5 Benefits of Group Therapy For Mental Health Care 2023

Lindsey Jerke

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Kathy Shattler, MS, RDN

benefits of group therapy

Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy where several individuals (usually 5-10) participate in a therapy session together with one or more psychologists or qualified facilitators. Generally, groups are formed with individuals who do not know each other outside the group and have a similar situation, disorder, or diagnosis.  

Different types of groups may include psychoeducational, skill development, cognitive behavioral therapy, and interpersonal process, or they may simply exist as support groups. Typically there is a mix of goals and functions in a group, and thus they can provide a wide range of benefits.

Group psychotherapy is a great way to connect with other individuals, online or in person, during a time that is often characterized by isolation. You will learn coping strategies from other members and therapists, find value in supporting others, and gain the community so often needed in times of emotional isolation. 

What Are the Benefits of Group Therapy?

Group psychotherapy offers some distinct advantages for individuals with mental health conditions who need help.  It may not be for everyone, but here are the most cited benefits of group therapy sessions:

  • Helps you know you’re not alone in your problems
  • Gain a new perspective from other group members
  • Motivation for change when you see others’ success in a similar situation
  • Opportunity to practice effective communication in relationships
  • Structured social engagement, community building, and sense of belonging

The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy[1] by Irvin Yalom, originally published in 1970 and now in its 6th edition, is a foundational text in the field still used today. The book details many of these benefits of the practice of group therapy sessions. 

The biggest benefit of group counseling for many individuals is the comfort of knowing you’re not alone in your situation or experiences. Often a mental health condition can make you feel isolated. 

Seeing and knowing that others have had a similar experience can provide validation, and a means to move forward.  Yalom describes this as universality. A group experience allows finding out that others have similar issues. 

Participating in group psychotherapy is also an excellent way to gain an impartial and outside perspective. Other group members are often invited to provide thoughts and suggestions during group discussions. This can be especially valuable in gaining an objective viewpoint that you would not receive from others who know you well.

The group is a sounding board to help understand your behaviors and emotions. You may receive advice you’ve never heard before or be introduced to a new way of thinking about a solution that has worked for others.  It could be a key to improved quality of life. 

Often a group is comprised of individuals in different stages of recovery or a mental health journey. Witnessing others’ successes during the group sessions can boost motivation that you can also improve your situation.  Yalom calls this “instillation of hope” where confidence is provided that treatment can be effective. You’ll be more motivated to keep going and do the work too. 

Groups promote social skills and also gift the opportunity to practice effective communication skills in a safe environment.  Often interpersonal relationships are strained either as a direct cause or fringe result of a mental health disorder. One’s interpersonal shortcomings in your personal life can also manifest in the group setting.

A group setting is a perfect opportunity to practice better communication and interpersonal skills with feedback from group members, which can later be applied to the “real world.” This would not be feasible within a one-on-one therapy relationship. 

Finally, group therapy offers structured and regular social engagement that can be difficult in the depths of a mental health disorder. Often group members benefit from the simple social aspects and community building that can come from a therapy group.

A sense of community develops and a feeling of value from being a member.  Yalom describes this as the benefit of altruism in his book.  Not only are you getting help from other members, but you are also giving help to others thus providing a sense of purpose that may come from the experience. This can be invaluable in recovery. 

Who Should Join Group Therapy?

While group therapy can be used in many applications in the field of mental health treatment, some situations and disorders may be better suited or more commonly used for group therapy. This includes

  • Substance Use Disorder
  • Eating Disorders
  • Depression
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Panic Disorder
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorders

Research in the area of group therapy is highly variable as to the condition of study participants or the group’s focus. The disorders and conditions on this list are some of the more frequently studied for the effectiveness of group therapy sessions.

A meta-analysis of 48 research reports on group therapy and depression[2] concluded it was an effective treatment option. Unfortunately, many studies did not compare the results of group therapy versus individual therapy. A different retrospective study on cognitive behavioral group therapy sessions for depression found that 44% of patients had improvement in symptoms. 

A more recent 2019 analysis[3] of 33 studies involving group therapy for substance abuse found a slight positive difference in abstinence rates with group therapy compared to individual or no therapy. However, the improvement in the overall mental state with group therapy was most notable. 

The benefits of group therapy have also been studied concerning trauma[4] or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One small study[5] involving 88 female veterans found improvement in symptoms among the group members after exposure to sessions over six weeks.

Group therapy has been proven a viable option in many conditions, but it is not a good option for those who are in a crisis.  If you are experiencing crisis symptoms, contact the 988 national suicide and crisis lifeline[6]

When to Choose Group Therapy Over Individual Therapy?

The biggest advantage of group counseling over individual therapy is cost.  Generally, it is more cost-effective to participate in group therapy sessions than individual therapy on a cost-per-session basis.  However, research[7] on this topic has been mixed. Long-term costs may not differ if progress is slower in a group setting. 

As Yalom also describes in his book, a therapy group can become a “social microcosm” that brings chronic social-emotional issues to the surface. Group therapy may be particularly helpful for individuals whose mental health challenges involve interpersonal relationships.  

If you’ve tried individual therapy and are having trouble with the motivation to make changes or stay engaged, then trying group therapy may be a good choice. A group’s accountability or the motivation to see others succeed would be helpful.

The other point to remember is that it doesn’t have to be an either-or choice between group and individual therapy.  Attending group therapy sessions and individual sessions can be complementary and boost your overall progress.  

Disadvantages of Group Therapy

There are a few disadvantages of group therapy that should be considered.  

First, individual therapy is a better option for some unique or high-risk conditions (such as suicidal ideation). Cases of extreme social anxiety, panic disorders, or similar mental health conditions will likely not benefit from the group therapy experience (at least in the early phases of their treatment process). 

The therapeutic alliance between patients and therapists is not as strong in group therapy. Group therapy may feel a bit impersonal for some and deter treatment progress.

The set schedule of group sessions may also be a barrier if you do not have a flexible schedule.  Typically groups operate on a weekly schedule, so if that time doesn’t work for you, then options are limited. In comparison, individual sessions are scheduled to fit your needs. 

Some groups function as a closed group, meaning there is a defined beginning and end to the group. So, if the group session has already begun, you would have to wait until the start of a new group.  Other groups are considered open groups, and members can come and go depending on their needs. Either could be a disadvantage depending on your situation.

How to Benefit the Most From Group Therapy

To benefit from group therapy, you must be willing to share and engage with the group. While simply listening can be helpful, sharing your own experience, asking for advice, and giving advice are the foundations of group therapy. So, it is important to participate in group sessions with an open attitude.  

Most groups have ground rules regarding confidentiality among members if you’re worried about privacy. What is discussed in the group should not be shared with anyone outside the group. It can be scary to share personal details, but you may be surprised that others can relate. The universality experience is a big benefit of participating in group sessions and can only come from being open in the group. 

On a similar note, be willing to accept criticism.  It is an important part of growth, and part of the group experience is receiving criticism from others. Honest communication is imperative. 

Consistency and commitment are important to find value in a group therapy experience. Attend regularly and expect to attend for the duration of the group schedule if there is one.  Don’t expect significant results within 1-2 sessions. Be patient and consistent to get the most out of your time. 

Finally, finding the right group for you is crucial.  Group cohesiveness is important, and sometimes the fit isn’t right for individuals in a particular group. If that’s the case, try a different option until you feel comfortable. You will benefit most from a group dynamic that works for you. 

Conclusion

Group therapy is an efficient and cost-effective option for many individuals to receive mental health treatment. It can be used in conjunction with individual therapy sessions or as a sole treatment option for many mental health conditions.  Group members can build social skills, learn coping skills, and receive support from others with similar issues. 

Talk with your healthcare team if group psychotherapy may be a good option for you. If you need help finding a treatment group, visit the mental health services administration website[8] to locate treatment options in your area. Or consider convenient online options such as Talkspace.


+ 8 sources

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  1. Nanik Sariyani (2015). The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy. [online] Academia.edu. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/13587158/The_Theory_and_Practice_of_Group_Psychotherapy
  2. W McDermut, Miller, I. and Brown, R. (2014). The efficacy of group psychotherapy for depression: a meta-analysis and review of the empirical research. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK68475/
  3. Lo Coco, G., Melchiori, F., Oieni, V., Infurna, M.R., Strauss, B., Schwartze, D., Rosendahl, J. and Gullo, S. (2019). Group treatment for substance use disorder in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized-controlled trials. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, [online] 99, pp.104–116. doi:10.1016/j.jsat.2019.01.016.
  4. Kanas, N. (2005). Group Therapy for Patients with Chronic Trauma–Related Stress Disorders. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, [online] 55(1), pp.161–165. doi:10.1521/ijgp.55.1.161.56551.
  5. Castillo, D.T., C’de Baca, J., Qualls, C. and Bornovalova, M.A. (2012). Group Exposure Therapy Treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Female Veterans. Military Medicine, [online] 177(12), pp.1486–1491. doi:10.7205/milmed-d-12-00186.
  6. 988lifeline.org. (2022). Home. [online] Available at: https://988lifeline.org/
  7. Tucker, M. and Oei, T.P.S. (2007). Is Group More Cost Effective than Individual Cognitive Behaviour Therapy? The Evidence is not Solid Yet. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, [online] 35(01), p.77. doi:10.1017/s1352465806003134.
  8. Samantha.Elliott (2013). Find Treatment | SAMHSA – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. [online] Samhsa.gov. Available at: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-treatment.
Lindsey Jerke

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

Lindsey Jerke has over 10 years of experience as a registered dietitian working in the clinical setting and now in the food industry in regulatory compliance.

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

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