Social Therapy: History And Alternative Treatment
Social therapy is a non-medical treatment model often focused on individual roles within a social group. Developed in the 1970s, this model focused on a non-diagnostic approach to therapy. Those looking to understand social therapy may benefit from looking at its history and evidence-based treatment alternatives that may yield more effective results.
What is social therapy?
Philosopher and political activist Fred Newman developed social therapy in the 1970s to support clients from various backgrounds, regardless of diagnostic history. The modality intended to take a broad approach to treatment by focusing on social roles in groups.
Social therapy has been considered a “philosophical” or “cultural” treatment modality. For this reason, social therapy is not recommended for the treatment of mental illness or mental health challenges.
In cases where one believes social therapy may be appropriate for treatment, it may be valuable to investigate evidence-based alternatives that have been extensively studied in academic and medical settings.
Alternatives to social therapy
Several alternatives to social therapy have been in practice for decades and shown to be effective by many peer-reviewed studies, including the following.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often considered the “gold standard” of talk therapy, as hundreds of studies have found it effective in treating mental illness and mental health challenges. The modality focuses on identifying thought patterns and beliefs that may have formed throughout life and could contribute to the severity of distressing symptoms or urges. It is based on the idea that changing thoughts and beliefs can change behavioral patterns.
CBT doesn’t only focus on cognitive restructuring, however. CBT therapists may use various practices, including roleplay, worksheets, journaling prompts, desensitization, and other behavioral activities to support clients in meeting their goals. In CBT, the client is the leader of the sessions, and the therapist acts as a professional mentor and support system that can guide them in making positive steps toward these goals.
CBT may function as a replacement for social therapy because it is evidence-based and effective. 69% of all therapists use CBT in some way in their practice, showcasing its popularity as a treatment tool. Although it might not be the most effective modality for every challenge, it is versatile and has been used since the 1950s.
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) was developed as a complement to CBT in the 1980s by Dr. Marsha Linehan. Dr. Linehan saw the benefit of creating a structured group approach to therapy based on her experiences throughout life as a person living with borderline personality disorder (BPD). The DBT workbook focuses on skills training, often taught in a classroom-like setting with a group of clients.
The DBT Workbook by Dr. Linehan outlines four modules, including the following:
- Emotional control
- Interpersonal effectiveness
- Distress tolerance
In a DBT group, clients can learn skills from each module, taking home worksheets to complete outside of the group. During the session, the therapist teaches the skills to the group and may offer time for everyone to practice the skills together. For example, in the mindfulness unit, the clients may start by practicing labeling sensory experiences together. In the interpersonal effectiveness unit, the clients may practice setting boundaries and saying “no” to learn to use these skills in their personal lives. These exercises are structured and professional and are monitored by the therapist or therapists leading the sessions.
Multiple modalities can be taught in a group format, including but not limited to CBT, DBT, interpersonal therapy, and narrative therapy. These modalities can offer similar benefits to socially focused therapy, allowing clients to connect with others facing similar challenges.
According to a review of group therapy in the National Library of Medicine, group therapy is often an effective treatment for conditions like depression, anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, this modality is not limited to any condition and can also be used to cope with challenges like chronic stress, chronic pain, addiction, or substance use disorders.
If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.
Interpersonal therapy (IPT)
Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is a structured modality developed to focus on social challenges, interpersonal relationships, and social behaviors. In this modality, the therapist helps the client discuss current relational conflicts, behaviors that may impact their relationships, life changes, loss, and difficulties sustaining connections. The therapist can help the client develop a treatment plan to improve relationships over 12 to 16 weeks of treatment.
IPT is often recommended to treat depression, eating disorders, anxiety, and mood disorders. However, anyone can work with a therapist on this modality. Although it takes a socially oriented approach to therapy, IPT differs from social therapy in that the provider acts as an expert in the treatment. IPT focuses on outside relationships and is often provided in an individual format. In addition, IPT has been shown to be effective in multiple systematic reviews.
Modern support options
Those looking to improve their relationships, cope with a mental illness, or improve behavioral challenges may benefit from seeking therapy. However, knowing where to find a therapist, what modality to pick, and how to start treatment can be challenging. In these cases, online therapy platforms like BetterHelp may offer convenience and flexibility.
BetterHelp does not offer social therapy. However, when signing up for online therapy, you can get matched with a provider that practices CBT, DBT, IPT, and many other evidence-based modalities. In addition, you can choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions based on your unique client needs. Online therapy follows ethical principles outlined by the APA and ACA and works with clients to offer effective support remotely.
Research supports the effectiveness of internet-based interventions. One study examining the effectiveness of online CBT found that online therapy could be more effective than in-person therapy in symptom reduction, affordability, and increasing quality of life for clients.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Below are some commonly asked questions on the topic of social therapy.
What Are The Three Types Of Therapy?
There are many different types of therapy and psychological theoretical approaches. Some of the most well-known include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Social therapy
- Group therapy
- Family therapy
- Constructivist psychology
- Humanistic psychology
What Is Therapy For Social Anxiety Like?
Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a mental health condition that often results in fear and nervousness, often leading to avoidance of group or social situations. Sometimes called social phobia, SAD is more common in children and young people, although anyone of any age can develop it. If you've been diagnosed with SAD or social phobia, seeing a mental health professional can help. Psychologists, social workers, and other healthcare practitioners can help individuals and families develop healthy coping skills and overcome social challenges.
Social therapy is one of the most effective treatment modalities for social anxiety. Developed at the East Side Institute for Group and Short-Term Psychotherapy by psychotherapist Fred Newman and developmental psychologist Lois Holzman, social therapy is a group-oriented approach focusing on social interaction as a catalyst for human development. Unlike other therapy forms, which look at human behavior due to individual activities and experiences, social therapy proposes that the group, rather than the individual, is at the center of human development. Both children and adults can benefit from group social therapy.
What Is Green Therapy?
Green therapy, also known as ecotherapy or nature therapy, is the practice of being in nature to express your feelings, cope with unwanted emotions, and improve your overall mental health. Studies have found that being in nature can significantly improve mental health.
What Is The Most Effective Therapy?
The most effective therapy may be the one that works best for you. There are hundreds of different types of therapy, and children and adults experiencing challenging life situations can benefit from any. Mental health professionals practicing psychotherapy may combine different approaches to best meet the needs of their clients.
What Are The Symptoms Of Social Anxiety?
Symptoms of social anxiety include:
- Extreme fear of situations and places where socialization may take place
- Intense fear of interacting with others
- Overwhelming self-consciousness
- A feeling of being judged or ostracized
For examples of questions that might be beneficial to explore in therapy, please see below.
Who invented social therapy?
What is the purpose of social therapy?
What are the origins of therapy?
Who is the father of therapy?
When did the concept of therapy start?
What therapy did Carl Rogers invent?
What is the benefit of therapy?
How does social learning therapy work?
Why do people benefit from therapy?
How has therapy evolved?
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