Let’s face it. Seeing a therapist is not easy. To benefit from the process, you really have to put yourself out there. It’s a very personal experience that involves disclosing things about yourself and your feelings that you wouldn’t be inclined to tell your friends or family, let alone a stranger. In doing so, especially at first, you undoubtedly will experience feelings of vulnerability that may cause discomfort and that’s just talking to one person in the privacy of their office. These days those same encounters can be more challenging because they are over the phone or through video.
Therapy, however, is not limited to seeking counsel from an individual therapist. Group therapy provides a rather effective avenue for treatment of behavioral health issues. Typically, group therapy sessions are led by one or more therapists working with several people at the same time concerning a condition or lived experience for which all members of the group are seeking treatment. While group therapy can be used alone, it is more commonly used with individual therapy and, possibly, medication.
Yet, some may feel reluctant to participate in group therapy because of a heightened sense of vulnerability – more people, more exposure. But, if you can get past that feeling, the benefits of group therapy can be quite rewarding, especially for those suffering from depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, bipolar disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, social phobias and substance use disorders.
Here are just some of the benefits to group therapy:
One of the most important benefits is learning that there are others like you suffering from the same thing. Oftentimes there are strong feelings of isolation and alienation when dealing with a mental health issue that makes seeking treatment difficult. With group therapy, you are with people who are dealing with the same or similar issues. This common understanding of a difficult experience nurtures trust and makes any judgment a lot less likely. Sharing feelings with the group can also help relieve the pain or stress you may be feeling.
2. Different perspectives.
Group therapy, by its very nature, involves input from a variety of perspectives. With different personalities and experiences, people tend to look at issues and problems differently. By seeing how other people handle these issues and problems, you can incorporate different strategies to address your own. Plus, typically, members of the group will be at different stages in addressing their treatment and will be able to offer to others their experiences and ways of coping.
While peer pressure is normally not perceived as a positive, with group therapy subtle forms of it can be. Now, this doesn’t mean judging someone or making them feel guilty or attempting to bully someone into behaving a certain way. But with other members of the group providing positive feedback and advice for addressing challenges, a feeling of accountability occurs from wanting to please and be accepted by the group, which can help push you forward toward achieving your goals.
Having the camaraderie, fellowship and support of group members provide a type of safety net that builds confidence. This confidence enables you to push yourself outside of the group, knowing that even if you stumble, you’ve got others to fall back upon.
All of us have blind spots about ourselves, some of which may hold us back from effectively addressing those things that may be at the root of our problems. Through interacting with members of the group, you will see reflections of yourself from their perspectives, allowing for those blind spots to be uncovered and improving your ability to cope with the situations for which you need help.
Full or partial in-patient treatment often includes a significant amount of group therapy that patients grow accustomed to and feel is critical to their continued treatment. Out-patient group therapy assures that such treatment is accessible and continual.
Just like with individual therapy, group therapy requires participants to maintain confidentiality outside of the group. Granted, members of the group aren’t subject to the same ethical constraints as licensed therapists, but members are typically (and should be) required to sign a confidentiality agreement. Of course, such agreements can be broken but, given the shared experiences of group members, there is a real ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ feeling. Also, first names or initials can be used to provide further comfort.
Citizen Advocates offers group, marriage, and family counseling services for mental health and addiction treatment. Contact us to learn more.