Therapy Groups Defined, WA

Just about each of us has been raised in a group environment, through families, schools organized activities or work. We learn and grow in these environments as human beings and group psychotherapy is essentially no different. Group therapy provides a safe place where we come together and share problems and concerns to better understand our own situations and learn from each other.

What is Group Therapy?

Group therapy is a type of psychological therapy, a collaborative effort, where a small group of people, generally 5-9 people, with similar issues, agree to meet face to face on a set date and time for a specified amount of time to discuss what concerns them amongst each other. A trained professional facilitator leads the group; participants are encouraged to contribute and are encouraged to openly provide feedback giving the opportunity for more increased understanding as well as trying out new way of interacting with one another. Participants learn not only to understand themselves and their issues but also become “therapeutic helpers” for other members. There are typically costs or screening fees associated in order to participate. Meetings may be on-going or held on a limited, weekly or monthly basis.

What are the benefits of Group Therapy?

Like individual counseling, group therapy can benefit almost anyone. In short, group therapy helps people learn about themselves and improve their interpersonal relationships. Perhaps the biggest advantage to a group setting is that participants have a sense of community that can be affirming. The typical response to group is a sense of relief that a person is not alone. When people bond or band together, there seems to be strength in numbers giving the feeling of the ability to overcome. That safe feeling enables people to recreate similar patterns of interactions that proved troublesome outside of the group. Group environments allow the ability to experiment with alternative ways to treatment with others to help modify those behaviors or interactions.

An added way that group therapy may be more enriching than individual therapy alone includes learning how to relate to others. Group dynamics often mirror societal views or situations that may reflect aspects of yourself that you recognize and choose to modify or change. Interacting with others in this manner can help with relationships outside of the group. Group members may share your views but also voice other perspectives as well. This may bring up issues that you may not have been aware of or know how to bring up yourself. Group therapy can be affirming and can help a person to grow.

What can I expect from a group therapy?

The therapist's role is to evaluate each member's problems prior to forming the group. Not every group is alike. There are several styles that each group uses. Some groups focus more on interpersonal development , the interaction between members while other focus more on behaviors and thoughts so that they learn how to control negative thoughts, address phobias or relieve anxiety-inducing situations. 

Groups are led by professionally trained counselors that guide the group and provide an environment conductive to personal growth. This person establishes an atmosphere of safety and respect and moderates the meeting. The counselor may also suggest a "theme" or topic for the group's discussion but sometimes, the therapist will allow the group members to pick the topic for the session. Initially, a person may feel uncomfortable when first discussing problems in front of complete strangers. Within a few sessions, there is a realization that they share similar thoughts allowing them to ease up so that they can open up and discuss feelings. All that is discussed is expected to be kept in the strictest of confidence. There should always be mutual support.

As part of the group therapy session, members try to change their old ways of behaving in favor of newer, more productive ways. Typically, there is a great deal of interaction and discussion among the members of the group. The members may also undertake specific activities, such as addressing certain fears and anxieties.

The Group Psychotherapist Mental health professionals serving as group psychotherapists are trained in one of several areas:

psychiatry, psychology, social work, psychiatric nursing, marriage and family therapy, pastoral counseling, creative arts therapy or substance abuse counseling. When you are considering a therapist for group, check to ensure that (s)he is qualified to lead group psychotherapy. The International Board for Certification of Group Psychotherapists certifies group therapists by the designation "CGP," which means the therapist has received specialized training in group therapy. Clinical Members of the American Group Psychotherapy Association (AGPA) also have received specialized training.

What about confidentiality?

Groups are private and confidential and what is disclosed in session is not to be shared outside of the group. Members agree not to identify any member of their concerns outside the group and the facilitator or group leaders are bound ethically and legally, not to disclose any of the contents of the group sessions. The meaning and importance of confidentiality should be reviewed with all group members at the first meeting and every time a new member joins the group.

How is group therapy different from support groups and self-help groups?

Change and growth are the focal points of psychotherapy group, which differentiates it from support and self-help groups; helping people cope with their problems is not the only focus. The focus of support groups, generally led by professionals, is to help people cope with difficult situations at various times and is usually geared toward alleviating symptoms. Self-help groups usually focus on a particular shared symptom or situation and are usually not led by a trained therapist.

See our page of Washington State Therapy Groups here.


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