How effective is group therapy?
This month, we discuss the clinical effectiveness of group therapy, what a typical session would look like, and the positive outcomes they achieve.
Why choose group therapy?
There is a considerable evidence base that demonstrates the clinical effectiveness of treating a range of mental health disorders in a group environment.
Group therapy offers something completely unique to any other way of delivering treatment - the support, shared experience and thoughts of your peers, as well those of a professional. You may be struggling with a loss or a trauma for example, and groups can be a support network that provide the opportunity to meet others experiencing similar concerns.
During a group session, a patient can be encouraged to share their experiences and work on understanding themselves in a compassionate and therapeutic environment.
Research shows that groups are just as effective as one-to-one therapy and other positive outcomes include:
- They allow people to express themselves in front of others without feeling judged
- Participants' altruism and compassion may be developed
- Groups engender instillation of hope as they see others progress
- Groups help in the sharing of knowledge
- They encourage people to develop an understanding, through observation of how adverse past experience may have impacted on their current feelings
- Groups may enhance social interactions
- Patients can model healthy behaviours and healthy attachments
- The group cohesiveness imparts a sense of safety
- Participants may be encouraged to own their feelings, learn from each other and develop better understanding of how they interact
What does a typical group session look like?
Group therapy is often delivered in group sizes of 6-12 people, alongside a therapist and a co-therapist. To begin, a patient would be introduced to other members of a group as well as the therapists in order to socialise a patient into the therapy model. Patients are able to observe and listen in the first session to ease themselves into the new environment.
A group usually lasts between one and a half to two and a half hours, with a break in the middle. As the patient is socialised into the group, they are encouraged to talk and increasingly gain confidence by bonding with the group.
Therapy groups may be 'open', in which patients enter at any time. They can also be 'closed', where a set number of people are entered for group therapy and no other members can be added to the group without the agreement of group members.
The type of therapeutic modality, frequency, number of sessions and whether a group is open or closed will depend on the patient's presenting complaint. A therapist assessment will determine what approach is most suitable for that individual.
What does group therapy involve?
The way in which a group session is delivered depends on the type of therapy involved.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- The patient will be helped to identify their problems
- The principle behind CBT is to identify negative thoughts and behaviours
- The therapist and other members of the group will help the patient to understand why they have come to think in an unhelpful way
- The therapist and other members of the group will help them challenge their beliefs and substitute more helpful ways of thinking and doing things
Schema focused therapy
- This consists of different modules, for example identifying 12 underlying ways in which people have learnt to see and react to the world around them
- The patient may be expected to attend all 12 sessions and if necessary, repeat the therapy cycle
Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)
- Group DBT is proven to be effective for borderline personality disorder (BPD)
- It consists of 12 groups in which patients learn 4 main skills – mindfulness, how to manage distress, controlling emotions and relating to others
- The modules each consist of 3 training sessions and patients would only be allowed to enter at the start of each module. This group would typically have fixed entry points
Group therapies used at Priory are evidence-based and work in accordance with National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines. However we also use additional treatment modalities which we have found to be clinically helpful. They include:
- Equine assisted psychotherapy
These types of group therapies can help people to express their feelings through role play. This more imaginative form of therapy is often used to treat addictions.
Moreover, using horses in a group session can help to promote emotional growth and learning. Horses have an innate ability to read human emotions and the unique bond between humans and horses has been incorporated into psychological therapy.
Interestingly, patients often express an initial reluctance for group therapy but go on to enjoy it. For those who have received both group and individual therapy, they are often surprised by their preference for group treatments.
Priory has a nationwide network of hospitals and wellbeing centres that offer fast access to group therapy to help improve our patients' lives.