Information taken from the Group Psychotherapy Association of Los Angeles (GPALA), click here for GPALA website
Commonly Asked Questions
How does group work? A group therapist appropriately selects people (usually 5 to 10) who would be helped by the group experience and who can be learning partners for one another. In meetings, people are encouraged to talk with each other in a spontaneous and honest fashion. A professionally trained therapist, who provides productive examination of the issues or concerns affecting the individuals and the group, guides the discussion. Not every group is alike. There are a variety of styles that different groups use. For instance, some focus more on interpersonal development and self-knowledge, where much of the learning actually comes from the interaction of members themselves in addition to members raising issues of concern to them. Others address cognitive behaviors, where the emphasis is on learning how to control negative thoughts, address phobias or relieve anxiety-inducing situations.
If someone is in a group, do they also need individual therapy? It depends on the individual. Sometimes group therapy is used as the main or only treatment approach. Sometimes it’s used along with individual therapy. Often people find that working simultaneously in both group and individual therapy stimulates growth in mutually complementary ways. Clients may see the same therapist for both, or they may see two different therapists for individual and group therapy. In the latter case, the two therapists sometimes communicate with each other periodically for the client’s benefit. Ask your therapist about the type of therapy that will best meet your needs.
How is group therapy different from support groups and self-help groups? Group therapy focuses on learning about oneself in relationship to others, most often by helping people understand and perhaps challenge how they already think about what is happening in relationship. The goal is to improve each member’s emotional experience in relation to others and themselves. Group psychotherapy also provides a supportive environment in which to explore specific problems or challenges, all with the assistance of a trained group therapist. The psychotherapy group is different from self-help and support groups in that it not only helps people cope with their problems, but also provides for change and growth. Self-help groups usually focus on a particular shared symptom or situation and are usually not led by a trained therapist. Support groups, which are generally led by professionals, help people cope with difficult situations at various times but are not necessarily geared toward change.
Why is group therapy useful? When someone is thinking about joining a group, it’s normal for them to have questions or concerns. What am I going to get out of this? Will there be enough time to deal with my own problems in a group setting? The group therapy modality is often not appropriate for people in crisis who need a great deal of attention paid to a particular acute problem. Instead group therapy is useful for those who are interested in engaging in a longer-term process of personal growth, where responses of others are seen by the client as useful in support of that goal. It is generally thought that the root of most interpersonal problems involves maladaptive patterns of relating that were learned, directly or indirectly, in each member’s first group – their families of origin. It then follows that change and growth – even resolution of the problem – occurs in a new group setting where these old, problematic patterns can be made clear and explored.
What if I don’t like the people in my group? Joining a group is useful because it provides opportunities to learn with and from other people, to understand one’s own and others’ patterns of thought and behavior, and to perceive how group members react to one another. We live and interact with people every day and often there are things that other people are experiencing or grappling with that can be beneficial to share with others. In group therapy, you learn that perhaps you’re not as different as you think or that you’re not alone. You’ll meet and interact with people, and the whole group learns to work on shared problems — one of the most beneficial aspects. The more you involve yourself in the group, the more you get out of it. To this end, it is not necessary or sometimes even preferable that you like each group member. In fact, it is commonly thought that you are likely to learn the most about yourself from the person to whom you have the strongest reaction.
What kinds of people should participate in group therapy? Group therapy can benefit many different people, from those having difficulties with interpersonal relationships to those dealing with specific problems such as a serious medical illness, loss, addictive disorders or behavioral problems. It is very helpful to people who want to learn more about how their own minds work, those interested in personal growth. With adolescents, for example, group therapy teaches socialization skills needed to help function in environments outside the home. Group therapy is not the treatment of choice for those in an acute crisis. The group therapist will be able to assess whether you are someone who can benefit from the group therapy experience. In fact, most group therapists will require that you meet with them individually for this purpose, as well as to prepare you for participating in the group in ways that increase the likelihood that you will have the most powerful experience possible.
Will there be people with similar problems in my group? The therapist’s role is to evaluate each member’s problems prior to forming the group. Usually there is a mix of members who can learn from each other. While some members will have similar circumstances, it’s not necessary or sometimes even preferable that all members in the group are dealing with exactly the same problem.
Will there be people with similar problems in my group? The therapist’s role is to evaluate each member’s problems prior to forming the group. Usually there is a mix of members who can learn from each other. While some members will have similar circumstances, it’s not necessary for all members in the group to be dealing with exactly the same problem.
What kind of commitment do I need to make? The time commitment depends on the type of group and the nature and extent of your problems. Short-term groups devoted to concrete issues can last anywhere from 6 to 20 weeks. Support therapy groups (for example, those dealing with a medical illness such as cancer) may be more long-term. Many groups are more open-ended so that members work at their own pace and leave when their particular needs or goals have been met or when they stop learning. It is commonly suggested that members of these groups make an initial commitment of three to six months, but that they approach the therapy with an open-ended mindset since it is generally believed that the greatest benefits begin to be evident after some significant length of involvement. In these groups, it is not uncommon for people to remain enthusiastically engaged for many years. It’s best to talk with your therapist to determine the length of time that’s right for you or the initial commitment that is suggested or even required.
What if I’m uncomfortable discussing my problems in front of others? It’s not unusual to feel uneasy or embarrassed when first joining a group, but soon you begin to develop feelings of interest and trust. Most clients find that group therapy provides a great deal of relief because it allows them a chance to talk with others who are experiencing similar problems — in a private, confidential setting. Many people who have experienced group therapy believe that working together with others is helpful and they feel better by participating in this form of therapy.
What does group cost? The cost varies depending on the experience of the therapist, whether the group occurs in private practice or in a clinic setting, and perhaps even the geographic area of the country. Typically, group therapy is about half the price of individual therapy. In the Los Angeles area, group therapy currently ranges from about $30 to $80 per session, although exceptions exist..
Is it covered by insurance? Insurance coverage is usually similar for both group and individual therapy. In addition, most managed care companies cover group much the same as individual therapy. It is always best to check with your individual plan if you intend to use your insurance reimbursement to help pay for therapy.
How do I find a good group therapist? There is a directory of group therapists elsewhere on the GPALA website, which includes any group therapist who is a member of our local group therapy organization. It is also common to find a group therapist through a referral from your current individual therapist, a friend who has been in group therapy, or your physician. If the therapist doesn’t already require an individual meeting, you can request a meeting to determine whether you feel comfortable working with a particular group leader. When talking with therapists, here are some simple questions you may want to ask:
- What is your background and what are your credentials as a group therapist?
- Given my specific situation, how do you think group would work for me?
- What happens in the groups that you run that may lead to the desired goal?
- Do you have special training that is relevant to my problem?
Information from the 2014 GPALA Website