Characteristics and Objectives of Group Therapy

More than two people (ideally between eight and 10) do therapy at the same time in group therapy. There's usually a therapist (or more). Continue reading to find out how it works, as well as its goals, characteristics, and advantages.
Characteristics and Objectives of Group Therapy

Last update: 02 June, 2021

Group therapy is a modality in which several people undergo therapy at the same time, always guided by one or more therapists. Furthermore, it focuses on the interactions within the group and how these can benefit an individual or the group as a whole.

It’s an established tool in the field of psychology and psychiatry. Its objectives (many of which coincide with individual therapy) include conflict resolution, emotional balance, the stimulation of personal growth, and the enhancement of social skills, among others.

Continue reading to learn more about this type of therapy, its origins, advantages, and many more facts about it.

“Members of a cohesive group feel warmth and comfort in the group and a sense of belongingness; they value the group and feel in turn that they are valued, accepted, and supported by other members.”

-Irvin D. Yalom-

The origins of group therapy

A group therapy session.

People have been performing healing practices in groups for many years. Tribal and religious leaders used them to perform their healing and behavioral changes, as did shamanic rites, Greek tragedies, and medieval plays.

However, group therapy as a planned therapy under professional guidance with the purpose to treat certain conditions (personality in particular), is a 20th-century contribution. The United States was the pioneer in this regard in the 1930s. People like Wender, Schilder, Moreno, Slavson, and Redl Wolf initiated it. What did each of them contribute?

Leading authors in group therapy

Let’s begin with Wender (1936), who worked with inpatients and combined Freudian concepts with interpretations of family transference to the transaction within the group. In the same year, Schilder was the pioneer in analytic group therapy, due to his interpretation of transference and work on dreams.

In turn, Redl introduced children’s diagnostic groups in 1942, and Moreno began to work on psychodrama in the United States during the 1930s. Slavson began working with teens through his group activity therapy in 1943. It focused on the expression of fantasies and feelings through activities and play.

The popularity of group therapy increased after World War II, due to an increase in the therapeutic demand itself. Today, it’s a widely used therapy, either in isolation or combined with individual therapy.

Description of group therapy and the optimal number of participants

Group therapy is a modality in which different subjects meet to talk, guided by one or more therapists. The size of the group should be closely related to the purpose, goal, and duration of the therapy. The ideal number of participants is between eight and 10.

Theoretically, it should be small enough to allow all members to participate. Thomas and Fink (1963) divided the work on group size into two categories:

  • The effects on the group as a whole.
  • The effects on the behavior of its members.

These authors found that group productivity increased along with group size. However, this increased size reduces agility and effectiveness in therapy. In contrast, they found that increasing the size of the group decreased its cohesion and promoted cliques and task division.

The characteristics of group therapy

This kind of therapy has several characteristics. What should it be like? What should it provide? Yalom proposes some therapeutic factors in it. Furthermore, he refers to those that would promote therapeutic change through this modality of therapy mainly.

  • Generate hope.
  • Universality.
  • Providing information.
  • Altruism.
  • Corrective recapitulation on the family group of origin.
  • Development of socializing techniques.
  • Imitative behavior.
  • Individual learning.
  • Group cohesion.
  • Catharsis.
  • Existential factors.

Objectives and types

Group therapy can be used for different purposes or objectives. Among them, clinical, psychoeducational, counseling, or personal growth objectives. According to these criteria, there are various types of therapeutic groups. Following the same criteria, one can speak of the following types of groups (with their respective objectives):

  • Therapeutic, psychoeducational, counseling, and growth groups, according to the problem.
  • There’s family therapy, couples therapy, child therapy, and specific conditions (such as depression), according to the population.
  • As for the theoretical approach, there are psychoanalytic, psychodramatic, humanistic, behavioral, and cognitive-behavioral groups and body workgroups.

The advantages of group therapy

A group therapy session.

Group therapy has significant advantages. One of them is that it allows exploration of the subject’s relational style with others. The group is like a real microcosm, where relationships with different types of people can be built. In fact, group therapy provides a richer and more diverse context for change when compared to individual therapy.

In addition, there’s support and understanding in a cohesive group. Through it, you can connect with people who’ve gone through similar experiences to yours and, therefore, feel truly understood. It’s a space to exchange points of view with other people.

Is it for you?

Not everyone can start a shared psychotherapeutic process. Thus, the characteristics and needs of a given patient, among other factors, play a role. In this regard, there are vital stages, problems, and types of personalities that adjust well to group therapy (and it can help them a lot).

As you can see, a professional must assess every case individually. This is because, even though this type of therapy has many advantages, so does individual therapy. Thus, some situations and people are best suited for one type of modality or another. Actually, there are also people who undergo both types of therapy simultaneously. Your doctor should be able to advise you in this regard.

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