Dealing with a mental health disorder can feel extremely isolating. It often seems like nobody understands what you’re going through, and like you’re battling the illness alone. Even one-on-one counseling can be difficult if you feel like your therapist can’t relate to your struggles. But with group therapy, you’re able to surround yourself with people who are experiencing the same issues, which can help you heal more effectively.
The Benefits of Group Therapy
When getting treatment for a mental health disorder, many people prefer to use group therapy as a way to cope with their condition. There are a variety of benefits to group therapy that you don’t get from individualized therapy sessions. Here are some of the main benefits of group therapy:
1. Peers know what you’re going through
In a group therapy setting, you’re able to get help from other people who are experiencing the same things you are. People are able to relate to each other, share their stories, and offer tips for coping. In group therapy, everyone is there to get help but also to support each other. Feeling heard and understood is extremely cathartic for many people, and it makes the healing process more effective.
2. People are the same age
For young people, it’s common to avoid individual therapy because they don’t relate to adults. Having an adult therapist try to form a relationship with their teen client can feel very forced, especially if there’s not already a natural connection. In a group therapy setting, people tend to be of similar ages, even the moderators. That type of environment can make a teen more likely to seek treatment and reap the benefits.
3. Groups encourage you to open up
When you’re dealing with a mental health disorder, opening up about your thoughts and feelings can be difficult. Many people keep their emotions bottled up, which can actually make them feel worse. In order to heal, you need to get comfortable talking about those emotions. In a group setting, everyone is there to share their unique story. Being in a safe space where sharing is encouraged can make you more likely to let down your guard.
4. It’s cheaper than individual therapy
Generally speaking, group therapy is more cost-effective than one-on-one therapy, making it a popular option for people who don’t have insurance or want to keep their treatment cost low. There are thousands of support groups that are low-cost or even free, that are offered through local organizations. You can use HealthFinder.gov’s tool to find a free support group near you.
Creating a Support System
Another powerful aspect of group therapy is that you’re able to build a support system with the peers in your group. Even after you’ve completed your treatment program, you’ll maintain those close bonds with people, and can start to form a relationship outside of treatment. Chances are, those people saw you at your best, and at your worst. You can count on them to be by your side through the same ups and downs you’ll face after treatment.
Whether you’ve overcome a substance abuse disorder or a mental health condition, you know that recovery is a life-long process. Having a strong support group can also make it less likely that you’ll relapse, or engage in behaviors that could put your recovery at risk. If you feel yourself reverting back to old habits, it’s helpful to have people who you feel comfortable talking to.
When you’re in recovery, forming friendships with people in a similar situation also allows you to maintain a social life without compromising your mental health. If you’re in treatment for substance abuse, you can spend time with your support group peers doing sober activities. You can try out a new restaurant without getting tempted by people around you who are drinking. When you meet friends in recovery, you can find healthier activities that allow you to have fun while prioritizing your recovery.
What to Expect in Group Therapy
In a typical group therapy session, there are one or two psychologists or therapists who lead the discussion between the participants. Expect there to be somewhere between 5 to 15 people in the group, who are of similar ages and sometimes gender. Some group therapy sessions are specific to one type of condition—like anxiety or substance abuse—while others are open to people with different disorders.
Group therapy is designed to encourage participation through sharing emotions, feelings ideas, thoughts and beliefs. Listening to other people tell their stories can be helpful for some people, but opening up about your own feelings is where the healing process is most effective. There’s usually a topic that drives each session that is designed to help participants improve their social skills, deal with anger, improve self-esteem, etc.
Typically, a group will meet for an hour and might be multiple times per week. Some groups are closed, meaning everyone must join at the same time, while others are open and allow new members to join at any time. Sessions usually last around 12 weeks, which is the length of time that tends to be most effective for many people. If you’re dealing with co-occurring disorders, you might also choose to join multiple groups at a time.
Group Therapy at Mission Harbor
At Mission Harbor, we know that the right type of therapy is different for each individual. At our outpatient center in Santa Barbara, we offer group therapy for both teenagers and adults dealing with mental health and substance abuse disorders. Every patient is given a personalized treatment and therapy program to encourage a successful recovery and fulfilling life after treatment. If you’re interested in learning more about group therapy at Mission Harbor, contact our admissions team at 805-209-4446 or send us a message.