By Nasrin Kapadia

B. A. Psychology

03 October 2021
Medically reviewed by
Dhanashree Padhye
MA (Psychology)
Group Therapy
Table of Contents

Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy intended to help people manage mental health conditions or cope with negative behaviors and experiences. It may involve one or more therapists working with several individuals together at the same time. This type of therapy is sometimes used exclusively, but it is also commonly integrated into a comprehensive treatment plan in adjunction to individual therapy.

Who is Group Therapy meant for?

Anyone can attend group therapy sessions. However, group therapy can be especially favorable for people in desperate need of support or those with limited access to mental healthcare services, for instance, those who live in rural or low-income regions where healthcare is limited or scarce. (Harvey, R.F., Gunary, R.M., Hinton, R.A. and Barry, R.E., 1989)

One of the main goals of group therapy is to bring individuals who share similar experiences together like group counselling.

Group therapy typically focuses on a specific mental health condition, such as addiction, social anxiety, depression. Some other examples of conditions that group therapy may focus on or include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Substance use disorder
  • Grief
  • Eating disorders
  • Chronic illness
  • Anger management
  • Domestic violence
  • Cultural trauma

Keep in mind that your therapist may not recommend group therapy as a first-line treatment option. One reason is that it may be difficult for some people to share personal information in a group setting, especially at the initial stage of treatment. (Ford, J.D., Fallot, R.D. and Harris, M., 2009)

Types of Group Therapy:

Group therapy can be categorized depending on your mental health condition along with the clinical approach used during the treatment. Some of the most common types of group therapy include:

Group therapy can be categorized depending on your mental health condition along with the clinical approach used during the treatment. Some of the most common types of group therapy include:

Cognitive-behavioral groups center on identifying and modifying negative or distorted thinking patterns, emotional and behavioral responses.

Interpersonal groups focus on patients' interpersonal relationships and social interactions and the impact these relationships have on their mental health.

Skill development groups center on introducing, implementing, and improving the skills that members need to cope with their mental health conditions.

Psychoeducational groups focus on educating individuals about their condition and ways to cope, often based on CBT theories.

Support groups provide a wide range of upsides for people with a variety of mental health conditions as well as for their loved ones.

Groups can be as limited as three to four people, but group therapy sessions more often than not involve about eight to twelve individuals or more. The group generally meets once or twice every week, or more, for about an hour or two.

Group therapy meetings can either be open or closed.

Open sessions, wherein new participants are welcome to join at any time.

Closed session, where only a group of selected members are invited to participate.

How does it work?

Irvin D. Yalom outlines 11 principles of group therapy, which he refers to as "the 11 primary factors" in his book The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy.

Instillation of hope

Therapists can instill hope in group members by acknowledging and appreciating when current or former members make improvements and progress toward their goals.

Groups typically consist of individuals at different stages of the treatment program.

According to the book, The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, watching people who are currently recovering from and experiencing a similar problem gives hope to other group members that they could also have positive treatment outcomes. (Ford, J.D., Fallot, R.D. and Harris, M., 2009)


Group therapy brings individuals who've had similar experiences together.

Meeting other people working through or recovering from similar challenges helps people sense that they are not alone. The book also reveals that understanding the universality of their experiences can make a huge difference and help people overcome emotional and physical isolation.

Imparting information

Group members and therapists can help each other by sharing information, experiences and offering advice.


Group members can support, reassure, and help each other improve throughout the treatment program. This helps improve their confidence and self-esteem.

The corrective recapitulation of the primary family group

The book also states that therapy groups often resemble family units, with one or two authoritative parental figures along with some peer siblings.

Within group therapy sessions, individuals can confront and open up about their childhood experiences and dynamics with their families.

They can understand how these early experiences shaped their lives and personality, as well as identify which beliefs and behaviors are negative or destructive in their lives.

Development of socializing techniques

Group members can give and receive constructive feedback that can help them engage in social settings and interactions outside the group.

Imitative behavior

Group members can imitate the actions and behaviors they observe in senior members or therapists.

As a result, the group members can gain a better understanding of their senior and make improvements in themselves.

Interpersonal learning

An individual's social universe is reflected in the therapy group. Through self-observation, interaction, and feedback, group members can gain insight into the strengths and limitations of their interpersonal behavior.

Group cohesiveness

As part of a group with common goals, group members can gain a sense of belonging and, as a result, may feel more comfortable opening up to the group. Members may also be more willing to learn and implement the behavioral changes they assimilate as part of the treatment.


Sharing feelings, experiences, and challenges with a group can help people release pent-up emotions. This process can lead to sudden realization and insights that can change how people perceive and respond to life.

Existential factors

Group therapy provides time and space for people to explore uncomfortable and distressing existential factors, such as loss, death, or addiction. Group members can also cultivate a stronger sense of self-sustenance by learning to understand that ultimately they are the ones in control of their choices, behaviors, and actions.

Benefits of group therapy:

Joining a group of total strangers may seem intimidating at first, but group therapy can provide several benefits that individual therapy may be unable to. In fact, psychologists suggest that members of group therapy are almost always surprised by how effective and rewarding the experience can be.

Groups can act as a network of support systems as well as a sounding board. Other group members often help each other come up with ideas for improving a challenging situation or problem and hold you accountable for your actions along the way.

Regularly talking and listening to others can also help individuals put their own problems in perspective. Most people often feel like they are the only ones struggling, but they are not. It can be a huge relief to hear others talk about their experiences and what they're going through and realize that they're not alone.

Diversity is another significant benefit of group therapy. Everyone has different backgrounds, personalities, perspectives on life. By seeing how other people work through their problems and make constructive changes, other group members can discover a whole new range of strategies and solutions for facing their own concerns. (Ford, J.D., Fallot, R.D. and Harris, M., 2009)

Things to Consider

If you or someone close to you is thinking about going for group therapy, there are certain things you need to consider first;

You May Need to Try a Few Groups

Just like you might need to shop around to find the right dress, you may also need to try out a few groups before you find the one that you feel is the best for you. Go over a bit about what you think you want and need, and consider what might be the most comfortable or the best fit for you.

You Need to Be Willing to Share

Sharing in a group might not be suitable for everyone, especially if you struggle with social anxiety. Moreover, some types of group therapy may involve exercises like role-playing or intense personal discussions, which prove to be quite overwhelming for people who are extremely private or uncomfortable opening up, especially around strangers.

It's Not Meant for Crisis

There are certain limitations to group therapy, and it is not suitable for everyone. If you or someone close to you is in a crisis and requires immediate help, individual therapy is a better choice than group therapy. Generally, group settings are best for individuals who are not currently in a crisis.

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