Group therapy is a type of psychotherapy that involves a therapist working with several people at the same time.
Group therapy sessions can be as small as three or four people, but generally involve between seven to twelve individuals. The group typically meets once or twice a week for an hour or two. The number of group therapy sessions varies depending on the type of group and the goals of the group. Group therapy sessions 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.
The specific manner in which group therapy is conducted depends largely on the goals of the group and the style of the therapist. Some therapists might encourage a more free-form style of dialogue, where each member participates as he or she sees fit. Other therapists might have a specific plan for each session that might include having clients practice new skills with other members of the group.
In a typical group therapy session group members 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 each member of the group introducing themselves and sharing why they are in group therapy, or members might share their experiences and progress since the last meeting.
What you can expect from Group Counseling
The key advantages and unique opportunities of participating in group therapy include:
  • The group contains members at different stages of the treatment process. Seeing people who are coping or recovering gives hope to those at the beginning of the process.
  • Being in a group of people experiencing the same things helps people see that what they are going through is universal and that they are not alone.
  • Group members are able to help each other by sharing information.
  • Group members are able to share their strengths and help others in the group, which can boost self-esteem and confidence.
  • The therapy group is much like a family in some ways. Within the group, each member can explore how childhood experiences contributed to personality and behaviors. They can also learn to avoid behaviors that are destructive or unhelpful in their real life.
  • The group setting is a great place to practice new behaviors. The setting is safe and supportive, allowing group members to experiment without the fear of failure.
  • Individuals can model the behavior of other members of the group or observe and imitate the behavior of the therapist.
  • By interacting with other people and receiving feedback from the group and the therapist, each individual can gain a greater understanding of himself or herself.
  • Because the group is united in a common goal, members gain a sense of belonging and acceptance.
  • Sharing feelings and experiences with a group of people can help relieve pain, guilt or stress.
  • While working within a group offers support and guidance, group therapy helps member realize that they are responsible for their own lives, action and choices.
  • Group therapy allows people to receive the support and encouragement of the other members of the group. People participating in the group are able to see that there are others going through the same thing, which can help them feel less alone.
  • Group members can serve as role models to other members of the group. By seeing someone who is successfully coping with a problem, other members of the group can see that there is hope and recovery is possible. As each person progresses, they can in turn serve as a role model and support figure for others. This can help foster feelings of success and accomplishment.
  • Group therapy offers a safe haven. The setting allows people to practice behaviors and actions within the safety and security of the group.
  • By working in a group, the therapist can see first-hand how each person responds to other people and behaves in social situations. Using this information, the therapist can provide valuable feedback to each clients.
  • Address current concerns most important to you.
  • Identify with others who are experiencing similar concerns.
  • Increase your self awareness and focus on aspects of your life you wish to change.
  • Gain immediate feedback on how others see you from other members and the leaders.
  • Become more sensitive to the needs of others.
  • Respect individual differences as you learn to affirm your own uniqueness.
Group counseling also gives you an opportunity to try out new behaviors, to express feelings you have been hesitant to express, to assert yourself in new ways, and to experiment with new ideas. As you experience trust and security in the group, you will feel more free to take risks.
One of the most fascinating aspects of being in a group in a group is the learning from other group members. You not only benefit from recognizing your emotional responses but also in identifying with the feelings of others. Through identifying with others, you increase self-awareness.
To a great extent, you have the responsibility of determining how you take advantage of these opportunities. You determine the amount of energy – mental and emotional – you wish to invest in the group process. Needless to say, the more you invest, the more you benefit.
Getting the most from a counseling group
Define your goals. Think about what you would like to get out of the group. Recognize and respect your own pace. Some group members will always be ready to disclose their thoughts and feelings; others need more time to gain feelings of trust and security. By respecting your need to become involved when ready, you are learning self-acceptance.
Focus on what is important to you. You are encouraged to talk about whatever is important to you: relationships with significant others, questions about life goals and directions, childhood memories, dreams and feelings about yourself. As you talk about these concerns, the group will be helping you to recognize themes and patterns so that these can be dealt with more directly.
Recognize and express feelings. The recognition, acceptance and expression of feelings pave the way for personal growth and change. Group may be helpful in aiding you in integrating your thoughts and emotions in a balanced manner.
Be an active group member and determine how active and involved you want to be. Express your reactions and share your support, but also listen and reflect on what you’re learning.
Take risks. The group setting is an excellent place to experiment with different ways of behaving and expressing yourself. By taking risks, you can discover what works for you and what doesn’t.
Be patient with yourself. Growth takes time, effort, and patience. All of your coping skills have been learned and reinforced over a long period of time. Keep in mind that changing what has become such as integral part of yourself can be a difficult and slow process.

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                    Kevin Stevenson, LMHC,CAP