What is Group Therapy?


Group therapy is a shared therapeutic experience that involves the presence of a trained professional and others who are working through similar issues. This collaborative form of healing can focus on interpersonal relationships or on particular concerns shared by group members. There are numerous psychological and emotional issues that are treated in group therapy, ranging from addiction and abuse to anxiety and depression.

How is This Different from Individual Therapy?

The difference between individual and group therapy – In individual therapy the issues are brought forth with one therapist listening and responding to the concerns. The type of feedback that is given, or if feedback is given, is dependent on the therapist’s training. Group therapy, on the other hand, involves simultaneous interaction with people typically outside the client’s social and familial network: relative strangers. Sometimes the groups are homogeneous, with people in the group having similar issues, and other times they are heterogeneous, with the members having diverse background and concerns. The facilitator often has specialized training in group therapy, but this may not always be the case.

What Does the Typical Group Session Look Like?

Groups can be as small as three or four people, but group therapy sessions generally involve around seven to twelve individuals (although it is possible to have more participants). The group typically meets once or twice each week for an hour or two. In many cases, the group will meet in a room where the chairs are arranged in a large circle so that each member can see every other person in the group.2 A session might begin with members of the group introducing themselves and sharing why they are in group therapy. Members might also share their experiences and progress since the last meeting.

The specific manner in which the session is conducted depends largely on the goals of the group and the style of the therapist. Some therapists might encourage a more free-form style of dialogue, where each member participates as he or she sees fit. Other therapists instead have a specific plan for each session that might include having clients practice new skills with other members of the group.

How Can Group Therapy Help Me?

It can come as a relief that other people’s problems, whilst unique, may be similar to your own. This in itself can help you to feel more hopeful about your own situation.

How Does a Group Help?

Sharing problems and finding out about how others have dealt with their difficulties may give you encouragement to work with issues that previously seemed impossible. Individuals often find that group members are able to offer useful feedback and insight to each other. Although expertise is important, the therapist is not the only person with something to contribute. This process of giving and receiving allows individuals in the group to experience relating in a way which can be helpful in everyday settings.

Benefits of Group Therapy

The members of the group experience emotional support, straight talk, understanding and encouragement in group therapy.  Members become committed to the group by showing up for others healing along with their own. Often times attending group therapy gives purpose to member’s lives and helps them develop a sense of responsibility to someone other than themselves.

Talking and listening on a regular basis to group members helps you keep your own issue in prospective.  Often times mental or psychological issues like anxiety and depression can make a person feel isolated and alone … and through group therapy that isolation can be greatly diminished when you learn there are people “just like you”!

It Sounds Pretty Risky. What about Trust?

Getting to know and trust the group helps individuals to trust themselves more, to take risks, to free themselves from fears that something dreadful will happen if they express their true thoughts. It may take time, of course, but the security of the group can give individuals a feeling of safety and understanding giving them an opportunity to speak freely about their issues in a way that they have not previously been able to do.

What about Confidentiality?

This is often a concern for those considering group therapy. Facilitators ensure that this is discussed thoroughly in the first session, and that ‘ground rules’ or guidelines are agreed by the group before any work commences. Facilitators will also try to ensure that the likelihood of group members knowing each other is minimised. Experience shows that, since each member expects their own issues of confidentiality to be respected, those of others is also invariably respected.

What about Particular Problems – How can the Group Help with Those?

Some people feel anxious or depressed, yet they haven’t been able to discover what lies behind these distressed feelings. The group will gradually explore and help members begin to understand why they feel the way they do. Other individuals experience their problems in other ways, for example people may have physical symptoms, such as headaches, indigestion etc for which no physical cause can be found. Here the exploration of hidden conflicts can lead to the relief of symptoms and tensions.

What if I’m Still Not Sure?

Nearly everybody has healthy doubts about joining a group. That doesn’t mean that a group will not be helpful, but individuals should not ignore their doubts, nor should they consider group work to please someone else. In the end, success or failure depends a great deal on individual’s willingness and motivation to use the group constructively and to do something about their problems. The group can only facilitate change if you give it the chance.