Many emotional problems involve difficulties in relating to others, including feelings of isolation, rejection, and loneliness and an inability to form meaningful relationships. Although the therapist can help the client work out some of these problems, the final test lies in how well the person can apply the attitudes and responses learned in therapy to relationships in everyday life. Group therapy allows clients to work out their problems in the presence of others, observe how other people react to their behavior, and try out new ways of responding when old ones prove unsatisfactory (Forsyth & Corazzini, 2000). It is often used as a supplement to individual psychotherapy.
What to look for?
Psychoanalytic, humanistic, and cognitive-behaviorist therapists have modified their techniques so that they can be used with groups. Group therapy has been used in a
variety of settings: in hospital wards and outpatient psychiatric clinics, with parents of disturbed children, and with teenagers in correctional institutions, to name a few.
How it works?
Typically, a group consists of a small number of individuals (six to eight is considered optimal) who have similar problems.There are many different types of groups with a behavioral twist, or groups that blend both behavioral and cognitive methods for specific populations. Structured groups, with a psycho-educational focus, are especially popular in various settings nowadays. At least five general approaches can be applied to the practice of behavioral groups: (1) social skills training groups, (2) psycho-educational groups with specific themes, (3) stress management groups, (4) multi-modal group therapy, and (5) mindfulness and acceptance-based behavior therapy in groups
The therapist usually remains in the background, allowing group members to exchange experiences, comment on one another’s behavior, and discuss their own problems as well as those of the other members. However, in some groups the therapist is quite active. For example, in a group desensitization session, people who share the same phobias (such as fear of flying or anxiety about tests) may be led through a systematic desensitization hierarchy. Or in a session for training social skills, a group of shy and unassertive individuals may be coached in a series of role-playing scenes.
When to use?
Group therapy has several advantages over individual therapy. It uses the therapist’s resources more efficiently because one therapist can help several people at once. An individual can derive comfort and support from observing that others have similar, perhaps more severe problems. A person can learn vicariously by watching how others behave and can explore attitudes and reactions by interacting with a variety of people, not just with the therapist. Groups are particularly effective when they give participants opportunities to acquire new social skills through modeling and to practice these skills in the group.
Role of a Group Therapist
Most groups are led by a trained therapist, who have a prior training in conducting group therapy. In most therapy sessions, therapist work as a mere facilitator, who only facilitate the group discussion. However, the number and variety of self-help groups – groups that are conducted without a professional therapist – are increasing. Self-help groups are voluntary organizations of people who meet regularly to exchange information and support one another’s efforts to overcome a common problem. Alcoholic Anonymous is the best known of the self help groups. Other groups help people cope with specific stressful situations, such as bereavement, divorce, and single parenthood.
Atkinson, R. L., Atkinson, R. C., Smith, E. E., Bem, D. J., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (1996). Hilgard's introduction to psychology (12th ed.). Harcourt Brace College Publishers