Depending on a variety of reasons, a therapist may recommend group therapy over individual psychotherapy. One reason could be that a group setting is better suited for the person seeking assistance or that the concern a patient is dealing with is better addressed in a group. Group therapy can also be recommended if the treatment needed by the patient has elements of group therapy to it, like dialectical behavior therapy).
In a group setting, a patient improves from the interventions of the therapist. Not only that, an individual can also observes others in the group and even receives feedback from members. Given that the group format doesn’t provide the one-on-one attention afforded by individual treatment, is it truly that helpful? To answer that question, both the pros and cons of group therapy needs to be weighed.
List of Pros of Group Therapy
1. It allows more feedback.
In a group therapy session, one or more psychologists lead around five to 15 patients and meet for an hour or two each week. Each session is designed to tackle a specific subject, be it chronic pain, depression, obesity, panic disorder, social anxiety or substance abuse. Sometimes, group sessions tackle improving social skills; and assisting with issues such as anger, loneliness, low self-esteem and shyness. In addition to all these, some group sessions also help those who have lost someone in their life, be it a spouse, a child or someone who died by suicide.
Through this kind of scenario, those who are suffering can hear people with similar issues out. In other words, it’s a setting where they can find someone to relate to. Be it dealing with depression or having lost someone, hearing the thoughts and opinions of others can help a patient heal.
2. It teaches new coping methods.
Each person deals with problems in their own way. In group therapy, an individual may hear different ways people with similar issues cope with their problems. Through that kind of sharing, they can see which coping method best suits them. Or, they can use a combination of coping methods to see which works best for them.
For example, an individual can hear how one of the group members handles discussions with her husband without it escalating into a full-blown quarrel. Rather than getting angry at her spouse and proceeding not to speak to him, the member shares that she tells her husband how her feelings were hurt. She found this method more productive as they weren’t yelling at each other and not talking to each other was avoided.
An individual present in that therapy session can try that method with her own husband and see if it works. If not, they can use other options highlighted during the meeting.
3. It costs less.
A therapist can lessen the fee when they treat patients together. It’s estimated that group therapy sessions costs about one third that of individual therapy.
4. It improves social skills.
Most of the time, we need to interact with other people. Some people may struggle with this and group therapy sessions is a good way to practice interacting with people. Yes, enhancing social skills may not actually be the goal of the session but sharing and talking to others makes one more comfortable when the occasion calls for them to talk to other people.
The therapist, who also acts as group leader, helps patients learn how to communicate in a clear manner when it comes to group settings. Being surrounded by a group of people with the goal of sharing enhances social skills which can then be applied in relationships with other people.
5. It allows individuals to share in a supportive environment.
Patients in group therapy sessions all have something in common. Be it an issue with anger or dealing with the loss of someone special, group therapy comprises of individuals with similar issues they are trying to work out. Knowing someone is going through the same thing as you breeds a supportive environment where everybody understands what the other is going through.
List of Cons of Group Therapy
1. It strikes fear into some patients.
The idea of speaking to room full of people makes some patients anxious. Not only do they have to speak, but they also have to reveal intimate details about themselves as well as other personal information. It’s understandable why some have this fear which leads them to be uncomfortable. But opening up and letting others hear your story will help you recover and learn new ways to deal with the particular issue you are seeking help for.
2. It doesn’t guarantee confidentiality.
One of the biggest reasons for someone fearing group sessions is sharing part of their lives with strangers. For some, deeply personal information should be shared only with intimates. However, not sharing what you’re going through in group therapy limits how your issue can be solved. As they say, the more ears the better.
But concerns about confidentiality are not unusual. Yes, a therapist may hammer down the need for confidentiality but it’s not always a guarantee. There’s also the fear that you may meet someone you know participating in the session which can create uncomfortable situations outside of therapy. For instance, you may find that your boss is attending anger management therapy and you have to guard yourself when talking to others about your sessions as your boss may not be too open about revealing their participation in therapy.
3. It isn’t ideal for crisis support.
While having someone who is going through the same thing as you is helpful, a group setting may not always be the best way to deal with certain issues. Individuals in crisis may benefit more from one-on-one interaction rather than a group session. Someone dominating the conversation because they feel their problem is of extreme importance can’t be avoided as well.
Those who haven’t engaged in group therapy sessions are frightened at the prospect of sharing about their personal lives with strangers. However, it’s also a setting where an individual can learn various coping methods and get valuable feedback and insight from those who are going through the same issues.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.