Group therapy can be a dynamic, productive adjunct to individual, couples or family therapy modalities. Group therapy can provide clients with the benefits of multiple perspectives, empathic support and the ability to practice relationship and conflict-management skills. Groups can provide an arena in which clients can re-enact, and thus repair, troublesome relationship patterns. Clients report finding the support and empathy offered by their cohorts in group to be a powerful source of healing. Clients who have difficulty trusting others can be challenged to practice boundary setting, emotional expression and appropriate testing of others. Groups generally fall into three categories.

PROCESSING GROUPS: These groups provide opportunities for members to gain insight, to develop healthy relationship skills, and obtain support and validation from others. Processing groups are generally led by a clinician, who helps to facilitate discussion, keep the treatment space safe, and guide the group when challenges arise. Groups may focus on a shared diagnosis (i.e., depression, trauma recovery, divorce recovery) or may be open to clients who are looking for an experience of safe sharing and support that can include a range of life topics, developmental issues and a focus on personal growth. These groups may meet for a set amount of weeks, or may be ongoing for as long as members wish to attend.

PSYCHOEDUCATIONAL GROUPS: These groups include a didactic, “teaching” format in which the clinician provides information and education to clients about a specific skill set. For example, dialectic behavioral therapy (DBT) offers members skills to regulate emotions, tolerate distress and learn to relate to others in healthier ways. In our practice, we have used bibliotherapy in a group setting, utilizing a book about growing up with an emotionally unhealthy mother to organize members around a common theme, provide skills and insights about how that experience impacted them, and to teach clients about resiliency, forgiveness and rebuilding. I’ve worked in groups of legally-involved young people to teach anger management skills. Psychoeducational groups may or may not include time for processing, sharing and relationship-building among members. These groups tend to be time-limited to the length of the course curriculum.

SUPPORT GROUPS: Twelve-Step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon and Narcotics Anonymous may be some of the most well-known types of support groups. In these groups, members generally convene around a shared topic or concern (bereavement, addiction, a family member with mental illness) for purposes of gaining support, reducing isolation and learning effective methods of coping with their situation. Some support groups, like AA, are member-led and operate on an agreement of confidentiality for its members. Others, such as groups for family members of someone struggling with mental illness, may include a professional facilitator. Support groups are often free to attend and can be ongoing.

If you or your counselor think a group experience could provide you with unique insights or kick-start the pace of your treatment, seriously consider the benefits of group therapy. The Internet has listings of supportive, psychoeducational and process-oriented groups in your area. Just as trying a new exercise regimen can work out muscles that may have been missed by previous physical activity, group therapy can offer a new depth and breadth to your growth and healing.