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Health > Mental Health >Group Therapy


Group therapy is a way of giving psychological help to a number of people at the same time. But can it ever replace individual treatment?

Group therapy is used to help people with mental problems, those with difficulty in relating to other people, or those who simply want to try and understand themselves better. Many of the people who undergo treatment are attracted by the reassuring informality in the approach used and by the wide range of help that group therapy can give.


Therapy groups are set up for various purposes. The form they take depend on the reason why they were set up. An assertion group, for instance, might be set up for people who feel that they back down too easily in arguments. The members of such a group will help each other by role-playing-acting out situations similar to those with which they have difficulty coping. They can thus learn and practice argument-winning techniques. In this view they will be able to project confidence into their approach to such confrontations.

Groups run to help people improve the way in which they relate to others, or just to help them understand themselves, are sometimes known as encounter groups or T-groups.

People who suffer from particular phobias or anxieties may be treated in groups by desensitization. With the help of the therapist, members of the group can learn to overcome their fears. The motivation to succeed becomes greater when others are present.

It has also be found that in spite of the reticence many people have about speaking of their sex lives, many sexual problems can be successfully treated in a group situation.


People with marital problems who go to a family planning or family therapy clinic may take part in group therapy. Doctors and hospitals may refer a patient for group therapy and put him or her in touch with a group.

If may also be used in situations where individuals are having difficulty in integrating with society, such as delinquent centers, open prisons or addiction rehabilitation centers. Sometimes it is used on some fairly severely mentally disturbed patients in hospital-though often the communication in these cases is more between therapist and patient than between patient and patient.

It could be said that group therapy is good for anyone because it can be used as a process for enhancing life-style as well as for remedial purpose. Certainly it seems to have particularly good results with people who have no specific problem but wish to have a better understanding of themselves or want to improve their ability to communicate with others.


A group therapy session may take place in a hospital, a prison or a psychiatric centre. It might take place in a doctor’s consulting rooms after surgery hours.

Sometimes group therapy sessions are advertised in magazines which feature forthcoming events, or they may be advertised on Town Hall or family planning clinic notice boards.

Often these sessions take place in a room specially hired for the purpose, anything from a community meeting room to a hotel suite. Sometimes they are held at the home of one of the group members.

When a session is advertised like this it is always a good idea to check that it is being run by a reputable person. Mostly they are run by societies, who are quite used to people checking up and do not mind.


What actually happens at a group therapy session depends on why it was set up. A typical encounter group session starts with exercises to help members to get to know each other and work on their problems (other groups restrict themselves to talking about problems). No lead is given as to the purpose of the group or how it should work. Not even the group organizer, or facilitator, as he or she is generally called, tries to resolve this uncertainty, for it is up to the group itself to work out its own purpose.

The group begins to discover whether not being told what to do is unnerving and that sometimes people like or dislike one another for no good reason. Members often start by expressing very positive statements to each other. These positive sentiments are very much surface pleasantries but they help to build a web of trust around the group.


That web of trust nevertheless gives a certain right to say less pleasant things to each other and this stage is both natural and inevitable. A marked feature of the group is it powerful ability to support and heal any member of the group who seems to be under excessive pressure.


Some critics of group therapy have suggested that the skill learned within the group to not transfer to the real world and that any advantages gained from group therapy do not last. However, when a specific aim, such as curing a phobia or helping a person to become more assertive is involved the effects are as good as individual therapy.

With encounter and other life-style enhancing groups, effects vary from person to person but some people enjoy the experience so much that they will attend sessions just for pleasure.

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