Strength In Numbers: Four Types Of Therapy Groups

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated March 31, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Virtually everyone has heard the phrase, "there is strength in numbers." When it comes to therapy, this couldn't be more accurate. When most people think of therapy, they're reminded of one-on-one sessions in a comfortable office with a specialist sitting across from them. While that individual setting is common, it is just one form of the treatment options that are out there.

Group therapy is another type that can be very helpful. There are also many types of group therapy that offer a range of benefits to the health of its patients with the help of therapists and other patients’ support. Therapy groups are also created for a variety of reasons, including group counseling activities.

Understanding group therapy

Therapy groups provide multiple benefits when you're seeking help

If you are only familiar with individual therapy, you may be asking yourself, “is group therapy effective?” There are various reasons why people opt to participate in group therapy instead of individual therapy.

In some situations, different types of group therapy may present with more benefits and be recommended by a primary care doctor or mental health professional for the betterment of mental health. These different types of group therapy come with different, unique benefits.

A sounding board and a great support system are some of the biggest perks of group therapy, as they can help a lot with mental health. The benefits of different types of group therapy for treating specific mental health concerns have been widely reported in peer reviewed studies, with evidence supporting the belief that routine practice of group therapy can lead to significant improvements in symptoms for patients with depression, anxiety (especially social anxiety), stress disorder, PTSD, and other mental health conditions.

Research into group therapy models and interpersonal process groups has shown that it helps normalize health care problems that people are facing, by making them aware that others face similar struggles. Different types of group therapy are also valuable in the installation of hope through the group environment people can see themselves and others recover from problems and improve. Group treatment can help people find a sense of community and spend time outside of their home when they might not otherwise have the opportunity to do so. These are powerful ingredients in helpful therapy.

If you are someone who struggles with connecting with others, group therapy may prove to be helpful to you and your mental health. Not only will you be surrounded by like-minded individuals, but you can also get used to being around other people. One of the best ways to improve is to push and challenge yourself. 

Types of group therapy

While group therapy comes with many benefits, it is a very diverse type of treatment, which can be great for some people with mental health issues. There are many types of group therapy suited for different types of groups, such as psychoeducation groups and psychotherapy groups, for example, so there are treatment options to best suit your needs. There are also large and small groups for people with a specific mental health condition, like group psychotherapy for individuals with depression.

The number of sessions will also differ depending on the kind of therapy a person opts for. And there are open or closed groups; an open group allows new participants and closed groups don’t.  So, it’s important that you discuss your details with your healthcare provider or therapist to help you figure out what types of group therapy and interpersonal group dynamics are the best for you.

Getty/Luis Alvarez

Psychotherapy groups

Psychotherapy is another word for talk therapy and is usually the type of therapy that comes to mind when people think of what a therapist does. Group psychotherapy has a lot of commonalities with individual psychotherapy, but rather than just being one-on-one with a therapist the client also engages in conversation with a group of people.

These groups are based on the theory and practice that relationships built between people are needed to manage daily living and improve mental health. Group psychotherapy can be helpful for those who live with mental health conditions that affect their ability to engage such as anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.

Cognitive therapy groups

These groups use cognitive behavior therapy and similar styles to help people identify patterns of behavior that have kept them stuck in whatever problem they're facing. Identifying thought processes as they relate to behaviors and learning new tools to cope with situations in daily life are big parts of cognitive behavioral therapy groups. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most common form of therapy and has seen the most success since it helps people to re-examine their thoughts and engage in exercises that promote a more positive way of viewing their feelings and thoughts. 

 Most groups include some form of CBT in their group therapy techniques. 

Potential benefits of cognitive behavioral group therapy include:

  • Building a support network with members of the group

  • Practicing CBT techniques with other group members

  • Improving interpersonal relationships

  • Learning from the other group members

Cognitive behavioral groups may not be the best option for everyone. For example, someone with social anxiety or secrecy concerns may feel uncomfortable talking in a group setting.

Dynamic group therapy

According to a research article published by Cambridge University Press, dynamic group therapy is a type of therapy that applies techniques typically used in individual therapy in a group setting. During a dynamic group therapy session, the therapist loosely guides the conversation while allowing the relationships and connections between group members to aid them in developing better self-awareness, self-esteem, and ultimately improving their well being. 

This therapy group is often used in addiction to overcome addictive behaviors and substance use disorder (sometimes known as substance abuse). Dynamic groups can also be effective in treating depression and other mental health conditions. The group focuses on deficits in managing behavior, which can also lead to poor health care. An example of one popular type of dynamic group therapy is AA, a group that focuses specifically on substance use disorder as it applies to alcohol, with a goal of help its members live sober.

Psychoeducation group therapy

Psychoeducation group therapy sessions offer specific instruction to people dealing with specific problems, such as substance abuse treatment. Psychoeducational groups can offer a combination of support and education to improve mental health, especially in the long term. 

Psychoeducation groups focus on teaching one new skill at a time using an educational approach. The experience is likened to taking a class on specific psychological topics. 

Many of the group types featured in this list focus on building relationships and communication between the members, but not psychoeducation group therapy. These groups differ from other groups because there is an emphasis on the therapist leading the sessions and educating the group on specific techniques and skills. For people who feel uncomfortable sharing in front of many people, this may be a more effective approach to group therapy than traditional group psychotherapy.

Self-help or support groups

Self-help and support groups are not necessarily therapy sessions, as they may be run informally. They meet for various reasons and may or may not involve a licensed therapist to facilitate the group. Some types of group sessions meet at community centers or churches for a particular reason, like caregiver support groups, AA, and others. These groups are meant to provide social support to people who participate. Community-based free support groups can be a more affordable alternative than hiring a therapist.

Group therapy works for many people. Individual therapy is helpful as well. The choice about which to proceed with is up to you, and you can be guided by input from a therapist as well. Before joining a group administered by a licensed therapist, they will ask questions to determine if the group is right for you. It also matters which setting is most comfortable for you.

Rational emotive behavior therapy

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, also known as REBT, is an active-directive, empirically- and philosophically-based form of psychotherapy for mental disorders that functions as a behavioral group therapy method. The goal is to resolve behavioral or emotional problems in those living with poor mental health so that they can live fuller and happier lives. This therapy focuses on people who have cognitive distortions about the situations they’re involved in. Through the treatment options available, such as counseling groups, these distortions can be disputed and altered.

Process-oriented psychology and therapy

Process-oriented therapy, also known as process work, is a relatively new form of psychotherapy that focuses on the whole spectrum of the human consciousness. This is achieved through group therapy activities that seek to examine and understand the human experience and how it changes over time. It’s following this flow from one experience to the next that can improve mental health, as it teaches awareness of the self and the world around it in relation to those experiences.

That is why process-oriented therapy can be used in combination with other treatment options for depression, addictions, and anxiety. 

Process groups are typically made up of around 5-10 group members, with one or more psychologists or other mental health care professionals present. This type of group therapy most often takes place in therapy offices. Process group therapy sessions combine principles of CBT, psychoeducation, interpersonal therapy, and skills development. Process-oriented therapy may take place over 6 months or more. 

The process-oriented approach to therapy takes an intentionally unstructured approach that focuses on building connections between the members. One of the potential benefits of process-oriented therapy is that it may address cultural and situational factors better than some other forms of therapy because it enables people to connect directly with their peers. Research has shown that developing relationships with peers in group settings can help facilitate honest communication that aids people in gaining deeper self-awareness and better self-esteem. For example: during a session, the group may reflect on issues brought up in the last meeting and show support for the progress that people have made since then. 

Group leaders

For those who are licensed and certified group therapists and are interested in starting their own group therapy sessions, being a group leader does require some essential skills other than finding common group therapy activities to keep therapy sessions feeling as natural as possible.

As a group leader, you need to develop management strategies to ensure that the atmosphere of the group psychotherapy sessions is constant. Having small, infrequent changes can help the mental health of those in the therapeutic group adjust to their stages of recovery and facilitate group cohesiveness. Clear and consistent boundaries should be presented, such as the ground rules for speaking.

Active listening will provide the information a group leader needs to provide effective therapy.

Formulas and easy answers aren’t going to work in helping those living with mental disorders solve their problems. In fact, that could end up making their mental health worse.

Group leader attributes

Group leaders should have a firm sense of their own identities, or else they can lose themselves in the emotional whirlwind that takes place during group treatment sessions. In sociology, primary groups are defined as small social groups that have close personal relationships. Primary family groups are an example of this.

The best therapy groups usually resemble family groups. This is why trust, humor, and empathy are also strong qualities that a therapeutic group leader should possess. Clients who learn to trust their group leader will learn to trust themselves in turn and will be more likely to experience positive treatment outcomes. 

Art therapy

Group art therapy is one of the treatment options that has been used since the 1940s to diagnose and treat mental disorders.  The goal isn’t to make the best piece of art, but to give those in the group psychotherapy the opportunity to express themselves in a way that doesn’t have to involve words. Research suggests that art group therapy appears to be effective in reducing stress and anxiety, increasing self-esteem, and promoting self-discovery and creativity.

Art therapy doesn’t involve only painting and drawing either. It can involve dance, playing music, or playing a part in a small play.

But for psychotherapy groups, the more common form is visual art, which can include:

  • Collages: images are cut out of magazines and glued together on a poster board to create a collage. The choice of images and the colors used can give a mental health practitioner some insight into the person’s early life experiences and mental health. Questions are usually asked about the piece to help the person recognize thoughts and feelings they hadn’t considered before.

  • Feeling codes: this is less artistic but can provide a lot of insight for those living with mental disorders. They are given notebooks and a poster-sized piece of paper; they then make a list or draw pictures that are codes for certain feelings. 

  • Making masks: not everyone is comfortable speaking face-to-face with others in psychotherapy groups. To improve their mental health symptoms, making a mask that they can use to speak through can help them to identify what they’re feeling on the inside. 

  • Creating puppets: like making masks. creating a puppet is a form of play therapy that helps a person utilize another means of speaking their thoughts. 

Helping out those living with mental disorders, especially those in counseling groups, can be quite rewarding for both the therapist and those involved, as it’s much easier to see their long-term progress and how much they’re improving.

Therapy groups provide multiple benefits when you're seeking help


No matter who you are or what type of therapy you decide to pursue, taking action when you need help is important for your mental health in the long term. Therapy is a great place to grow, learn, heal, and improve mental health. Therapy groups provide that foundation of trust and safety that some people may need.

BetterHelp has licensed therapists who can work with you individually and in group sessions to learn valuable information about struggles you may be facing. These meetings happen online, from the comfort of your home, and on a flexible schedule.

Research has shown that online therapy is just as effective as its in-person counterpart for a multitude of conditions across the mental health spectrum, both in individual and group settings. It is also often a more affordable option than in-person therapy.

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