A decade ago I found myself in a unique, dramatic situation that none of my friends or family understood: My young, healthy husband fell off a cliff and suffered a traumatic brain injury and PTSD, and his personality and mood changes rendered him an altered person.
After months of my own trauma, grief and loneliness of being in a very unique situation as a young mom with an impaired husband, I found a support group for loved ones of those suffering from TBI. That monthly support group changed my life, and I have since extolled the benefits of group therapy to others in difficult situations.
For me personally, the advantages of group therapy include:
- Immediate comfort in knowing I was not alone, or crazy, or at fault
- Being challenged to address my own lack of boundaries
- Humility in sharing my experience with others of all kinds of backgrounds and personal experiences of their own
- Practical advice and tools
- Long-standing friendships that grew out of the bonds formed in those sessions. I am still in touch with two friends from my group therapy today.
Mary Tate, a licensed clinical social worker in New York told me: “Group therapy can be a valuable approach when working through difficult
experiences or symptoms. Unlike individual therapy, group therapy provides support from others who are going through similar experiences,” Tate says. “The interactions that you have with your peers within the group can decrease isolation, build a sense of community and model changes that likely cannot be achieved in individual therapy alone.”
This post outlines frequently asked questions about group therapy, and where to find group counseling sessions to meet your needs.
- What is group therapy?
- What is group therapy used for?
- How does group therapy work?
- What happens during group therapy?
- What are the benefits of group therapy?
- What are the different types of group therapy?
- Where to find group therapy
- Individual vs. group therapy
- Costs of group therapy
What is group therapy?
Group therapy is when one or more therapists work with a group of people at the same time in a collaborative effort to support and improve each individual’s wellbeing. Typically, the group members have shared experiences and/or similar issues, but some groups may have diverse backgrounds or concerns.
The size of the group may vary, depending on the type of therapy and the strategy of the therapist, though in general, according to the American Group Psychotherapy Association (AGPA), groups of five to 10 are typical.
If you are interested in individual therapy, check out our Top Online Therapy Platforms >>
What is group therapy used for?
Group therapy is used to assist with people coping with a variety of issues, disorders, and experiences.
Common group therapies include:
- Group therapy for anxiety
- Group therapy for depression
- Group therapy for substance abuse
- Other common group therapy topics address grief, relationship and family problems, low self-esteem, trauma, overspending or other financial stresses, social anxiety, eating disorders and more.
And just like with individual therapy, group therapy can also be used for general self-improvement, whether or not you’ve been diagnosed with or facing anything specific.
How does group therapy work?
Group therapy facilitation is done by a counselor or therapist, who sets the goals and rules for the group, and guides the discussion.
Group therapy can be done in open or closed groups.
Open group therapy means new members can join at any time. Admission is rolling. Open groups may operate continuously, with members opting to leave once their needs have been fulfilled.
Closed group therapy means that all members begin and complete the group counseling at the same time. No new members are allowed once sessions begin.
Closed group therapy is more likely to focus on a specific issue, such as trauma, addiction, grief or a specific mental health issue.
Sometimes, the leader/therapist evaluates potential members, and assigns each to an appropriate group. Some groups dedicated to a particular issue may be designed with a deadline. The American Group Psychotherapy Association reports these closed group therapy sessions can last from 6 to 20 weeks, typically.
What happens during group therapy?
Group counseling sessions typically meet for one- to two-hour-long sessions on a weekly or semi-weekly basis. The therapist mat set clear guidelines and goals for the group. Counselors also lead and guide the conversation, but typically, members are encouraged to talk freely and honestly.
Group counseling goals
Goals for group counseling can include very specific goals such as avoidance of an addiction relapse, to more general goals, such as fostering a sense of mutual support, trust and commitment to personal growth.
Group counseling rules
Participants are expected to respect one another’s privacy and agree that what’s said in group stays in group, but there’s no way of guaranteeing confidentiality.
Participants may be required to commit to an attendance policy, especially for closed groups.
General respect, the prohibition of violence, or intoxication are typically expected in group therapy.
Some group therapy facilitators prohibit participants to have personal friendships and romantic relationships outside of the group.
Group therapy stages
Especially in closed groups, therapy facilitators expect the following stages of group therapy:
- Getting to know each other. The facilitator establishes the tone and rules of the group, and members introduce themselves and their stories.
- Gelling — the group members struggle to establish group roles, inter-personal trust and boundaries, and some conflict can be expected
- Bonding — trust is established and the group gels
- Work begins — group members seek out new ways of thinking and are open to new tools and skills
Group therapy activities
In addition to sharing personal experiences, you can expect your group therapy facilitator to lead in any number of activities. These may include:
- Trust-building activity
- Gratitude exercise
- Goal setting practices
- Identify your triggers
- Self-forgiveness ritual
- Forgiveness of others ritual
- Communication skills building
- Anger management tools
- Role-playing with other group members
- Discuss self-care habits
- Meditation and relaxation exercises
- Writing or art therapy
- Mindfulness exercises
What are the benefits of group therapy?
Many experts hail the benefits of group therapy, with a number of studies and scholarly reports to support them. In his book, The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, Irvin D. Yalom, MD, a psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, explains the collaborative nature of group therapy means members are able to support and help each other in a broadened therapeutic alliance, offering various perspectives and insights — as well as helping members know they are not alone in their struggles, or a sense of universality.
Group therapy can give members the opportunity to improve communication and interpersonal skills, as counselors are able to witness how they relate to others in real-time,
Group therapy is a tremendous tool that has years of research backing up
its efficacy,” says Long Quach, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in New York City. “Because group therapy is a microcosm of the real world I often recommend group therapy with individual therapy since individual therapy can help build skills to experiment within the group therapy session.”
What are the different types of group therapy?
more closely aligned with individual counseling, these groups aim to support individuals cope with various behavioral and emotional health issues.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy groups
Like individual cognitive-behavioral therapy, group CBT focuses on your current life (opposed to digging up the past), and works to change your perceptions and behaviors now, to improve your overall wellbeing.
Relapse prevention groups
Commonly used for those struggling with addictions and mental illness, relapse prevention groups aim to provide mutual support in recovery and adherence.
These groups are to help educate those suffering mental illness, addiction and behavioral health — as well their loved ones — on the science and treatments related to their condition. Education can be shared via a clinical facilitator, videos and movies, handouts and books. Studies find that psychoeducation is useful in medical compliance and other factors in a successful recovery.
Psychoeducational groups can also include group psychotherapy components, and the benefits that come with sharing feelings and experiences with those with a similar diagnosis or condition.
Psychoeducational group topics
These can include:
- Mental illness
- Substance abuse
- Domestic violence
- Sexual trauma and abuse
- Trauma survivors
- Eating disorders and weight loss
- Chronic disease and pain
- Anger management
- Criminal behavior
Self-help groups are less formal, and are not necessarily facilitated by a professional counselor. Sometimes referred to as mutual help, mutual aid, these are groups of people who may or may not previously know each other, who connect either online or in person, to support the individual growth or goals of each other. One of the best-known self-help groups is Alcoholics Anonymous.
Other self-help groups may focus on a life situation, such as single parenting, or caregiving of an elderly parent.
Los Angeles family therapist David Grammar said that group therapy and self-help groups are very different.
“Self-help groups tend to be focused on positive feedback and very
gentle with constructive feedback — if they give any,” Grammar says. “While self-help tends to be more about helping the individual stay motivated for change, therapy is about holding a mirror up to the individual and showing them who they really are as compared to who they think they are.”
Online support groups
Most any support group can be transferred to a Zoom video call — which became increasingly common during the Covid-19 quarantines.
“Groupinar” is a new term to describe an online, virtual seminar on a topic related to behavior health or mental wellness, that welcomes participation by way of questions and sharing experiences by participants.
BetterHelp online therapy offers its members free groupinars.
How do groups work with BetterHelp?
BetterHelp has dozens of monthly free ‘Groupinars' which are live sessions, scheduled in advance, on a particular topic with one of the platform's expert counselors. Topics range from managing anxiety, overcoming trauma, being a better parent, navigating divorce, various addictions, coping with loneliness and many more.
Sign up in advance, and then join the live group video session anonymously. Attendees can participate and ask questions via the BetterHelp chat function.
Groupinars are not group therapy, but more like supplemental educational sessions to complement your counseling.
BetterHelp Groupinars are free, anonymous and included in your BetterHelp membership cost.
BetterHelp’s groupinars are sessions led by a licensed therapist on a specific topic. Paying BetterHelp clients can register for the live session video presentation, and then interact and ask questions via the online platform’s chat function. Members have unlimited access to all groupinars, for free. Groupinar topics on offer at the time of publication include:
- Overcoming trauma
- Managing parenthood during a lockdown
- Overcoming infidelity,
- Managing change
- Separation and divorce with dignity
Here is a recent BetterHelp Groupinar:
BetterHelp’s groupinar topics change weekly, though some may be part of an ongoing series.
Where to find group therapy
Here are ways to find a support group:
- Ask your individual therapist to recommend a support group
- Ask your primary care doctor for a referral
- Call a local behavioral health clinic or community counseling center to inquire about what they offer
- PschologyToday.com's searchable database of group counseling
- Trusted friends may know of a good support group near you
Individual vs. group therapy
Many people find it useful to use both individual and group therapy, though if you feel like you need to choose one over the other, here are a few things to consider:
- Deep personal dive into issues vs benefits of community support and problem-solving
If you are seeking in-person group therapy near you, search online, ask your individual therapist for recommendations, or call a local community mental health or counseling center for a referral.
Costs of group therapy
Costs for therapy depending on the type of therapy, counselor, and your geographic location, though group therapy nearly always costs less than individual therapy. One-on-one therapy, as well as family and couples' counseling is typically priced at $50 to $250 per session. Group therapy typically costs about half the cost, according to AGPA. Most health plans must include coverage for therapy, by law, but you need to check your specific plan to see what exactly is covered.
Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist and author. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker,” her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Emma's Top Single Mom Resources.