After about six months of individual therapy, Audrey A., then 28, felt like her progress had stalled. But she still wanted help working through a traumatic stalking incident that happened earlier in her life. “I chose group therapy to see if talking to others could help shine a light on things,” she tells SELF. “I went to be around people who were in [similar] situations so that I could see I wasn't alone.”
Being in the trauma therapy group helped Audrey feel understood and develop a deeper level of empathy, she says. According to experts, these are some of the best possible benefits of group-based therapy.
“Hearing from people who have had similar experiences [can have] value to an individual in ways that go beyond the context of one-on-one work,” psychotherapist Matt Lundquist, L.C.S.W., M.S.Ed, owner and director of Tribeca Therapy in New York City, tells SELF.
But how do you know if group therapy might be right for you? Read on to find out.
There’s a difference between group therapy and support groups.
You can find two overarching types of mental health support in a group setting, according to the Mayo Clinic. The general idea of both is to get people with similar problems or experiences together to process and move forward, but the set up of each is slightly different.
Group therapy, also known as psychotherapy groups, are led by therapists. A therapist guiding this kind of group usually regulates who can join, along with when it makes sense to introduce a new person into the mix.
Support groups, on the other hand, are typically led by people who have experience living with a certain condition or under specific circumstances (though in less common instances, a mental health professional might lead a support group). These people may or may not have training to facilitate this kind of gathering. Support groups are often more flexible than psychotherapy groups and generally allow people to drop in as they wish.
Some therapy and support groups meet for a set period of time—say 12 weeks—while others meet indefinitely. You can typically find group therapy and support groups for certain mental health issues, such as anxiety or eating disorders, as well as groups based on demographics, such as single women in their 30s.
Whether you go to a group led by a therapist or by a peer, connecting with others in a similar spot can be invaluable, the experts say. But group-based mental health support can provide other benefits too.
Group settings offer an opportunity to work on your relationships.
“Individual therapy is really about the therapist understanding your world from your perspective, and together going in to explore and heal pain your life,” Charlotte Howard, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist at Deep Eddy Psychotherapy in Austin, tells SELF. “Group [therapy] is more about you working on relational dynamics in real time.”
Ideally, this will help you work on things like how to practice active listening as others share their experiences, navigate differences with those whom you don't see eye-to-eye, and truly connect with others.
“You don't feel alone or like you are weird,” Howard says. “It helps to normalize that every person has their stuff.”