What is Group Therapy?
Psychotherapy is for people who want to improve their lives. While individual
therapy involves one person meeting with a therapist, group therapy involves
a small group of unrelated people meeting together with a professionally
trained facilitator who leads, or facilitates, a therapeutic meeting.
A therapy group is customarily 6 to 12 members who meet from one to three
hours per session once or twice a week. In order to gain the maximum
benefits from group, participants are asked to make a commitment to regular
While some groups chiefly focus on the treatment of specific problems or
symptoms, others focus on personal development and growth. Some groups
are primarily educational in nature, some serve primarily a supportive function,
and others are "group process" or insight-oriented. Some groups are
time-limited and do not allow in new members once the group begins, others
are open-ended and allow new members to enter as other members leave.
Candidates for group therapy usually first meet with the group facilitator in a
private individual consultation. In this meeting, you and the facilitator can
discuss your concerns and define your goals. You can learn more about group
work and whether it might be beneficial for you, as well as evaluate other
approaches that might be helpful. Group therapy is not necessarily a
substitute for individual therapy. Often, for example, people find that working
concurrently in group and individual modalities stimulates growth in
How Support Groups Work
We learn from other people all the time. While the initial anxiety people feel
about joining a group is universal, many soon find it easier to express their
feelings in a supportive group of peers once they have begun. Group
participants develop trusting working relationships with each other over time.
Usually in a support group, the focus is a one particular topic or problem that
all the members share. Participants share their honest feelings and thoughts
about events occurring in their lives outside the group. Participants respond
to each other with direct, honest, and respectful information, suggestions,
encouragement, and feedback. Generally, participants are expected to remain
in the group until the issues they brought in have been resolved.
How Growth Groups Work
In a process-oriented growth group, the facilitator is non-directive. Topics
are generally not provided by the facilitator but arise spontaneously and
collaboratively during the group session.
Participants share their honest feelings and thoughts not only about events
occurring in their lives outside the group but primarily about what is occurring
at the present moment and what has happened in previous meetings of the
Each participant is able to observe their own patterns of feeling, thought,
and behavior as they occur in direct interaction with other individuals and
with the group as a whole. As a result, you learn about your personality and
your impact on other people and can actively practice changing behaviors
that may interfere with healthy relationships.
The nature of a growth group tends to be gradual and long-term. Participants
typically attend anywhere from a few months to a few years.
The potential benefits of a group will be different for each person but may
include greater comfort with self-examination and confrontation, tolerance for
uncomfortable feelings or frustration, empathic sensitivity toward others,
effective communication and self-expression, and capacity for trust and
intimacy. Ultimately, the goal of such work is progress toward the
achievement of personal fulfillment, balance in life, and a sense of well-being.
Every effort to respect the privacy of group participants is required in order
to encourage candid disclosure. Group psychotherapists adhere to a code of
professional ethics. Among the standards of practice is the principle of
confidentiality---information you disclose is considered private. Sensitive
subjects can often arise in group discussions. Group participants are asked to
agree that they will not disclose to anyone outside the group either the
identity of other members or what is discussed by other group members
within the group.
Some group members may be in individual treatment with the group facilitator
or with another therapist. It is often considered helpful if you consent to your
group facilitator consulting with your individual or couples therapist for the
purpose of continuity of care.
While fees vary among therapists, the cost of a single group session is
generally less than half the cost of a session of individual therapy. The actual
cost of any therapy probably depends more on the length of time you are in it
rather than on the cost per session. The length of time you are in group
depends on the nature of the issues that you bring to the work as well as
your pace and motivation to change. See Wall Street Journal article about
How to Find a Group Therapist
Locating a therapy group that is right for you involves making an informed
choice. Do not hesitate to ask a group therapist any questions you may
have. Ask about their professional education and training as well as
professional licensure and certifications. Ask the therapist about their
philosophy of treatment, how they conduct their group, and how it potentially
would be beneficial for your particular situation.
A frequently updated resource for locating groups is the Metropolitan Los
Angeles Outpatient Group Therapy Resource Directory, a concise listing of
over a thousand therapeutic, supportive, growth-oriented, or
psychoeducational groups throughout the county. You can view or download
this directory from this website.
The Group List
Los Angeles Outpatient Group Therapy Directory
James J. De Santis, Ph.D., Editor
(818) 551-1714 JJDeSantis@aol.com
Copyright © 2009, James J. De Santis, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.