What Are The Pros & Cons Of Group Therapy?
Group therapy can provide a safe and supportive environment for individuals dealing with mental health issues; but it's essential to weigh the benefits and disadvantages of individual and group therapy before deciding which is the right option for you.
What is group therapy?
Therapy is the treatment of mental health concerns and illnesses through psychological means. Although it’s also known as talk therapy, it can often be much more involved than simply talking and being counseled, depending on the circumstances. Therapy can take many different forms, and some can be more suitable for different conditions than others.
Below are some of the types of therapy that you can engage in:
- Interpersonal therapy
- Psychodynamic therapy
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Transference-focused therapy
- Narrative therapy
- Imago therapy
- The Gottman Method (a type of couples therapy)
All of these different therapy techniques utilize varied approaches and methods. While some may be better suited for individual sessions, others have been notably effective when practiced in a group setting, such as group therapy, which has proven to be beneficial for individuals dealing with depression, anxiety, panic disorder, substance use disorders, and low self-esteem.
In this article, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of group therapy.
The benefits of group therapy
Group therapy can be a valuable resource for several mental health concerns and conditions. These are the main benefits of the group format:
The ability to relate to others
Knowing that many others are in a similar situation as you can be comforting since some of your problems can make it seem like you are alone. As an individual, having the support of a group of others with similar experiences can be invaluable.
Usually, these group meetings are small to medium-sized and allow everyone to express their thoughts. In addition, it also allows group members to build a working relationship and therapeutic alliance with one or more psychologists and the other group members in their session. This can be invaluable for those dealing with things like bipolar disorder, substance abuse, and chronic pain.
It's designed to be judgment-free
In addition to allowing you to connect with others, group therapy is designed to offer a place to speak your mind without worrying about being judged, even if the others in the group have not had the same experiences as you.
Worrying about what others might think is a common concern people have when weighing whether to try group therapy or not. It’s likely that a few of the other clients in therapy groups are also worried about the same thing, so you're not alone. Therapy is intended to be a safe space for everyone, and often there are policies put in place to create that environment and avoid any potential issues.
Group sessions are also beneficial for providing valuable feedback for the other members of the group. Everyone in the group can share their experiences and feelings in a supportive environment, which can help to foster a sense of understanding and compassion between the members.
Silence is okay
Sometimes there are times when you just don't feel like talking or you are not ready to speak about a certain topic, and it's completely acceptable.
One of the advantages of group therapy is that you can decide how much to participate in during therapy sessions.
In a group session, you are not obligated to talk if you don't wish to do so. Some group members may be more comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings than others. Listening can be therapeutic as well and may even make you feel more open to talking about a certain topic if you find something you can relate to.
One of the goals of the therapist is to make clients feel as comfortable as possible so that they eventually feel open to talking about their concerns.
However, even if remaining silent is okay, you will likely get the most value out of your sessions if you tell your thoughts because you can receive constructive input and feedback for your situation.
It's a cost-effective option
Most of the time, individual sessions tend to be more costly than sessions that take place in a group setting. The primary reason why group meetings are usually more affordable is that it is an efficient way to conduct them —a therapist can work with multiple people simultaneously.
For instance, if the therapist charges $150 for one-on-one sessions, between five people, this can work out to $30 per person. However, depending on the clinic and therapist, splitting the cost might not be that straightforward. Nonetheless, it can still be more than half-off of an individual session.
Some forms of group therapy, such as AA, which can be an important part of addiction treatment for substance use disorder, may even be free. It generally teaches those living with substance use important skills and provides them with the support of their peers.
Being able to save money makes group therapy an attractive option for many people. Some might even get more value out of it than an individual meeting because they can talk about their concerns with others, and not just with the therapist.
The disadvantages of group therapy
There are plenty of reasons why group therapy can be an excellent choice for you; however, there are a few possible drawbacks that you may or may not experience. Depending on the individual, below are some possible disadvantages of participating in group therapy.
Less personal attention
One of the clear advantages of one-on-one therapy sessions is that all of the time allotted is dedicated to you and what you'd like to discuss. In group therapy, the attention can be divided amongst the members and there is less time for personal exploration. Although many groups focus on individual issues in a supportive setting, it is not the same as having a therapist dedicated exclusively to you in individual therapy.
In group therapy, you will get a chance to speak, and it's encouraged. However, there are additional people in the room, and there is limited time. Because of this, you might not be able to say as much as you need to and receive detailed input like you would in one-on-one therapy. If this is the case, individual therapy, like cognitive-behavioral therapy, can be a great supplement.
On the other hand, this disadvantage is usually offset by the fact you can receive feedback from more than one person and can listen to other people's stories when attending therapy groups.
Organization and scheduling
Sometimes other aspects of life can get in the way of therapy, especially family or work commitments, and this might make it hard to commit to a certain group therapy time week after week.
This can apply to any type of therapy session, but group therapy can sometimes be more prone to attendance issues. If you can’t make a session, you might need to either join a different group for the week or wait until the next session with the same group.
Issues can also arise on the side of the therapist as well, and there is a chance that a meeting can get canceled. "Dropouts" may also occur, but the rate is rather low; in a study consisting of 143 participants across multiple cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) groups between 2003 and 2013, 25 people, or 17.5%, backed out for various reasons .
It's not for everyone
Group therapy has helped millions of participants around the world. However, group therapy and therapeutic support groups might not be ideal for every person. For example, someone who experiences social anxiety might feel tense in this type of setting, even though it's intended to be a comfortable and judgment-free zone. Regarding this specific concern, the results of group therapy sessions designed for social anxiety disorder have been mixed . However, in one study, 57% of participants had experienced improvement in depression at follow-up regarding their experience of group therapy.
Therefore, despite social anxiety, it is entirely possible to benefit from group therapy, especially if one becomes more familiar with their group mates. If group therapy still sounds too intimidating, one-on-one sessions are available, and you can receive personalized care tailored to your needs.
Online group therapy
If you are interested in therapy but not sure whether you want to engage in therapy in person (whether individually or in a group), you might benefit from online therapy, which research has demonstrated to be just as effective as in-person therapy. While group therapy can be beneficial for many mental health concerns, you might feel more comfortable with online therapy first, as you can talk to a therapist without leaving home. With BetterHelp, you can talk to a therapist via phone, videoconferencing, and in-app messaging.
Regardless of whether you opt for individual or group therapy, you’re not alone. Help is available in multiple formats, including other groups such as support groups. These can offer you the opportunity to connect and share experiences with people who are going through similar struggles. However, there are pros and cons of group therapy that must be considered when considering this type of treatment. If you choose online therapy, it might be a catalyst that encourages you to try group therapy sometime in the future. BetterHelp.com has a network of more than 25,000 licensed therapists trained to address any concern you are facing. Take the first step and reach out to BetterHelp today.
- Thimm, J. C., &Antonsen, L. (2014). The effectiveness of cognitive behavioral group therapy for depression in routine practice. BMC Psychiatry, 14(1). doi:10.1186/s12888-014-0292-x
- Herbert, J. D., Gaudiano, B. A., Rheingold, A. A., Myers, V. H., Dalrymple, K., & Nolan, E. M. (2005). Social skills training augments the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral group therapy for social anxiety disorder. Behavior Therapy, 36(2), 125-138.doi:10.1016/s0005-7894(05)80061-9
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