Reasons for Recommending Group Therapy

A public defense lawyer with some life difficulties, I have been seeing a therapist for about six months. I had thought we were doing pretty well together until he recently recommended group therapy. I don’t understand why he made this recommendation. Not only that, why would I want to disclose personal issues to a group of strangers with problems of their own?

The short answer to the concerns you raise is for you to talk with your therapist about why he recommended group therapy for you. Generally speaking, though, there are many excellent reasons to consider group therapy, either as an alternative or adjunct to individual therapy.

Groups come in many varieties. Some are time-limited while others are long-term or ongoing (participation ends when one’s group goals have been reached). Often, the latter are “process” or “interactive” groups, meaning they primarily focus on how members interact with one another. These groups enable individuals to access various aspects of their personalities in a way that individual therapy does not. By contrast, short-term groups usually focus on a particular theme, offer a didactic or other structured agenda, or are skill-building in nature.
Despite their differences, both short- and long-term groups share common characteristics, or what Irvin Yalom calls “therapeutic factors” (The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy). Group therapy is particularly powerful in its ability to give members the sense that they are not alone or unique. Groups also instill a sense of support and hope, with members learning from each other. In a way, the group provides a room full of “therapists” (i.e., people in a position to pay close attention and give honest feedback) who are empowered to help one another. The “strangers” to whom you refer quickly become a close network of supporters. The fact that they have and disclose problems of their own helps them to understand and assist you. Their lack of connection with the rest of your life further lifts the concern about confidentiality.

Historically, LCL has always been a supporter of groups as a legitimate modality, and has sponsored at least one support group since its inception in 1978 — long before we offered assessment and referral services. In fact, we believe so much in the efficacy and healing powers of the group process that we are now offering a number of groups, led by mental health professionals on LCL staff in our Boston office. The groups are confidential, free and mostly time-limited (generally 12 weeks). We also make referrals to alternative or longer term groups.

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