You see them in the movies or on TV shows. A group of people sitting around in a circle with a therapist that is trying to lead them. Oftentimes it is portrayed as being awkward or not useful, so why should you even consider attending group therapy?
My colleague and I are starting a group on anxiety, so I am going to use that as my example for what to expect in group therapy and what the advantages are to this approach. So let’s say you have anxiety, and it feels like you are the only one who knows what your anxiety is like. Just the fact that you have anxiety can be a deterrent to trying out a group because it makes you anxious to talk in a group setting, or to open up in case you are judged.
Group therapies can range in size from 5 to 15 people. The preferable size is 8 people, so that you can get enough time to share and don’t disappear in the crowd. The length of time that you meet varies from group to group and what their purpose is. For a group that is mostly educational and providing the participants with coping skills, the length of time is typically in the range of 6-10 sessions. For a group where there is more processing involved, the length of time will be much longer. Be sure to ask what the expectation is of the group, and also if the group is open or closed. If the group is open, it means that new participants can join at any time. If it is closed, it means that whoever starts with you is who you can expect to see each week, and there is usually an expected commitment that you will attend each group (unless you’re sick).
A good therapist will help the group to set rules or guidelines for your group in the first session. This often includes things like keeping what is said in group confidential, how you want to handle conflict, and how much time each person will have to share. While the therapist will have some ground rules that they feel are crucial to making the group work smoothly, the rest will be shaped by what the group wants and needs in order to feel safe to share and grow.
After that, the topics will be set by the therapist each week. For a group on anxiety, you might learn a little bit about how anxiety works and the why and how the body utilizes it. Then there will be an introduction of a tool for coping with the anxiety, either when you are full on experiencing it, or when you start to feel it come on so that you can begin to learn how to control it. There will be times for sharing, and this looks like sharing your experience with anxiety, what has helped you, and where you might need some extra support.
The advantage to group therapy is that you get to learn from your therapist, but also those around you. You also get to share some of what you have learned and what tricks work for you. So for example, if you are dealing with anxiety, maybe you have learned that deep breathing works really well for you, and then someone else suggests an exercise like progressive muscle relaxation and explains how it has worked for them and when. You go home and try that out, and it works great! Now you have another tool! While it is important to be open to others’ suggestions, remember to put more weight in what the therapist might say, since they are the ones with the training and knowledge.
Another advantage is the cost. Typically you are paying about half or less of the cost of individual sessions. While it may be difficult to put all of that money out on the front end, in the long run you are saving quite a bit of money.
The goal for group therapy is to learn more about yourself and find new ways to find grounding and easing your anxious feelings. The advantage to group therapy is that you might be able to make new friendships, improve your relationships with others, feel more connected and heard, and be more satisfied with your life. Being around a group of people who understand what it is like to live with anxiety can also help you to feel more “normal” and not so alone. It is a great way to supplement the individual therapy that you are doing, and can help boost your healing process.
If you are interested in trying out a group, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 604-359-4470. My colleague, Katarina, and I are starting a group on anxiety on Wednesday, February 28th and we would love to have you join us!