4 Benefits of Group Therapy for Anxiety Treatment

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4 Benefits of Group Therapy for Anxiety Treatment

4 Benefits of Group Therapy for Anxiety Treatment

 

What is group therapy?

Psychotherapy that involves several people working simultaneously with one or more therapists is known as group therapy. Therapy of this type is widely accessible in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, clinics, and community centers, as well as online.

Among the most common types of group therapy are:

  • Cognitive behavioral groups: focus on identifying and changing distorted or inaccurate thought patterns, emotional responses, and behaviors.

 

  • Interpersonal groups: focus on your interpersonal and social relationships, including how much support you receive from others and how these relationships impact your mental health

 

  • Psychoeducational groups: aim to educate clients about their mental illnesses and how to cope based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

 

  • Skills development groups: focus on improving social skills in people with mental disorders or developmental disabilities

 

  • Support groups: often not formal therapy, these provide usually unstructured peer support to people who relate to shared challenges  

Group therapy sessions can be as small as 3-4 people but typically involve eight to 12. Groups typically meet once or twice a week, or more. 

Is group therapy effective? 

Studies have shown group therapy to be as effective as individual therapy for treating a variety of mental health issues, including:

  • Anxiety: studies have shown group CBT to be effective in reducing anxiety symptoms, due partly to the additional exposure of social stimuli and interaction within the group format. 
  • Depression: Research published in 2014 examined the effects of group cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) on individuals with depression. Results indicated that 44% of patients showed significant improvement.

Group therapy is also often used to treat:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Panic disorder
  • Phobias
  • Substance abuse 

Why are the unique benefits of group therapy?

Dr. Irvin Yalom identified 11 factors as the "primary agents of change" in group therapy in his book The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy. 


1. Instilling Hope:
Individuals join groups to improve their lives. The group members are all at different stages of their emotional growth and are able to offer hope and inspiration to others by sharing what they have learned and overcome.


2. Universality:
Many people who begin therapy feel alone and isolated. A sense of belonging and understanding can be achieved when a person is part of a group.


3. Information Giving:
Increasing knowledge about a common problem is a big part of many therapy groups. By doing so, members can help themselves and other members who have the same or similar problems.


4. Altruism:
Those who are able to help their fellow group members gain self-esteem and self-worth, especially if they don't believe they have anything to offer.


5. Recapitulation of the primary family:
Some people in group therapy may be experiencing stress or conflict within their families. This group can become a family that offers support and acceptance.


6. Improvement of Social Skills: Therapy groups can improve social skills. Members are able to give each other feedback about their behavior in a way that improves relationships both within and outside the group.


7. Behavior models: The therapist demonstrates prosocial behaviors such as active listening, non-judgmental feedback, and support. The group members can pick up on these behaviors and adapt them to their own behavior as the group progresses. This can improve their social skills and confidence.


8. Interpersonal Learning: As a group, members can practice interpersonal skills and improve relationships.


9. Cohesion in the group: Humans desire belonging. Group therapy can help people feel valued and accepted. For isolated members, this can be extremely healing.


10. Catharsis: Release of conscious or unconscious feelings brings members great relief. According to Yalom, emotional learning is more likely to produce long-lasting change than intellectual understanding.


11. Existential Factors: Groups can help people cope with hard realities such as death, isolation, and meaninglessness.

4 benefits of group therapy for anxiety

1) Group therapy helps you connect with others

Connecting with others—through both spoken word and nonverbal communication can help make you feel less alone, and provide you with a support system that can work through your feelings alongside you. The more connected to other people you are, research shows, the more likely your moods will be positive. This helps prevent negative emotions from becoming overwhelming enough to spark an anxiety attack.

2) Group therapy supports self-improvement

In group therapy, individuals are able to speak openly about what they're experiencing. When they do so in a supportive environment, they often feel empowered and capable. They learn that they're not alone in their experiences and, instead of feeling overwhelmed by what’s going on around them, can begin to solve problems in a proactive way. The benefits of group therapy are diverse but, at their core, each supports self-improvement.

3) Group support motivates change

For people with anxiety disorders, motivation to change is sometimes low. By providing opportunities to interact with others who are also working toward better mental health, group therapy can help patients feel like they are not alone in their struggle, that there is a way out, and to continue with their treatment.  

4) Group counseling helps you to develop new coping mechanisms

You may benefit from practicing new behaviors in a supportive and non-judgmental environment. A group can be a safe space to practice these behaviours and develop healthier habits.  

Bottom Line

If you suffer from anxiety, it can be helpful to remember that you're not alone; over 8 million people in the UK suffer from an anxiety disorder.

Groups can provide a safe place where you feel more connected and supported as you navigate your anxiety. 

References

  1. American Addiction Centers, 2022 https://americanaddictioncenters.org/therapy-treatment/group-individual
  2. American Psychogical Association (2019), ‘Keys to great group therapy’, https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/04/group-therapy 
  3. University of Oxford (2018), ‘Group therapy most effective treatment for anxiety in young people’ https://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2018-11-01-group-therapy-most-effective-treatment-anxiety-young-people-0#:~:text=The%20new%20study%20showed%20that,at%20short%20term%20follow%20up
  4. Thimm JC, Antonsen L. Effectiveness of cognitive behavioral group therapy for depression in routine practice. BMC Psychiatry. 2014;14:292. Published 2014 Oct 21. doi:10.1186/s12888-014-0292-x
  5. The British Journal of Psychiatry , Volume 157 , Issue 2 , August 1990 , pp. 304 - 306 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1192/S0007125000062723
  6. Vinogradov, S. and Yalom, I.D., 1989. Concise guide to group psychotherapy. American Psychiatric Pub.
  7. Clinical Partners, ‘What is Anxiety’ https://www.clinical-partners.co.uk/for-adults/anxiety-disorders/what-causes-anxiety