Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy conducted by psychiatrists, psychologists and licensed counselors. Rather than participating in a one on one psychotherapy session, the main dynamic of group therapy is that you will be interacting with a number of people at the same time who may be facing similar issues to the ones you face. Numbers of participants in a therapy group range from about six to ten or twelve members, and depending upon the type of group, number of attendants may fluctuate.
In the US and the UK, the idea of trying group therapy and developing a way to practice this form of psychotherapy evolved at approximately the same time, right after World War II. In mental institutions, the practice had been fairly common, and practitioners involved in group therapy’s evolution noted that many people benefited from the group experience. This type of therapy was also a means for some patients to save money. A therapist working with a group could afford to charge each person less.
Group therapy may be issue based, where each person participating is working out a particularly difficult issue. There are groups that focus on panic disorder, bipolar, living with depression, divorce, parenting ill children and many others, and sometimes the group is composed of people whom a therapist handpicks. The group may be made up of people who are working on enhancing life skills but who may not have a specific challenge or an issue in common. The reason the therapist is directly influenced in choice is because the goal is to create a group environment of people who will fit well together. Issue specific groups may mean anyone can join without prior therapist approval, though a therapist can ask someone who is disruptive to the group to leave.
Two types of group therapy have become popular. One is called time-limited and the other continuous. Time-limited groups have a defined number of sessions, with all members beginning and ending the sessions together. Continuous groups can go on for years, with members joining or leaving at any time.
Some of the benefits of group therapy include helping each participant realize the universality of his or her condition. Other people may be facing the same challenges, fears or struggles, which often helps group participants feel less isolated. People have the opportunity to help each other in groups, and these acts of altruism may lift spirits. Another element experienced by many is that hearing other people discuss their issues can be cathartic, providing a means to express emotions more freely as other people recount their stories.
A few people cite disadvantages of group psychotherapy. Though other people are asked to keep communications in this form of therapy private, only the therapist is bound by law to keep group therapy confidential. Some people may fear disclosure of personal details, or they may in general have a difficult time talking about their problems with a large group of people. Group dynamics can also be positive or negative. One or two people who monopolize most of the time without much intervention from the therapist leading the group may make the group a less positive experience for other participants.