Group therapy can be a great help for many people, but it’s not for everyone. Some people thrive in an environment in which they share their feelings and bear their soul to others like them, but for other people, the idea of doing these things can be frightening and can actually even set their progress back. Even for people who are open and enjoy working with others in this way, there are numerous possible negatives to consider in this type of therapy. Conversely, however, there are many benefits of connecting with other people whose experiences are similar to your own, too. Read on to see if group therapy is right for you on your recovery journey!
What is Group Therapy?
Group therapy is not the same thing as a support group, although some people use the terms interchangeably. A group therapy group is usually organized and lead by a therapist or counseling professional, whereas a support group sometimes, but not always, is. The leader of a group therapy group will usually lead and educate the group, and will use various therapeutic interventions to help the participants understand themselves, and each other, more deeply. A support group leader usually acts more as a facilitator and guide, and is often a participant himself or herself as well.
In a support group, participants may come and go, and as a result, a different group of people is present each time. On the other hand, a group therapy group usually includes the same individuals each time it meets. The purpose of these two groups is somewhat different too. While a support group exists mainly for support for people suffering from and experiencing similar struggles in life, a group therapy group is more about progress. Both offer coping strategies and camaraderie, but a group therapy group also provides a forum for change and growth, and anticipates specific future outcomes for its participants.
Effective Group Therapy
In order for group therapy to be effective and helpful, several criteria should be met. First of all, a successful group therapy group meets regularly – usually at least once a week, on a consistent schedule. Keeping the schedule regular will help to ensure that all participants can be present each time. Also the size of the group can make a big difference; most group therapy groups have between five and ten people, and most therapists would avoid assembling a group larger or smaller than that. A group should not be too small, in order for there to be ample sharing and feelings of connectedness, but at the same time, a group that is too large may make it difficult for all individuals to feel a part of it and may not allow time for all to share adequately.
Most important, though, is the presence of a strong leader. The therapist leading the group therapy can make or break the group. Often, the leader of a group therapy group is the individual therapist of the participants – that’s how they got invited, after all. The therapist leading the group needs to make sure everyone feels comfortable, and should also set productive and pragmatic goals for the group and the individuals within it.
Pros of Group Therapy
There are many reasons people are drawn to group therapy, and there are a variety of ways that it can help people who choose to participate in it. First and foremost, and perhaps most importantly, group therapy can help to give participants a sense of belonging. When we are surrounded by other people who are experiencing things similar to what we are experiencing, it reminds us that we are not the only ones suffering, it helps us feel more connected to others, and it helps us more deeply understand ourselves. Group therapy participants can grow and learn from the mistakes from others, and also can get a great deal of feedback from people who truly can identify with them and their obstacles, challenges, failures, successes, and victories.
There are several aspects of group therapy that are especially helpful to individuals working on their recovery from addiction, too. Accountability is a major one. Knowing that showing up every week and being present, and knowing that other people are counting on you to be there, can be an extremely helpful aspect of group therapy. Further, once a participant really connects with the other people involved, they can be honest with that individual and help him or her see things from different viewpoints, rather than just from their own. Finally, many people newly clean and sober tend to feel isolated from others; group therapy can help them to feel less alone and less socially isolated. Friendships that are begun in group therapy get many of the difficult “getting to know you” steps out of the way and can forge a connection that in some cases can last a lifetime.
Cons of Group Therapy
As with everything, there are two sides to everything, and there are some negative aspects to group therapy, too. Although many people get involved in group therapy for the group support it may offer, there is really no guarantee that the other members of a group will be kind or helpful. There may be personality conflicts or rifts and differences that simply cannot be overcome. Some people who are involved may not feel comfortable sharing and may experience social anxiety during group; this may actually delay their advances and developments. Furthermore, confidentiality may be at risk. Although it is stated and understood that things shared in the group remain a secret amongst the participants, some people do not respect this ethical rule.
Generally, group therapy groups include the same participants from beginning to end, but in some cases group members may depart and new members may come. This instability can be a challenge. Even if the group does stay intact for its lifetime, participants may experience feelings of loss when the group finally does come to its inevitable end.
Group therapy is not for everyone, so it is important for individuals to work with their therapist to determine whether it will work for them. It may seem like a good idea, but if the potential participant is not quite right for this type of therapy, it may end up doing more harm than good. However, if a person is suited for it, group therapy can help someone to make great strides in his or her mental health and addiction recovery. Some people greatly enjoy group work of all kinds, and it is often quite beautiful and wonderful for people to connect over a shared challenge and grow from it together as one.
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