When to Consider Group Therapy
If you’re like many people, you’re probably a bit reluctant to go to group therapy. Individual therapy’s not a problem – it’s just you and the therapist. No big deal. But group therapy? Disclosing your deepest, darkest secrets and innermost thoughts to an entire room full of strangers? “No thanks. I’d rather have a root canal!”
Before you dismiss the idea, it’s good to at least give it some serious thought and consider the circumstances under which group therapy might actually be a better option than individual therapy. Or at least a worthwhile alternative.
So, what might those circumstances entail?
1) You often feel, deep down, that your therapist (or a potential therapist) can’t ever really understand what you’re experiencing. (And you may be right – no therapist has been through everything…) In group therapy, you’re there with other people who can and do have a pretty good understanding of what you’re experiencing. Therapy groups are often set up for individuals with similar disorders or life circumstances, whether it be living with bipolar disorder or moving past the death of a spouse. You’ll find amazing support and comfort knowing that there are others who do get what you’re going through.
2) You’re isolated and / or feel alone. Group therapy can provide a much needed sense of community and support. People with mental health issues, recent losses, or other challenges often feel very alone, especially if they live alone or don’t get any real support from family or friends. Group therapy can help pull you out of that deep sense of isolation you’ve been experiencing. Granted, there may be rules about socializing with other group members, but at least it’s a step toward reducing the isolation you’re currently feeling. And that can help you begin to open yourself up to letting other people into your life.
3) You like sharing your ideas and experiences with others. Individual therapy is not a “social” relationship. There’s no reciprocity. You’re therapist is not there to be your friend or “peer.” The dynamics are different in group therapy. You’re not the only “ill” or “troubled” person in the room; you’re not the only one opening up. When you share your thoughts and feelings, other group members can reciprocate in ways that a therapist can’t (due to the nature of a therapist’s role). You’ll feel good about helping others by giving them feedback or sharing your experiences, and you’ll benefit from their feedback, sharing, and support as well.
4) You can’t afford individual therapy. Let’s face it; therapy is expensive. Even if you have health insurance, it may cover only a few sessions (and you have to have an official diagnosis). Group therapy is often much less expensive because the cost of the therapist’s time is shared by several people. This makes it a much more affordable option for many people. As a result, you may also be able to stay in therapy longer, and, ultimately, benefit from all the other great aspects of group therapy as well.
5) You want feedback from peers in a “safe” environment. Group therapy is a great place to learn about yourself, because it’s a microcosm of your bigger world. No matter where your go or what you do, you’re still “you” – and the same holds true when you’re in group. Regardless of the type of group, you’re going to get valuable feedback from others who, over time, will see your strengths and weaknesses.
6) You want to try out or practice new interpersonal skills. Group therapy is a great place to practice new communication skills (for example, being a better listener or expressing your real feelings more appropriately and directly). You can try out new skills and ask for feedback from the group. This will help you hone the new skill and feel more confident trying it out in the “real world.”
Hopefully, group therapy no longer feels so scary or threatening. Individual therapy certainly has some advantages – after all, you get to spend the entire hour talking about YOU. But it lacks many of the advantages that group therapy does offer. You can find therapy groups for many different things if you live in or near a city. Group therapy is especially beneficial for individuals struggling with addictions, sexual trauma, self-esteem issues, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, grief issues, and getting over a divorce – just to name a few.
It’s always worth at least looking into group therapy. You have nothing to lose, and you may find that it’s one of the best decisions you’ve ever made!