Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy carried out in small groups of participants, under the supervision of one or more therapists. This type of therapy can be applied under several therapeutic orientations (behavioral, experiential, psychodynamic etc) and it represents a way of exploring, examining and developing qualities of the individual through group relations that build up amongst the members.
Group psychotherapy has a long standing history starting at the beginning of the 20th century, being founded by Pratt, Burrow and Schilder. After the Second World War, group psychotherapy developed and diversified with the aid of Jacob Moreno (psychodrama), Samuel Slavson, Hyman Spotnitz (psycho-analytical group therapy), (Irvin Yalom (existential psychotherapy), Foulkes (group analysis) and Wilfred Bion (a type of early social therapy) in Europe.
Today, group psychotherapy is highly popular due to its wide range of uses: support groups, skills training groups, educational groups, problem solving groups, relaxation groups etc.
Even though it is not carried out strictly between therapist and one single patient, as individual therapy, group therapy respects ethical and functioning principles just as any other type of psychotherapy. Thus, the therapeutic setting must be kept and respected both by the members of the group, as well as by the therapist. According to Yalom, the most important principles of functioning for group therapy are:
- Hope: seeing people that have overcome difficulties or are confronting the same difficulties as yourself will give you the hope of not dealing with them on your own.
- Universality: the feeling that what you are going through is not unique and impossible to overcome;
- Information sharing: in groups, people learn to share, both emotions and experiences, as well as concrete information that can help the other members of the group to reach a better understanding of what they are going through and why;
- Altruism: members are helping each other, but are also helping themselves because they are raising their self-esteem as they’re observing the ways in which they can be useful to those around.
- The corrective recapitulation of the primary family group: Because of the close relationships that build among members, they can relive childhood experiences and rebuild family relationships that have been malfunctioning and, as a result, caused them pain and suffering.
- Development of socialization techniques: without the fear of being judged, people are predisposed to trying new things in group settings, they also display a tendency to learn new behaviors and an ability to build up new relationships.
- Imitative behavior: in the therapeutic group setting, people influence each other and are more likely to adopt positive behaviors .
- Catharsis: Sharing experiences and personal suffering can lead to the release of built up tension and guilt and can facilitate the healing process.
What is it for? Is it for me?
Group therapy can treat a diverse spectrum of issues, from depression (Dies, 1993) to chronic trauma-related stress disorders (2005) and addictions (Parker & Guest, 1999). Support groups (for parents that have children suffering from ADHD, for people suffering of AIDS, for people with anger management issues or for abused people) have, as well, a major therapeutic effect. Many groups that are based around art-therapy, drama therapy, psychodrama or relaxation techniques are both useful and pleasant and lead people on the path to self-development.
If you are going through a stressful situation or, on the contrary, if you only want to know yourself better and develop your creativity, your artistic abilities or your social skills, group therapy can be the perfect option. All you have to do is a little research for finding a qualified therapist and build up the courage to meet people like yourself, together with whom you may learn to live a better life.
Dies, R.R. (1993). Research on group psychotherapy: Overview and clinical applications. In Anne Alonso & Hillel I. Swiller (Eds.), Group therapy in clinical practice. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press
Kanas, N (2005) Group Therapy for Patients with Chronic Trauma-Related Stress Disorders. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 55 (1), 161-6
Parker, J. & Guest, D. L. (1999), The clinician’s guide to 12-step programs: How, when, and why to refer a client, Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport.
Yalom, I. D., & Lesczc, M. (2005). The theory and practice of group psychotherapy. New York, NY: Basic Books