Group therapy involves one or more therapist who lead a group of roughly five to fifteen clients. Typically, groups meet for an hour or two each week for an identified period of time approximately 6 weeks for some. Some people attend individual therapy in addition to groups, while others participate in groups only. You will be offered the option based on your circumstance.
Groups are designed to target a specific problem, such as trauma, depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. Other groups focus more generally on improving social skills, helping you deal with a range of issues such as anger, shyness, loneliness, and low self-esteem. Some groups are designed for those who have experienced loss.
Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy that involves one or more therapists working with several people at the same time. Group therapy is sometimes used alone, but it is also commonly integrated into a comprehensive treatment plan that also includes individual therapy and medication.
Groups can be as small as three or four people, but group therapy sessions often involve around eight to twelve individuals (although it is possible to have more participants). The group typically meets once or twice each week, or more, for an hour or two.
According to author Oded Manor in The Handbook of Psychotherapy, the minimum number of group therapy sessions is usually around six but a full year of sessions is more common. Manor also notes that these meetings may either be open or closed. In open sessions, new participants are welcome to join at any time. In a closed group, only a core group of members are invited to participate.
So, what does a typical group therapy session look like? In many cases, the group will meet in a room where the chairs are arranged in a large circle so that each member can see every other person in the group.
A session might begin with members of the group introducing themselves and sharing why they are in group therapy. Members might also share their experiences and progress since the last meeting.
The precise way the session is conducted depends on the goals of the group and the style of the therapist. Some therapists encourage a more free-form style of dialogue, where each member participates as they see fit. Other therapists instead have a specific plan for each session that might include having clients practice new skills with other members of the group.
Group therapy can be effective for depression. In a study published in 2014, researchers analyzed what happened when individuals with depression received group cognitive behavioral therapy. They found that 44% of the patients reported significant improvements. The drop rate for group treatment was high, however, as almost 1 in 5 patients quit treatment.4
An article published in the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology suggests that group therapy also meets efficacy standards established by the Society of Clinical Psychology (Division 12 of the APA) for panic disorder, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social phobia, and substance use.