Is group therapy effective?

In this article, we are going to talk about group therapy, helping you to understand what group therapy is, why you might be offered it as well as giving you some insight into the pros and cons. We will also help you to understand how you can get referred for it if you feel it’s a good fit for you, as well as give you some other options if you’re not sure. 

Getting support for your mental health can often feel like a battle. There are heaps of free treatment options but often there are long waiting lists and it can be difficult to know where to turn. 

Here at RESET, we want to make things easier for you. We applaud you for already making the brave decision to look for support with your mental health and we hope this article can help you to make informed decisions that are going to help you on your healing journey. 

What is group therapy?

Group therapy is what it says on the tin. A form of therapy where the therapist works with a group of people who share similar problems or concerns. It involves creating and providing a safe and supportive environment where group members are able to share experiences, gain insight and receive feedback from not only the therapist but the other members of the group too. 

Group therapy can be for those impacted by a wide range of mental health including depression, anxiety, addiction and PTSD. It is sometimes offered instead of another intervention but can also be used alongside different interventions such as medication or individual therapy. 

It can take place in many different settings such as clinics, hospitals and private practices. It can also take place in less clinical settings such as community settings. 

When might I be offered group therapy?

At present, there is quite a strain on mental health services in the NHS for a number of reasons including, increased demand for services, COVID-19 pandemic causing a backlog of people needing support and a shortage of mental professionals. 

Group therapy may be offered to you by a mental health professional as part of your treatment plan, many times unfortunately due to the reasons we listed above that have led to a lack of resources. It’s usually offered to individuals who are impacted by mental health and may be affected by depression, anxiety, addiction or PTSD. 

It’s also offered if you are able to engage in the group setting and if you would benefit from the support of others. For instance, if you are someone who feels isolated and alone in their struggles it may be of benefit to you. 

You also may be offered group therapy if it is available to the mental health service where you live and if the location is accessible to you. It’s also important to remember you don’t necessarily have to be referred by a mental health provider to group therapy, there are ways that you can seek this support which we explain shortly!

Why might group therapy not work for me?

Although group therapy can be a great alternative to therapy (We will explain the reasons why after) it may not be the best choice for everyone. There are several reasons why group therapy might not be as effective and valuable as it is for others. Here are some of the reasons why:

Severe symptoms: If you are struggling with a severe mental concern or symptoms then it may be that individual therapy is better suited to you at this time. This is because you may not receive the level of attention needed for you to work through your symptoms in a group setting. Individual therapy would allow the session to be suited more to your individual needs and would give you a higher level of individualised attention.

Lack of trust: If you are someone that finds it difficult to open up and share your personal experiences, then you might find group therapy really difficult. This is because it requires you to trust not just the therapist but the group as a whole which might make you feel vulnerable. If you think you might struggle with this it is always worth considering whether or not you can push yourself out of your comfort zone. 

Group dynamics: You may get to group therapy and only realise it’s not for you till after. This is normal! The dynamic of the group is integral to the success of group therapy. If the group members have vastly different needs, personalities or communication styles then it can be difficult for the facilitator to make everyone feel comfortable and supported. 

Limited availability: It’s worth noting that group therapy might also not be available to you because there aren’t any groups in your local area that are accessible to you! 

I would just also like to note that these are not absolute reasons why group therapy wouldn’t be effective and you might find that some of these issues can be “pushed” through (apart from limited availability of course). For instance, it’s worth considering whether or not your lack of trust is actually something that could be worked on and improved by attending group therapy. 

Because of this, it would be really important for you to consider any potential barriers to you accessing group therapy and reflect on if these can be overcome. If this is something you are struggling to decide on then we are always here to help!

Why might group therapy be good for me?

Despite the potential barriers that you may face in attending group therapy we would like to highlight the benefits you could see from engaging in this. Here are some reasons why group therapy could help you to thrive:

Building community: Group therapy can help you to connect to others who are experiencing similar struggles. By sharing your experiences with others you can build relationships, a sense of belonging and reduce your feelings of isolation. Strong, meaningful relationships can be such a protective factor against so many mental health struggles! We are social creatures and having a tribe is important to our survival. 

Accountability: Because group therapy includes you sharing your experience it means it provides a level of accountability. When we share our goals with others we are more likely to complete them! Other group members can also give encouragement and support, whilst holding each other accountable. 

Diversity: When you partake in group therapy it opens you up to connect with people you might not usually have the opportunity to connect with! This opens you up to new perspectives, new ideas and new strategies for coping with your mental health. This means you can receive feedback not just from the therapist leading the group but also from other group members. 

Skill building: Certain skills you learn in a group setting may directly impact some of the issues you are facing. For instance, if you are struggling with social anxiety, a group therapy may really help you to build social skills.

Cost: Therapy can be expensive. Group therapy is usually free or way less expensive than individual therapy because it requires only one therapist for more people!

How do I get referred for group therapy?

There are a number of ways you could get referred for group therapy. Here are our top tips:

  • Talk to your GP: Your GP can refer you to mental health services and if there is group therapy available in your local area they can help you to access this. 
  • Contact a mental health charity: There are a number of mental health charities such as Mind or Rethink Mental Illness that may hold support groups in your local area
  • Contact your NHS Mental Health Trust: Some trusts allow you to self-refer so it’s worth finding your local Mental Health Trust online and getting in contact. You can do that here.

What if group therapy is not for me?

  • Get in contact with us!: We understand that the RESET approach might not be for everyone but we are more than happy to share our knowledge and give advice- even if you do not seek therapy from us. 
  • Speak with your GP: Your GP can be a great starting point as they can assess your needs and recommend a therapy that may be suitable for you. They may also refer you to a specialist for more specialised treatments
  • Seek a qualified therapist: You can look for a therapist who is registered with a professional body such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) or the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP).
  • Find a therapy service: There are many therapy services available in England, including the NHS, private clinics, charities, and community centres. You can use websites such as the NHS website or the Counselling Directory website to search for therapy services in your area.

It’s important to remember that seeking therapy is a personal decision and it can be a big step. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or unsure about what to do, you can speak with a GP or send us an email. We are here to help and are so happy that you are thinking about embarking on the beautiful journey that is therapy!

Msc Shannen Poulton is a Psychology BSc, MSc and Senior Assistant Psychologist at The RESET Health Group with over 5 years of experience in mental health services.

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Is group therapy effective?