For most of us, when we reach the point of deciding to seek help with our distress, we automatically think of individual therapy.
And as a therapist, I’m obviously a big believer in the benefits of individual psychotherapy. In fact, I’m more than a believer, because I get to see the meaningful changes and breakthroughs that my clients achieve in individual counseling every week.
But there’s another form of therapy that I believe deserves far more consideration when it comes to seeking help: group therapy.
In this post, I’m going to share my thoughts on what makes group psychotherapy so unique—and how it just might change your life.
What is group therapy?
Let’s get the basics out of the way first.
Most of us have a pretty good understanding of what individual therapy is all about. Generally speaking, you meet with a therapist one-on-one and, together, you work on identifying and resolving sources of distress.
But when it comes to group therapy, there tends to be a lot confusion.
What happens in group therapy? Who attends? Is it anything like the support groups portrayed in movies? And what’s the point of meeting with complete strangers?
Group therapy, as its name implies, is therapy that happens in a group context. Groups are led by a professional therapist or, in some cases, co-led by two therapists. Groups vary in size, but most are comprised of 6-10 members.
Some psychotherapy groups have a set theme, such as divorce support, grief, loneliness or substance abuse. Other groups, often referred to as “process groups,” have no set focus and instead provide a space to work on issues that emerge organically within the group itself.
How is group therapy different from individual therapy?
Individual therapy and group therapy involve different dynamics that generate different experiences.
To quote James Bugental, “To be alone with an intimate evokes very different inner experiences and outer actions than those usual when we are with a group.”
This is what makes group therapy truly unique—the opportunity to discover our interpersonal patterns and to experiment with new ways of being with others.
This is also what makes group therapy truly life-changing for many. Therapy groups can provide you with a space to experiment, not just with situational behaviors, but with entirely new patterns of being and living.
How Group Therapy Can Change Your Life
To say that group therapy can be life-changing may sound like a bold claim.
But then again, isn’t this the goal of all therapy, to change our way of living?
And this is exactly where therapy groups excel.
In the group setting, the very patterns that prevent us from living fully in our lives outside of therapy almost always emerge within the group.
For some, it’s patterns of withdrawing, intellectualizing or concealing.
For others, it may be people-pleasing, self-criticism, self-imposed social rules or inauthentic ways of being with others.
Whatever the pattern may be that keeps you from being fully present with other group members, group provides a space to identify and change these patterns.
Consider just some of the life changes that therapy group participants often experience:
- The group member who struggles with loneliness but in group finds new ways of connecting and being intimate with others
- The participant whose life pattern is to prioritize the wants and needs of others but gradually begins to claim his voice—his “I-ness”—within the group
- The member who goes through life feeling ashamed and keeping significant parts of herself hidden but, in group, begins to let more of herself be seen by others and to let go of her shame
- The person who goes through life fearing what others think of him but, in group, finally accepts himself as he is and breaks free from the need to constantly please others
These and other changes are certainly meaningful within the group setting.
They become truly life changing when they emerge in our lives outside of the therapy room.
Curious about getting started in a therapy group?
Psychology Today’s support group directory is a great place to learn more about group offerings in your local community.
Changing long-standing life patterns is no easy task. But group therapy can help you achieve the meaningful changes you’re after.
Contact Modern Era Counseling today to learn more about group therapy in Charlotte, NC. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have and help you determine if group therapy is right for you.