionally, group members will have differences in their life experiences which means that they can learn from each other. This can include what was helpful and what options could be avoided.
4. Social Benefits
Several mental health struggles can contribute to individuals isolating themselves which can make them feel uncomfortable in social situations. Engaging in group therapy gives them the opportunity to be in a social situation, while in a safe, therapeutic environment.
5. Expert Guidance
Group therapy sessions are often guided by the Counselor or Therapist. This means that the Counselor or Therapist can help redirect the group if the conversation gets off topic. Some find that having the group’s lead by a mental health professional can help them feel more comfortable partaking in the group session.
6. Receive Support and Feedback
Lastly, group therapy sessions can provide a safe place for individuals to receive support and feedback for challenges and successes they experience. Bouncing ideas off group members and listening to suggestions can help group members navigate how they can move forward.
Disadvantages of Group Therapy
It is important to note that group therapy may not be the right fit for all mental health concerns or for every individual. There are several components of being a part of a group that could have a negative impact on a group member. Let’s review some disadvantages of group therapy:
1. Potential Feelings of Distrust
Trust is a component needed in a group for group therapy to be effective. If a group member violates group rules, or breaks confidentiality, the group as a whole may feel unsafe in the group. This can contribute to individuals holding back, and not being as vulnerable and active in the group as they previously were.
2. Personality Differences
Whenever you have a group of people together, you run the risk that some personalities do not mix well. This is something that can be mediated by the Counselor or Therapist, however, for some this can make members feel uncomfortable in the group’s session. In a situation such as this, the individual may benefit from individual sessions.
3. Uncomfortable Sharing in a Group Setting
While group members are encouraged to be open and vulnerable in group sessions, some individuals may feel more comfortable talking about their concerns in an individual session. This can be true for individuals who have a history of trauma and abuse, those who have previously received mental health treatment, and individuals who would like to keep the details of their concerns private.
4. Scheduling Conflicts
For some, having consistent time for group sessions may make attending sessions more difficult. Unlike individual sessions, if you are running late or can’t make your session as scheduled, the group will proceed without you. This can be inconvenient for individuals who have an inconsistent schedule.
Is Group Therapy Right For Me?
There is no denying that there are advantages and disadvantages of participating in group therapy. The most important component is if it will be beneficial for you.
Take a moment to think about your mental health concerns. Do you feel that it would be helpful to feel connected to others who can relate to your experience? If you find yourself feeling alone or isolated, group therapy may be a good fit for you.
Are you at a point where you are ready to hear feedback about your concerns? This is an important factor to keep in mind. Group therapy sessions are guided by the Counselor or Therapist; however, a large component of the session is the group members interacting with each other.
You may be able to find a local group that provides specialized treatment approaches. As an example, you may find a group that focuses on providing Cognitive Processing Therapy for individuals struggling with posttraumatic stress disorder.
Another option that you may find beneficial is groups that target individuals with certain characteristics. This can include groups for men, women, LGBTQ+ community members, Veterans, Professionals, first responders, adolescents, and college students.
Final Thoughts on Group Therapy
Group therapy is an effective treatment option for individuals who are living with a variety of mental health needs. Group therapy can provide you with a safe place to talk about your concerns, practice your social skills, become comfortable in social settings, learn about your mental health concerns, and provide you with support.
If you feel that group therapy may be the right fit for you, your insurance provider and medical health care providers can help you locate a group therapy provider in your area. If you are struggling with your mental health, or could benefit from some support, show yourself the kindness you deserve and look into local treatment options.