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The Benefits of Group Therapy

The quintessential image: a group of people, sitting in a circle, talking about their problems. We’ve seen group therapy portrayed in movies and TV shows. For some people, it conjures up memories of attending support groups or perhaps a parenting or marriage class. But what is group therapy? What are its benefits, and what are the different types of groups out there?


What are the different types of groups?

There are a few different types of group therapy. They are different based on the content being covered, who is guiding the group, what the group purpose is, and the specific rules of the group.
There are generally seven different types of groups.
1. Education groups
2. Discussion groups
3. Task groups
4. Growth and Experiential groups
5. Counseling and Therapy
6. Support groups
7. Self-help groups

Education groups involve professionals providing information on an issue. These include psychoeducation about diabetes, study skills,  nutrition, parenting skills, the list goes on.

In discussion groups, the topic is on a current event, or issue. The best example is a book club: people come to the group, discuss themes of the literature and may meet regularly with the same participants. In this case, the leader of the group is solely responsible for generating discussion about the topic.

In task groups, there is a specific goal in mind. Task groups may be organized by leaders and managers in order to solve a specific problem or discuss a case. There is a clear goal, and they may only meet once. In this case, the leader’s focus is to ensure the group stays on task.

Growth and experiential groups involve members exploring and developing personal goals to understand themselves. These groups may be held at retreats and the goal is to gain greater awareness, discover personal values, in the presence of a sharing and listening atmosphere. Some of these groups go outside, into the natural world, and involve physical challenges and risk taking in order to build cooperation.

In this post, we will be talking about counseling therapy: where therapists (usually two of them) engage with a group of clients for a specific issue or problem. They may occur in private practice, community settings, schools, universities, or inpatient mental health facilities.

Support groups meet regularly and discuss a common problem: a cancer support group, experiencing a natural disaster, a new health diagnoses, parenting and disabilities. The members share their struggles with others and the role of the leader is to encourage personal interactions and ensure one member does not monopolize the conversations.

Lastly, self-help groups include groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and other 12-Step meetings. These groups are not led by professionals and have their own rules and cultures.


More On Counselling Groups

Group therapy has four different phases. In the first phase, clients and therapists and getting to know one another, create the group norms and rules, and learn about expectations from one another. In the transition phase, clients and therapists start talking about issues and move from psychoeducation to more deeper issues. In the working stage, participants (also called clients) will work on the disorder: how to understand the disorder, how to change, and navigating barriers and challenges. In the last stage, the group gets ready to dissolve, and the loss of the group is processed.

Group therapy can be used for a variety of problems: anxiety disorders, substance-use disorders, Borderline personality Disorder, depression, interpersonal therapy, mindfulness, chronic pain…the list goes on.

There is no consensus on how groups are run: if you are unsure of what is going to happen in a group, write a list of questions to bring during the intake.


The Benefits of Being Together

There are a few advantages to group therapy.

Financially, group therapy is easier on the wallet, with sessions being almost half the cost of a regular 1:1 therapy session. During the last two years, rising costs and inflation, coupled with the stress of Covid-19 has left many families feeling stretched, financially and emotionally. At a time where services are perhaps more necessary than ever, the publicly funded mental-health care system has been stressed and pushed to the limit. Wait times for free or cost-reduced therapy can be challenging to find and often involve long waitlists. Group therapy, delivered through private or public health care organizations, is a more accessible and cost-effective way to connect with others and get results.

In groups, there is the added benefit of hearing other people’s stories, interpretations and feedback. As well, group members may talk about resources that other members did not know about. They may express viewpoints that challenge other group members, and a skilled therapist will be able to manage anything that comes up. Groups are also helpful because members can learn and practice new skills and behaviours with one another before attempting them in the real world.

Oftentimes, people experiencing mental health challenges feel alone and isolated. Group therapy offers exposure to other people with similar problems; which can decrease a person’s self-stigma and help them feel connected to others. This feeling of belonging is a core need for human beings, and group therapy capitalizes on this. As well, support groups tend to have a common purpose: grieving, loss, cancer, etc. In these groups, the shared commonality helps other members feel connected.

Best Practises

Attending group therapy for the first time? Don’t worry. The group therapists are there to help everyone feel at ease. You will likely be assessed by the therapists beforehand to ensure the group is a good fit for you. During the first session, the therapists will facilitate introductions to themselves, and help people start talking about what they are here for and a little about themselves. Next, you will likely create some group norms and rules and talk about confidentiality and informed consent. What is said here, stays here!

Depending on the type of group, there may be certain rules about missing sessions or showing up late. You should have a contract or idea of what to expect and what to do in case you are feeling unwell and cannot make it.


When is it time for 1 on 1?

Group therapy can be helpful for people with all severities of mental health disorders. Almost all inpatient mental health units will have some sort of therapy groups. But that is not to say that people with mild to moderate symptoms will not benefit. As we talked about earlier: there are other considerations when deciding between individual and group therapy. Cost, meeting other people, sharing commonalities, listening to other viewpoints: these are generally not met in individual therapy.

So when is it time to consider 1 on 1 treatment?

A good therapy practice will ensure that members are ready for group therapy: you need to be willing and ready to engage with groups. If you do not feel ready for a group, individual therapy might be the better choice.. If let’s say, it is your first time in therapy, you may have needs and concerns that will not be met in group therapy because of time constraints. Individual therapy ensures that only your needs and wants are met for 60 minutes.

Interested? If you have questions about group therapy or individual therapy, reach out today!


About the Author

Victoria Howarth is one of our qualifying registered psychotherapists {RP (Q)} and a therapist under supervision at CMAP Health. She has a Master’s Degree in Counselling Psychology at Yorkville University and a Master’s Certificate in Addictions and Mental Health from Durham College. She has experience coaching and counselling adults with substance use disorders with an emphasis on harm reduction. To find out more about Victoria you can view her profile.


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