What it is
Group therapy is less a specific form of therapy and more a structure in which different types of therapies, even those originally designed as individual therapies, can fit.
Who needs it
Patients with chronic medical or psychiatric illnesses, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, provide emotional support for each other in group settings. Twelve-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous fall into the group therapy category as well. Group therapy is as efficacious as individual therapy and sufficient by itself as a treatment of depression.
How it works
Depending on the group focus, group leaders comprise psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and occupational and recreational therapists. Groups can include up to fifteen patients, last 1-2 hours, and usually occur weekly, lasting from just a few sessions to several months or years. Patients can attend just group therapy or combine it with individual therapy depending on their needs.
Patients experience change in psychodynamic groups – those that address a specific psychiatric issue – through the process of becoming part of the group and all that it entails: sharing stories, voicing sympathy, and offering advice. Additionally, group activities such as art, music, cooking, or recreation help patients both inside and outside psychiatric hospitals practice basic social skills.
Where to go
Patients can access groups via referrals from their primary care physicians or psychiatrists. Resources for twelve-step groups can also be found online at www.aa.org. Insurance normally covers group therapy, but there may be a limit on the number of sessions.
What to expect
Group therapy is about as effective as individual therapy for conditions like PTSD, anxiety, and depression. As an added benefit, group therapy is almost always less expensive than individual therapy.
What could happen
Like most other interpersonal therapies, group therapy does not have a significant potential for negative side effects.