Group therapy, what does it consist of?

Group therapy is an effective option for treating many psychological disorders. How is it put into practice? Find out!

Written and verified by the psychologist Montse Armero on November 05, 2021.

Last update: 05 November, 2021

Group therapy is a treatment that has become popular for its effectiveness. In short, It consists of grouping several people to work on certain psychotherapeutic techniques. Like individual therapy, it provides group members with cognitive and emotional strategies and resources to help them in their process of improvement or change.

This therapeutic model emerged more than a century ago, at the hands of the internist Joseph Pratt, who was doing psychoeducational work on tuberculosis. However, it was not until decades later that group psychotherapy became popular thanks to therapists such as Jakob Levy Moreno, the founder of psychodrama, and the psychoanalyst Horst-Eberhard Richter.

Currently, group therapy is an established treatment It is used both in the field of psychology and in psychiatry. Its effectiveness has been proven and its benefits are diverse. Next, we explain all the details.

What exactly is group therapy?

Group therapy is characterized by being made up of one or a maximum of two therapists and a small group of patients who usually sit in a circle. Its dynamics are quite far from individual therapy. Although both share the fact of talking about the problems of each person, being in a group provides more nuances.

Often the therapist begins the session by recapping the previous encounter, introducing a topic to talk about, or commenting on something that has happened that concerns the group members. Later, gives way to one of the participants to explain their current situation. The rest of the classmates listen to the end, and then they are given a feedback.

Depending on how the session evolves, the therapist will propose certain activities. Some of them can be, for example, acceptance dynamics, exercises of role-play or the practice of group cohesion techniques.

The format is usually quite flexible; thus, in some sessions more is said and in others more exercises are done. In general, its duration ranges from an hour and a half to two hours, and its periodicity is usually weekly, biweekly or monthly.

In group therapy, members share their personal situation and a support network is created between everyone.


Group therapy characteristics

Therapeutic groups differ from individual therapy by a number of characteristics. Initially, the relationship between the participants in this type of therapy takes on a lot of prominence. The person not only commits to change by himself, but also because he is part of a group that is moving towards change.

The patient within the group feels supported and not judged, since the members support each other. This cohesion provides him with great motivation and, incidentally, increases his commitment and participation in the group.

In addition, the group setting becomes a therapeutic strategy in itself, since the participants give and receive feedback of the rest of the group members. All this strengthens your security, since it is very satisfactory to contribute ideas or vital experiences, and that these are useful for other people.

Among other things, it should be mentioned that the members of a certain therapeutic group may have certain characteristics in common, although this is not always the case. Some are heterogeneous and They are made up of people of different ages, personalities, origins and problems.

Requirements to participate in a therapeutic group

Most people can participate in this type of treatment. However, the ideal is that it is the therapist himself who analyzes whether, due to the individual characteristics and the current situation of the patient, it is a good time to work as a team.

Of course, in order to participate in group sessions, a series of requirements are requested that favor good group dynamics. Among these, the following:

  • Motivation to enter the working group.
  • Similar goals to the rest of the group members.
  • Commitment to attend sessions.
  • Puntuality.
  • Desire for participate in the dynamics.
  • Respectful attitude before the opinions of others; the person is not in the group to judge anyone.
  • Confidentiality. The person must agree not to explain to anyone else what happens in the sessions.

What difficulties are treated in group therapy?

Group treatment is applied successfully in most specific psychological disorders or emotional difficulties. Thus, therapeutic groups for addictions such as alcohol or teams that work on eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, are known.

Programs oriented towards the following conditions are also frequent:

  • Bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
  • Anxiety and depression.
  • Personality disorder.
  • Management of mourning for the death of a family member.
  • People at risk of suicide.
  • Patients who want to promote their social skills.

Likewise, psychotherapy programs can be established on an outpatient basis, in day hospital or hospital admission groups.

Disadvantages of group therapy

Although group therapy is a very effective tool, not all people feel comfortable once they join the group. Some of the negative aspects that manifest the most are the following:

  • Feeling of not belonging to the group when someone enters one already formed.
  • Frustration when observing that there are people who advance faster than others.
  • Low involvement when dealing with issues that do not interest the patient.
  • Disinterest in certain dynamics.
  • Indifference towards the explanations of some people.
  • Feeling of exclusion when you do not fit in with some members of the group.

Other problems that may arise when working in a group imply that some of the members attracts excessive attention or that their commitment to the group is irregular.

In this case, the therapist is the one who must be skilled enough to redirect the dynamics adopted by some members of the group. It must also ensure that all its members can feel motivated and involved towards change.

Despite the benefits, group therapy can have some drawbacks, especially if the person is not committed enough.


Final thoughts on group therapy

Group therapy has interesting advantages for a wide variety of patients. It is a type of treatment that helps the person not feel alone about their problem, which is usual.

Its main advantage is that it is compatible with other treatments, be it individual, couple or pharmacological treatment. However, it has the disadvantage that there is not always a face-to-face group that adjusts to the current situation.

In any case, nowadays there are groups that work the modality on-line, which makes it easy to find options that do adapt to every need. In any case, it is an option that should not be ruled out, as its benefits are quite interesting.

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