The importance of group therapy for long-term change
A guide to group therapy from Priory’s Charlotte Parkin, Psychotherapist at Priory Wellbeing Centre Harley Street and Fenchurch Street.
“To be fully human we need others” (Buber, 1960)
Forming functional and fulfilling relationships with others is integral to a person’s overall happiness and wellbeing. This sense of connectedness and community helps us to develop and maintain a sense of self-awareness and identity: a fundamental part of knowing oneself is to feel seen in the mind of another. This connectedness is a basic human need and without it, mental health and wellbeing can be severely impacted. Additionally, dysfunctional interpersonal relationships can also have detrimental effects on mental health, including:
- Addiction and other maladaptive behaviours
- Unstable sense of identity
- Low and negative self-esteem
- Anxiety (fearing and anticipating social rejection)
- Isolating oneself and avoiding social exposure and interaction
It can be difficult to uncover these issues during patient consultations. To help, here are some questions that GPs may consider addressing with their patients who present with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or addiction, stemming from negative or inadequate interpersonal relationships:
- Would life feel better if you knew what others thought?
- Do you replay conversations in your head?
- Do you value being alone and then feel lonely when you are?
- Do you feel lonely in a room of people?
- Do you find being in social situations tiring?
- Do you avoid conflict or do you find yourself compromising your values to please others?
- Do you feel like many people really know you?
- Are you ambivalent in your trusting of others?
- Are you a ‘chameleon’, changing to suit your audience?
- Do you think you are different to others?
- Does the thought of group therapy cause a sense of anxiety?
How group therapy helps
If some of the above questions resonate with people, seeking support through individual therapy may not be sufficient to facilitate long-term healthy mental functioning. A therapist can help to determine whether the individual has relational issues, and can act as a reference point for healthy interpersonal connection and self-awareness. However, group therapy is often required to complement this one-to-one therapy.
Group therapy allows us, as therapists, to observe, in real-time, relational behaviour and communication styles, allowing us to better support patients in our one-to-one sessions.
The group can also provide patients with a more natural setting, allowing them to develop independent thinking, establish healthy emotion regulation, and develop their sense of self and social connectedness.
The overall premise of group therapy is that we cannot manage our emotions completely alone, however much we try. People with relational issues need to develop positive interpersonal interactions, without which, they will remain vulnerable and may continue to use substances and addictive behaviours to cope.
A key element of a robust therapy programme
Many people come to Priory seeking support for conditions that are exacerbated, triggered or stem from difficulties with interpersonal relationships. For these people, group therapy is often an essential element of their tailored therapeutic programme. However, we understand that group therapy can be as daunting as it is important, so we make sure that our group therapy provides a safe and non-judgemental environment where participants feel comfortable to share their thoughts, fears and insecurities.
Group therapy helps people to learn:
- To recognise unhelpful thought patterns, such as mind-reading and projection
- To sense-check their ‘reality’
- How others experience them
- To take risks, and identify and develop positive interpersonal experiences
- The value of authentic interaction and intimacy
The group sessions also serve as practice, enabling people to put what they have learnt in their one-to-one therapy into action.
The shared experience of group therapy can be highly reparative, enabling a new sense of security and belonging. Groups don’t replace the thorough and informed work of one-to-one therapy, but can provide the setting to bridge the gap between therapy and life.
Our new group programmes
This year, Priory wellbeing centres in Harley Street, London and Southampton, launched new interpersonal therapy group programmes. The Harley Street programme will support adults aged 18 – 75 years. The programme includes a total of 10 75-minute sessions, and each session is normally attended by 6 – 8 participants. Prior to joining the programme, patients are able to access an initial, free assessment to confirm their suitability.
The Southampton programme will also consist of small, intimate groups and will focus on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness.