The most obvious difference between group therapy and individual therapy is that in group therapy most interactions happen between group members rather than between the therapist and the client.
Group therapy falls into 2 general categories: interpersonal group therapy and support groups.
Interpersonal Group Therapy
Interpersonal group therapy is my specialty. This kind of group offers the group members a “laboratory” where they can experiment with relationship in a safe space. On one hand, group members are interacting with other “real people”, not just with a therapist. This makes the interactions very real and alive. On the other hand, you can try out ways of interacting that would be too scary to try with friends, family members, or significant others.
Shy? Here’s a chance to try asserting yourself or stepping into the limelight. Insecure? Find out how people react when you try really being yourself. Have a hard time being quiet? Discover what is pushing you to talk all the time. Do you wonder how other people see you? Here’s a chance to ask them. There is no end to the possibilities.
The role of the therapist in interpersonal group therapy is quite different than in individual therapy. The first job of the therapist is to put the right people together for each group. In a successful group, all the members start with similar levels of relational skills and readiness. This is extremely important, and it is why interpersonal groups can take a while to get started. No one gets to just “jump in the deep end”; I meet with everyone several times before they start with a group. That way I know what their strengths and challenges are, and they develop a trusting relationship with me.
The second role of the therapist is to facilitate group process. Remember, group therapy is a laboratory for experimenting with relationship. Part of the therapist’s job is to keep experiments from blowing up in someone’s face. He does that by slowing things down, helping people pay attention to what they are feeling and saying, or suggesting alternative ways to communicate something (i.e., tweaks to the experiment). Slowing things down and bringing awareness to what is happening also allows group members to really learn from their interactions.
Differences between Support Groups and Interpersonal Therapy Groups as I facilitate them
- Support groups have a specific length; I usually do 12-week-long groups. With interpersonal group therapy I ask group members to commit to attend for at least 12 weeks, but the group has no set end date. Sometimes support groups may continue past the initial 12 weeks if enough group members want to do so, but longer-term support groups often start to look more like interpersonal therapy groups.
- Interpersonal group therapy is mainly focused on the process that is happening in the room with other group members. Support groups are mainly focused on what is happening in group members’ lives outside the room in regard to the group’s topic.
- Support groups have a predefined topic to focus on; there is no predetermined topic in interpersonal group therapy. Often the first thing people talk about in interpersonal group therapy is how they feel about being in a new environment or meeting new people for the first time.
- The leader is more active and directive in a support group than in interpersonal group therapy.
- The members of an interpersonal therapy group interact directly with each other. In fact, that is the whole point. Members of a support group usually do not interact with each other as much, and often interact in a more indirect way.
- Group therapy is generally less expensive than individual counseling; potentially, considerably less expensive.
Support groups can happen during the day, evening, or weekend, depending on the type of group and the group members’ schedules. Most interpersonal groups happen on evenings or weekends to allow people with day jobs to participate.
If groups sound interesting to you, please let me know so we can talk about it. You can call me at 503-946-6499, or click here to send me email.