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THIS PAGE LAST UPDATED: 10th April, 2000


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Group psychotherapy, like individual psychotherapy, is intended to help people who would like to improve their ability to cope with difficulties and problems in their lives. But, while in individual therapy the patient meets with only one person (the therapist), in group therapy the meeting is with a whole group and one or two therapists. Group therapy focuses on interpersonal interactions, so relationship problems are addressed well in groups. 

The aim of group psychotherapy is to help with solving the emotional difficulties and to encourage the personal development of the participants in the group. The therapist (called conductor, leader or facilitator) chooses as candidates for the group people who can benefit from this kind of therapy and those who may have a useful influence on other members in the group.

Members of the group share with others personal issues which they are facing. A participant can talk about events s/he was involved in during the week, her/his responses to these events, problems s/he had tackled, etc. The participant can share his/her feelings and thoughts about what happened in previous sessions, and relate to issues raised by other members or to the leader's words. Other participants can react to her/his words, give her/him feedback, encourage, give support or criticism, or share their thoughts and feelings following his/her words. The subjects for discussion are not determined by the leader but rise spontaneously from the group. The member in the group feels that (s)he is not alone with her/his problem and that there are others who feel the same. The group can become a source of support and strength in times of stress for the participant. The feedback (s)he gets from others on her/his behavior in the group can make her/him become aware to maladaptive patterns of behavior, change her/his point of view and help him/her adopt more constructive and effective reactions. It can become a laboratory for practicing new behaviors.

Frequently the people you meet in the group represent others in your past or current life with whom you have difficulty. In group therapy you have the opportunity to work through these situations.

Group psychotherapy is suitable for a large variety of problems and difficulties, beginning with people who would like to develop their interpersonal skills and ending with people with emotional problems like anxiety, depression, etc. There are support groups for people in the same situation or crisis (e.g. groups for bereaved parents, groups for sexually abused women), but usually the recommendation for the therapeutic group is to be as heterogeneous as possible and represent a micro-cosmos. For that reason in building the group, the leader will try to include men and women, young and old people, married and singles, etc. The group is especially effective for people with interpersonal difficulties and problems in relations. Whether these difficulties are in social, working, couple or even sexual relations, the participant can benefit a lot in these areas.

Groups are ideally suited to people who are struggling with relationship issues like intimacy, trust, self-esteem. The group interactions help the participants to identify, get feedback, and change the patterns that are sabotaging the relations. The great advantage of group psychotherapy is working on these patterns in the "here and now" - in a group situation more similar to reality and close to the interpersonal events.

There are many kinds of groups in the group-psychotherapy field. The  techniques used in group therapy can be verbal, expressive, psychodramatic etc. The approaches can vary from psychoanalytic to behavioral, Gestalt or encounter groups. Groups vary from classic psychotherapy groups, where process is emphasized, to psychoeducational, which are closer to a class. Psychoeducational groups usually focus on the most common areas of concern, notably relationships, anger, stress-management etc. They are frequently more time-limited (10 to 15 sessions) and thus very appealing in a managed care environment. Each approach has its advantages and drawbacks, and the participant should consult the expert which technique matches her/his unique personality.

When choosing a group psychotherapist you should look for a well-trained, reliable, and ethical professional. If you are in individual therapy you should consult your therapist and be sure that your group and individual therapists can collaborate. Reputable group psychotherapists usually belong to professional associations. In the U.S.A, for example, membership in AGPA (the American Group Psychotherapy Association), and certification as a Group Psychotherapist by AGPA assures some degree of expertise. An experienced group therapist will usually interview you before your entering the group and will answer your questions about the group and his/her experience without being uneasy. You can also ask the prospective therapist how many years experience (s)he has in the particular modality and as a therapist generally. Make sure you clarify fees (including costs for missed sessions). Above all, trust your feelings: If you do not feel you can trust the therapist, find another.

The participant in the group is expected to be present each week and come on time. It is required that the information brought up by members of the group and their names be kept confidential by all the group members. In some groups, the participant is asked to commit for a specified length of time at  the beginning of the group. The usual commitment is between 3 to 6 months. This facilitates getting a sense of how the group works. When participating in a group, you will not be required to talk, or reveal intimate issues when you do not want to. However, it is clear that the more you can participate, be open and talk about yourself, your feelings and thoughts - the more you can gain from this experience.

Usually, there are between 8 to 12 members in the group. Above 15 members, it is impossible to create a therapeutic atmosphere and have enough time for each member to work personally. The length of every session can be from an hour and a half to three hours (this does not include workshops and marathon groups). The frequency can be once to twice a week. The duration of the group depends on many components such as the severity of the problems and the targets sought. It can be from a few months to a few years. You should allow 4 to 6 months to pass in order to feel the effect of the group.


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