The importance of receiving professional support when struggling with a mental health issue cannot be overstated. Fortunately, there are a number of options when it comes to getting that support. Most people are familiar with individual therapy (working with a therapist one on one), as well as couples counseling or family therapy, where you and your family members meet with a therapist to address issues within these relationships. Each of these modalities is a powerful resource that can help reduce one’s level of distress and improve one’s overall quality of life. But what about group therapy? What is it, how is it helpful, and when is group therapy most appropriate? What are the benefits of group therapy sessions?
Simi Psychological Group is Moorpark’s leading team of therapists and mental health advocates. Whether you are looking for a team of group therapy specialists or exploring the many therapy modalities, speak with our team of professionals by calling (805) 842-1994.
Group therapy involves a group of unrelated individuals meeting with a therapist or mental health professional (sometimes two) to talk about a mental health issue that they all have in common. That may seem obvious, but because there are many different types of groups and because groups can vary in length, structure, number of participants, and so on, it can be a little confusing. And who has the time or energy to figure it all out, especially if you’re already struggling? Not to mention the fact that talking about personal issues in front of a group of strangers may be as appealing as getting a root canal. The very idea of group therapy, for many, is overwhelming. But no matter what kind of group it is or how it’s structured, group therapy is an opportunity to connect with others; it’s a unique therapeutic experience. Groups are the only form of therapy where you know those around you can relate firsthand because your experiences are their experiences too. And that’s the point.
So often when we’re struggling, we feel isolated. We ask ourselves, “What’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I handle this?” or “Why can’t I ‘get over’ this?” “Am I the only one who feels this way?” Group therapy addresses those nagging fears and lessens the sense of isolation so keenly felt. Knowing that you aren’t alone, that you aren’t the only one struggling in this way, and that others truly do understand what you’re going through is both validating and empowering. Suddenly, no matter what you’re going through, you feel a little less alone in the world.
So what are some of the different types of groups and how are they structured?
If you’re looking into group therapy, you might see groups described as support groups, process groups, interpersonal groups, psychoeducational groups, or skills-based groups.
In general, a support group is for people struggling with a particular issue or mental health diagnosis. For example, there are support groups available for people who have experienced a loss (grief support), a medical diagnosis (cancer support group), an ongoing struggle or life experience (infertility, women’s issues, men’s issues), or a specific mental health diagnosis (eating disorder, anxiety, depression, trauma), to name a few. These groups are facilitated by a mental health professional whose role is to help maintain the safety and integrity of the group, and to facilitate conversation as people address their unifying issue together. Support groups may meet weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. Each meeting may have a theme or topic, but the group itself is not heavily structured with specific content. Support groups are intended to provide just that, support. Group members are encouraged to share their experiences, thoughts, and feelings openly, give and receive feedback and encouragement, and focus on healing.
An interpersonal process group is similar to a support group in that group members are there to talk about or “process” their thoughts and feelings and to open up about their experiences. Process groups tend to be similar to individual therapy in that group members are actively working on specific issues. These groups might be a little more structured, with the facilitator or co-facilitators guiding more of the discussion and interactions within the group. For example, group members might be encouraged to share the ways in which their thought patterns or self-defeating behaviors are impacting their lives and relationships, and to explore where those thought patterns and behaviors may have originated. Therapy groups like this tend to delve into the given topic on a deeper level, with group members processing thoughts and emotions, holding one another accountable (safely and with compassion), and providing feedback, support, validation, and hope.
Psychoeducational groups or skills-based groups are more didactic, with the therapist or mental health professional taking on a more active role in presenting information on a specific topic or issue. The focus is on learning new coping skills and providing resources for individuals struggling in similar ways. Like the other types of group therapy, there is value in knowing you’re not alone and in receiving support from other group members in addition to the group facilitators.
Other variations in how groups are run include the concept of “open” versus “closed” groups, the length of time a group is run, frequency, and with how many group members. Groups that are “open” refer to ongoing groups with no start date or end date. New individuals can join at any time, and there is no set number of people in attendance at each meeting. “Closed” groups, in contrast, are groups that have a specific start date and end date and run for a set number of weeks. Closed therapy groups might run for 8, 10, 12, or even 15 or 16 weeks. Once a group has started, no new group members are added. Closed groups are lovely in that you really get that group cohesiveness. Once a closed group has come to an end, another completely new group might be started.
In contrast to peer-led groups (think AA or NA), all therapy groups are facilitated by a mental health professional, or sometimes two. Therapy groups might vary in size, but generally, the optimal number of group participants is 6-10. With smaller groups, one professional might facilitate. With groups of 8-10, having two co-facilitators is helpful. The group facilitators are there to help protect the integrity of the group, establish group rules, and ensure group safety.
One of the primary benefits of group therapy is the relationships that develop among the group members. Group therapy provides an opportunity to get feedback and support not just from trained professionals, but from those around you who are going through the same thing. While your therapist offers compassion, validation, and resources, sometimes we just want to hear from those who are truly in the trenches with us. (Sidenote, your therapist may also relate firsthand to your experiences, and may even share a bit of that with you cautiously, but healthy and appropriate therapeutic boundaries prevent that therapist from divulging very personal information in the same way your fellow group members will.) Group members can hold one another accountable, appropriately and with compassion. They allow for an alternative or unique perspective, and they offer a sounding board. Group therapy is a wonderful way to develop more self-awareness, which facilitates the healing process.
Group therapy can be used alone as the primary source of therapeutic support, or can be utilized simultaneously and in conjunction with individual therapy, couples counseling, and family therapy because there is no overlap. Group therapy is a unique experience with distinct advantages; it’s a therapeutic modality that can benefit all. If you’re struggling emotionally with a life experience or a mental health issue, group therapy sessions offer support unlike any other, and maybe the best way to remind yourself you are not alone. To learn more about the group therapy services at Simi Psychological Group, your trusted team of therapists near Moorpark, Ca, contact our office at (805) 842-1994.