Since January, I’ve been taking part in a weekly talking therapy group each Friday. The group finished last week, after 20 weeks. While I have found it useful, in many ways, therapy in a group has negatives to go along with the positives.
Positives of group therapy.
Spending time with people who have similar problems and difficulties to myself was, pretty much, a really positive experience. I was able to see that I wasn’t alone in feeling and thinking the way I do. There’s something really powerful in feeling that you’re not alone in your experiences, and I found that a real boost for my self-esteem.
Group therapy also massively increased my motivation to make changes in my life. Seeing that other people have been able to achieve some of the goals that I’m aiming for – despite challenges on the way – means that I can do the same. Everyone in the group was in the same boat, and there’s no reason I can’t achieve anything that other people can.
My group was largely CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) based. This meant that a lot of time was devoted to thinking about thinking, and working out strategies to deal with unwanted thoughts and feelings, and making changes in our behaviour.
Compared with individual CBT (which I’ve had previously), the big positive of doing the therapy as a group is being able to learn from each other. We were able to talk through coping strategies together – ones that we had used, and new ideas – and compare notes on what worked well, helping each other tweak and change strategies when we needed to.
Some of the downsides of group therapy.
At the start of the group – in the first session – we all signed a confidentiality agreement and settled upon a code of conduct for the time we would spend together. Even so, there were times when I felt other’s behaviour wasn’t conducive to the overall benefit of the group.
However skilled the therapists/facilitators (and they were), it was inevitable that a few strong personalities came to dominate certain sessions, to the detriment of quieter or more laid-back group members. This did cause problems, especially when sensitive topics were being talked about.
Confidentiality, for me, was also a big issue. Even though we had all agreed not to reveal outside the group anything we had discussed during our sessions, there were some things I didn’t feel able to be open about. I have some pretty major trust issues, I’m aware of that, but I simply wasn’t confident that nothing I said would go outside those four walls; there were just too many people involved.
Finally, although everyone in the group was together because we have things in common; we were not all at similar stages of our recovery, or our motivation to make changes. That led to some strange situations it sessions where I felt I had to keep quiet and not share my own experiences so that others were able to make progress themselves, at their own pace. The group could only work at the speed of the slowest (for want of a better way of looking at it). As one of the people who was further on with their recovery, I didn’t feel like this was great for me personally and led to some wasted time.
Group or Individual therapy, which is better?
The time I’ve spent in one-to-one therapy, with a skilled therapist, has been awesome for me; and I’m still seeing a counsellor now on a semi-regular basis. I feel like these individual sessions, which I had roughly once a month while I was doing the group every week, helped me to get the most out of my group sessions.
I’ve been able to open up about things I wasn’t comfortable talking about in the group and discuss the finer points of some things that are personal to me. Counselling has also given me space to offload some of the happenings in the group that I haven’t been able to discuss elsewhere (because of the confidentiality).
So, in my view, group therapy is great, but I do think it ought to come with individual one-to-one time with a counsellor as well. Without that extra input, I’m sure the group would still have been beneficial, just nothing like as much.
Don’t be shy, seek help.
I had to wait over a year to start my group (although I was able to get one-to-one support in the meantime). So please, if you feel like group therapy is something that might help you don’t waste time before seeking out support in your area.
Your doctor is the best person to point you in the right direction, but if you don’t feel like you can go to them, some of the organisations listed here should be able to give you details of local therapists:
- UK: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/Pages/mental-health-helplines.aspx
- USA: https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-referral-resources/