Group Therapy: Basics

A table and two chairs facing each other

A potted plant and maybe a painting

Peaceful pastel-colored walls

A client and a counsellor

When someone says therapy, this is the first version that comes to our mind. Many times people do opt for one-on-one counseling services for discussing their issues. But there is an increasing awareness for another kind of therapy: Group Therapy.

What is group therapy?

 According to, “Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy in which a small, carefully selected group of individuals meets regularly with a therapist.” Here the clients meet and discuss their problems. The group leader is a counsellor. He or she ensures the therapeutic discussions remain on course. The counsellor makes sure the group is productive for everyone. Most common time is once a week and for one or two hours.Group therapy is generally available at schools, community centers, hospitals, mental health clinics, private therapeutic practices.

 Factors to consider in group therapy Structure

Just like a formal client-counsellor has a structure, group therapy also has a structure with variety of factors considered.

  • Selecting and preparing the group: This includes: 1. Interviewing the potential members of the group 2. Pregroup training where members are explained about the group and what is expected of them, provided important information about the participants. Research has shown that such a training has proved to lower member’s anxiety (Sklare, Petrosko and Howell, 1993).
  • Group size and duration. A generally agreed number is 6 to 8. Very large groups may lead to lack of proper attention on each member. Very small group may lead to lack of diversity and ample interaction. Group size and duration affect each other.
  • Leaders and co-leaders are decided based on the theme of the group and competency of the counselor. A leader needs to a very caring person. He or she needs to be a skilled communicator. He/ she needs to ensure that members go beyond the surface level problem and dig deeper emotionally in a safe environment to eradicate their problem. A co-leader is generally appointed to share responsibilities with the leader. He or she can monitor the group while leader is working with the group. A co-leader proves useful with a large group, generally with more 10 members. An inexperienced co-leader can learn a lot if coupled with an experienced leader.
  • Whether the new members will be admitted after the course starts (open-ended group) or will not let any new member enter the group after the inception of the course (close-ended group).
  • Physical structure: Depends on the group addressed. If for school children, school seems to be a natural choice. Community groups have a room on rent for a fixed time. The rooms are normally spacious, clean and attractive.
  • Sense of trust and confidentiality is to be built to ensure maximum productivity of the group. Each member should know neither they should reveal other’s information outside nor their information will be revealed outside. The counselor ensures maximum adherence to this. It is also equally upon members also to adhere confidentiality.
  • Self-disclosure: With strong trust within the group and leader, greater revelation of feelings, attitudes and beliefs are done. Initially the leader may need to encourage everyone to open up. It is seen that more self-disclosure done, more confident the group members. This is because the members are assured about the feelings they have and feel they are not alone. Research shows that group members who make few verbal self-disclosures are m more likely to drop out of a group (Stockton, Barr and Klein, 1981).
  • Feedback is an important process in which members respond to each other’s verbal messages and non-verbal behaviors. Honesty and care are utmost important in the feedback. However, it is understood by the group members that their behaviors impact other members and so any new behaviors are attempted accordingly. Peitrofesa et al. (1984) have listed some important recommendations for productive feedback. They are:
  • Feedbacks should be beneficial for the receiver and not used by the giver for any selfish needs.
  • Feedback is more useful when it is based on concrete and describable behavior.
  • In the early stages of group discussions, positive feedback is more acceptable and beneficial than negative feedback. This is because the members are yet to know each other. Any early negative feedback will lead to feeling of hostility in the group. It also ensures that members know each other steadily rather than assume about each other’s personalities.
  • Follow-up: An often ignored process, follow-up means keeping in touch with the members after the group has been dissolved. Follow-up helps group members to know how much helpful their experience has been in their daily lives. It ensures that members are motivated to apply the knowledge they gained and be persistent for their original goals (Jacobs, Masson, Harvill and Schmmel, 2012). It is seen that when the group members are aware at the termination stage of the group that follow-up will be done, they are more likely to continue to pursue their goals. The appropriate time for follow-up after a short-term group is 3 months after the termination of the group (Corey, 2012).

Group therapy

Signs you are in a well-formed group: 

  • You see strong hope that the treatment will work
  • You feel a sense of belongingness and feel that you are not alone in the problem.
  • You get concrete and useful information on how to cope up with your issues.
  • You feel others are trying to be as active and helpful as you are. You all feel a unity in the group.
  • You all can relieve about your early childhood experiences and past with your family. You also receive some valuable and logical answers about the problems with them.
  • You learn useful communication skills to become articulate about your present and future needs.
  • Members behave positively and learn from each other’s behaviors.
  • Members learn from each other’s experiences and use them correctly in their own lives.
  • A safe environment for experiencing and expressing feelings is done.
  • Members bond with each other with mutual respect and without judging each other.
  •  Members accept their responsibilities in their situations and ponder productively over their existence.

The post ends here.

Thumbanail courtesy: Philipp Müller-Dorn, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Article image courtesy: Unsplash

What do you think?

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Written by Mehal Sampat

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Athya Ashraf

Group therapy is often heard about but much information regarding its functioning is not known. This article is written to the point with relevant information.
Keep up the good work!

Ishita dharwal

Very informative !