5 Good Reasons to Try Group Therapy

By Kerry Weiss
Reviewed by Susan Ko, Ph.D.
May 08, 2023

Thoughts of therapy may conjure images of one-on-one counseling, where a single person meets with a mental health professional to talk through what’s concerning them and learn individualized coping strategies. However, group therapy is a valid therapeutic approach that’s worth consideration, as well.

What Is Group Therapy?

As the name suggests, group therapy is a type of therapy that’s provided by a licensed professional to a group of people.

Therapy groups are typically composed of people experiencing similar challenges, whether it be feelings of depression or anxiety, self-esteem concerns, grief, anger, loneliness, or other factors that can affect mental and emotional well‑being.

Group therapy is different from a support group. It’s typically led by someone who is licensed or credentialed to be a group therapy leader, explains Noelle Lefforge, Ph.D., director of the Professional Psychology Clinic at the University of Denver, in Colorado, and president-elect of the Society of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy (a division of the American Psychological Association). Support groups, on the other hand, are usually led by someone within the community that group serves, she adds, such as people coping with a common illness.

Groups can vary in size, but typically consist of about five to 15 people. Larger groups may be led by multiple credentialed mental health professionals. Therapy groups tend to meet once or twice a week, for about an hour at a time. Some therapy may be offered in sessions that last a set number of weeks, whereas other groups may be open to people as long as needed.

Group Therapy vs. Individual Therapy

Group therapy can be used on its own or in combination with individual therapy—and both are equally good options.

“A big misconception we hear a lot is that people think of group as a second-tier therapy, [that if] you don't have enough resources to do individual therapy, we’ll throw you in a group—and that's just really a myth,” Lefforge says. “We're really trying to change people's minds about it being a lesser option.”

That is to say, group therapy works. “Group therapy has been demonstrated to be as effective, if not more effective, than individual therapy for most of what it is that people come into a mental health clinic for,” says Josh Gross, Ph.D., a group and family psychologist based in Florida and past president of the Society of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy.

A 2020 study found that group therapy was just as effective as individual therapy for college students with symptoms of anxiety and depression—and attending group therapy improved how participants felt about the group setting.

5 Benefits of Group Therapy

Participating in group therapy can offer a variety of benefits. These are reasons you may want to give it a try.

1. There’s a group for everyone. Specific groups are often available to help with a host of issues, Lefforge says—from difficult feelings like sadness or loneliness to clinical issues like post-traumatic stress disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

2. It can help you feel less alone. One 2021 study in older adults found that cognitive behavioral therapy performed in a group setting helped reduce feelings of loneliness. “There's definitely a lot of benefit from group cohesion and universality,” Lefforge says. She adds that there’s value in getting outside of your own thoughts and feelings by hearing others’, too: “Interacting with other people, and potentially providing altruism to other people, can have its own therapeutic benefits.”

3. It can help you troubleshoot relationship struggles in real time. “Group can offer an opportunity to re-create social structures [from] people's real lives—and then present the opportunity to try new things, behave in different ways, learn about oneself and others,” Lefforge says. In other words, interactions in group therapy can mirror relationship issues you may have outside the group, and give you the chance to choose and practice a different way—or ways—of approaching them.

4. It’s often more accessible. According to the American Psychological Association, demand for therapy has risen since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, many mental health professionals are getting more referrals and have longer waitlists than ever. Group therapy reaches more people at one time, and it costs less for them, Gross says.

5. There’s strength in numbers. If something that’s said or a piece of advice that’s provided by a group therapy leader feels off to you, you can talk to the other people who attend the same sessions to get their reactions. “That’s the way a lot of people find out that they don’t have good therapy—because they talk to each other,” Gross says. Meanwhile, if you go to individual therapy, you typically have to figure these types of things out on your own, he says, which may be more difficult.

It’s Okay to Be Hesitant to Open Up in Group Therapy

You’re not alone if you’re hesitant about trying group therapy. “It’s a little bit like asking people to expose themselves,” Gross says.

The good news? The first stage in building the group dynamic is all about addressing any hesitancy, uncertainty, and anxiety group members may have about participating in group therapy.

It’s okay to give yourself time to adjust, Lefforge notes. “We certainly want people to give it a try and warm up to it—maybe listen at first more than they participate, and just kind of get a feel for it,” she says.

If it feels like it’s not the right fit for you, talk to the group leader before you drop group therapy altogether. “Let them know what's not working and that you’re thinking about leaving, because there's a lot that we can usually do to try to help somebody find their way,” Lefforge says. “Even talking about it in the group is ideal—most people have their own ambivalence, and the whole group could learn from that discussion.”

Once you get past any initial obstacles, it’s important to show up and participate. “There is evidence that the more people engage, the more benefit they're going to get,” Lefforge says.

Where to Find Group Therapy Near You

“[Group therapy] is a beautiful and sophisticated thing—but you have to be in the hands of a competent practitioner,” Gross says. You can find a provider who’s certified in group psychology through the American Group Psychotherapy Association.

Although the modern concept of group therapy has been around since the 1940s, it continues to be an effective option today. “I expect that as the need for expanded mental health services gets clearer to the American public, we're going to see a lot more group therapy,” Gross says. “And that's good because the outcomes are really strong.”

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