Group therapy is gaining in popularity, thanks to the fact that it has proven to be both cost-effective and just as beneficial as individual therapy, according to a 2012 article from the American Psychological Association.
In the article, Dr. Gary Burlingame, a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, cited more than 50 clinical trials that compared patients who were assigned to group therapy or individual therapy, all of which showed that both types of therapy worked equally well for improving people’s mental health.
Despite its proven effectiveness, some people are hesitant to try group therapy because they are afraid to talk about their inner-most thoughts in front of a roomful of strangers. But, Dr. David Daskovsky, Senior Psychologist at Yellowbrick, says group therapy can be enormously helpful to those who are willing to give it a try.
Groups can be especially helpful for young adults who are in a life stage where they are establishing their own identity. “Young adulthood is a time when people are defining themselves. They’re dealing with issues of belonging, and trying to figure out how they can integrate themselves into a new social world.”
That’s why the young adults at Yellowbrick participate in group therapy several hours a week — sometimes in groups focused on inter-personal processes, sometimes in psycho-educational groups, sometimes in groups focused on specific issues such as trauma, addiction or eating disorders.
Most group therapy sessions, at Yellowbrick and in other settings, feature about five to 10 people facilitated by one or two therapists. Typically, group members are encouraged to jump into the conversation and share their own thoughts and give feedback to others in the moment.
So what exactly are the benefits of group therapy? Here are a few ways group therapy can help you:
- Realize You’re Not Alone
Often in life, it’s easy to feel as if you are the only person who has ever dealt with the problems that you face. Being in a group of other people who are struggling with similar issues can help put your own problems in perspective. “Group therapy really helps people to feel and to be less isolated and less alienated because they can see that others share and can understand their difficulties,” Daskovsky says.
- Reduce Social Anxiety
Group therapy can also help people learn how to make friends and improve social interactions — something Daskovsky says is especially important for young adults who are in a stage of life where they are defining themselves and trying to figure out how to integrate themselves into a new social world.“Often people come for treatment to Yellowbrick because they have anxiety about being in social situations,” Daskovsky explains. “Groups provide the opportunity for people to get more comfortable being with other people and learn to identify and express their feelings in the presence of others.”
- Learn How to Deal with Conflict
Whether it’s a dormitory, a team, a club, when you have a mix of personalities in a group setting, you’re bound to experience some conflicts. Daskovsky says these conflicts in a group psychotherapy, while uncomfortable, are actually very useful because one can learn how to deal with conflict in a direct and helpful way with the support of the group members and leader.
- Learn How to Speak Up
If you grew up thinking that you were supposed to stuff your feelings or that your opinions didn’t matter, group therapy is a great way of learning how to have a voice. “People learn how to hold their own in a group. If you are a person who tends to give up your own opinions in deference to others or out of fear of conflict, a group can provide the opportunity to practice recognizing and expressing your own preferences and opinions. ” Daskovsky says.
- See How You Behave in the World
One of the most beneficial aspects of group therapy is the fact that you can observe how you typically act in a group situation and experiment with trying out new behavior. “Groups are a microcosm of the larger social world,” Daskovsky explains. “The roles that we tend to take on in the world will be present in the group.”For example, if you’re typically someone who is a caretaker of other people, or someone who dominates, or someone who shrinks from competition with other people, you are likely to reenact those roles in the group. Group members can function like a mirror to help each other to recognize the roles each member takes. “For example, there are some people who hesitate to speak, feeling as if everyone else’s problems are more important than their own, but then feel resentful that their issues go unnoticed, while some others tend to take charge but end up feeling burdened by the responsibility” Daskovsky says. Noticing these characteristic patterns is a first step towards being able to make changes.
- Deal With Shame
A major source of difficulty for many emerging adults relates to hidden shame, e.g., about not “keeping pace” with your peers or not having achieved what you think you “should” have achieved at this point in your life. Research and clinical experience indicate that the way to move through and past shame is to move towards it, that is to practice speaking out about the hidden and shameful aspects of ourselves in the presence of others. Group therapy is usually a safe and supportive place to begin to face and deal with shame.