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Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy during which one or several therapists treat a small group of clients together as a group. This may be more cost effective than individual therapy,and possibly even more effective.
Quoted with permission is the report of one client:
"What I got out of group therapy: I was treated with respect, listened to, not judged. I was able to say in "public" what my symptoms were and how I felt. I met other people who had what I had which relieved the feeling of isolation. I learned from the other members of the group what worked for them and copied the skills that worked for me. I got encouragement from the others when I wanted to die. I got compliments when I did well or said something they liked. I had a chance to give and get feedback. I got to hear myself think out loud as I vocally processed what I was dealing with, thus getting it clearer in my own mind."
In group therapy the interactions between the members of the group and the therapists become the material with which the therapy is conducted, alongside past experiences and experiences outside the therapeutic group. These interactions are not necessarily as positive as reported as above, as the problems which the client experiences in daily life will also show up in his or her interactions in the group, allowing them to be worked through in a therapeutic setting, generating experiences which may be translated to "real life". Group therapy may also include other therapeutic forms than "talk" therapy, such as creative therapy and psychodrama. Group therapy is not based on a single psychotherapeutic theory, but takes from many different approaches.
The kind of therapist interactions will vary by psychotherapeutic theory while the amount of therapist interaction will vary due mostly to the type of group setting. A support group type of setting may have little or no therapist interaction while individual therapy in a group setting may have considerable therapist interaction.
Types of therapy group
There are a large number of different types of group therapy. They can be classified by therapeutic approach, type of problem being treated, characteristics of group members etc.
Benefits of group therapy
Some of the many benefits of group therapy:
- Exploring issues in
a social context more accurately reflects real life.
- Group therapy provides an opportunity to observe and reflect on your own and others' social skills.
- Group therapy provides an opportunity to benefit both through active participation and through observation.
- Group therapy offers an opportunity to give and get immediate feedback about concerns, issues and problems affecting one's life.
- Group therapy members benefit by working through personal issues in a supportive, confidential environment and by helping others to work through theirs.
Many studies have looked at the effectiveness of group therapy and these have been reviewed in a number of meta-analyses:
- Burlingame et al (2003) conducted a meta-analysis of 111 experimental studies that compared various group therapies with control groups and found substantial evidence to indicate the benefits of groupwork. For example, the overall group therapy versus control group effect size of 0.58 indicated that the average person attending a group was better off than 72% of people who received no group intervention (e.g. remained on a waiting list).
- A meta-analysis by Tillitski (1990) combined results from nine studies that incorporated 75 outcome measures taken from 349 group members. Only studies that contrasted group, individual, and control conditions with a pretest-posttest design were selected. Results indicated that both group and individual therapies (of various models) had a measurable effect that was consistently greater than that of controls.
- McRoberts et al (1998) conducted a meta-analysis of 23 outcome studies that directly compared the effectiveness of individual and group therapy formats when they were used within the same study. Their results matched previous reports that indicated group and individual interventions are equally effective.
Thus, such studies point to two basic conclusions:
- There is considerable research evidence to indicate that various types of group therapy are effective with a variety of populations in a variety of ways, but particularly in the areas of education, personal growth, therapeutic change and support.
- Grouptherapy is usually as effective (and occasionally more effective in terms of some benefits) as individual therapy.