How Group Therapy Works (2023)

Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy that involves one or more therapists working with several people at the same time. This type of therapy is widely available at a variety of locations including private therapeutic practices, hospitals, mental health clinics, and community centers.

Group therapy is sometimes used alone, but it is also commonly integrated into a comprehensive treatment plan that also includes individual therapy.

Types of Group Therapy

Group therapy can be categorized into different types depending on the mental health condition it is intended to treat as well as the clinical method used during the therapy. The most common types of group therapy include:

  • Cognitive behavioral groups, which center on identifying and changing inaccurate ordistorted thinking patterns, emotional responses, and behaviors
  • Interpersonal groups, which focus on interpersonal relationships and social interactions, including how much support you have from others and the impact these relationships have on mental health
  • Psychoeducational groups, which focus on educating clients about their disorders and ways of coping; often based on the principles of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
  • Skills development groups, which focus on improving social skills in people with mental disorders or developmental disabilities
  • Support groups, which provide a wide range of benefits for people with a variety of mental health conditions as well as their loved ones

Groups can be as small as three or four, but group therapy sessions often involve around eight to 12 people (although it is possible to have more participants). The group typically meets once or twice each week, or more, for an hour or two.

Group therapy meetings may either be open or closed. New participants are welcome to join open sessions at any time. Only a core group of members are invited to participate in closed sessions.

Group Therapy Techniques

What does a typical group therapy session look like? In many cases, the group will meet in a room where the chairs are arranged in a large circle so that members can see every other person in the group.

A session might begin with members of the group introducing themselves and sharing why they are in group therapy. Members might also share their experiences and progress since the last meeting.

(Video) What is Group Therapy?

The precise manner in which the session is conducted, and any group therapy activities, depend largely on the goals of the group and the therapist's style.

Some therapists might encourage a more free-form style of dialogue, where each member participates as they see fit. Other therapists have a specific plan for each session that might include having participants practice new skills with other members of the group.

Group Therapy Activities

Common group therapy activities can include:

  • Icebreaker activities that help group members get to know one another
  • Gratitude activities, such as mapping different aspects of their life that they are thankful for
  • Sharing activities, where group members ask one another questions
  • Expressive writing activities to explore experiences and emotions connected to those events
  • Goal visualization activities to help people set goals and make a plan to accomplish them

What Group Therapy Can Help With

Group therapy is used to treat a wide variety of conditions, including:

(Video) What is Group Therapy?

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Phobias
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Substance use disorder

In addition to mental health conditions, CBT-based group therapy has been found to help people cope with:

  • Anger management
  • Chronic pain
  • Chronic illness
  • Chronic stress
  • Divorce
  • Domestic violence
  • Grief and loss
  • Weight management

After analyzing self-reports from people who have been involved in the process, Irvin D. Yalom outlines the key therapeutic principles of group therapy in "The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy."

  • Altruism: Group members can share their strengths and help others in the group, which can boost self-esteem and confidence.
  • Catharsis: Sharing feelings and experiences with a group of people can help relieve pain, guilt, or stress.
  • The corrective recapitulation of the primary family group: The therapy group is much like a family in some ways. Within the group, each member can explore how childhood experiences contributed to personality and behaviors. They can also learn to avoid behaviors that are destructive or unhelpful in real life.
  • Development of socialization techniques: The group setting is a great place to practice new behaviors. The setting is safe and supportive, allowing group members to experiment without the fear of failure.
  • Existential factors: While working within a group offers support and guidance, group therapy helps members realize that they are responsible for their own lives, actions, and choices.
  • Group cohesiveness: Because the group is united in a common goal, members gain a sense of belonging and acceptance.
  • Imparting information: Group members can help each other by sharing information.
  • Imitative behavior: Individuals can model the behavior of other members of the group or observe and imitate the behavior of the therapist.
  • Instills hope: The group contains members at different stages of the treatment process. Seeing people who are coping or recovering gives hope to those at the beginning of the process.
  • Interpersonal learning: By interacting with other people and receiving feedback from the group and the therapist, members of the group can gain a greater understanding of themselves.
  • Universality: Being part of a group of people who have the same experiences helps people see that what they are going through is universal and that they are not alone.

Benefits of Group Therapy

There are several advantages of group therapy.

Support, Safety and Encouragement

Group therapy allows people to receive the support and encouragement of the other members of the group. People participating in the group can see that others are going through the same thing, which can help them feel less alone. The setting allows people to practice behaviors and actions within the safety and security of the group.

Role Modeling

Group members can serve as role models for other members of the group. By observing someone successfully coping with a problem, other members of the group can see that there is hope for recovery. As each person progresses, they can, in turn, serve as a role model and support figure for others. This can help foster feelings of success and accomplishment.

Insight on Social Skills

By working with a group, the therapist can see first-hand how each person responds to other people and behaves in social situations. Using this information, the therapist can provide valuable feedback to each client.


Group therapy is often very affordable. Instead of focusing on just one client at a time, the therapist can devote their time to a much larger group of people, which reduces the cost for participants.

(Video) Group Therapy for Beginners

While costs vary depending on a variety of factors, estimates suggest that group therapy costs, on average, one-half to one-third less than individual therapy.

Effectiveness of Group Therapy

Group therapy can be effective for depression. In a study published in 2014, researchers analyzed what happened when individuals with depression received group cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). They found that 44% of the patients reported significant improvements. The dropout rate for group treatment was high, however, as almost one in five patients quit treatment.

An article published in the American Psychological Association's Monitor on Psychology suggests that group therapy also meets efficacy standards established by the Society of Clinical Psychology (Division 12 of the APA) for the following conditions:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Social phobia
  • Substance use disorder

Is Group Therapy for You?

If you or someone you love is thinking about group therapy, there are several things you should consider.

You Need to Be Willing to Share

Especially if you struggle with social anxiety or phobias, sharing in a group might not be right for you. In addition, some types of group therapy involve exercises like role-playing and intense personal discussion, which can be overwhelming for people who are extremely private or uncomfortable around strangers.

You May Need to Try a Few Groups

Just like you might need to shop around to find the right therapist, you may also need to try a few groups before you find the one that fits you best. Think a little about what you want and need, and consider what might be most comfortable or the best match for you.

(Video) Group Therapy Leadership Skills and Common Errors

It’s Not Meant for Crisis

There are limitations to group therapy and not all people are good candidates. If you or someone you love is in crisis or having suicidal thoughts, individual therapy is a better choice than group therapy. In general, group settings are best for individuals who are not currently in crisis.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact theNational Suicide Prevention Lifelineat988for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see ourNational Helpline Database.

How to Get Started

If you feel that you or someone you love might benefit from group therapy, begin with the following steps:

  • Consult with a physician for a recommendation of the best type of group therapy for your condition.
  • Consider your personal preferences, including whether an open or closed group therapy session is right for you. You may also choose to explore group therapy online.
  • Contact your health insuranceto see if they cover group therapy, and if so, how many sessions they cover per year.

Before joining, think about whether you want to participate in an open or closed group. If you would prefer an open group, you can likely join in at any time. For closed groups, you will likely have to wait until a new session begins.


It is also important to consider whether group therapy will be sufficient on its own or if you need additional assistance in the form of individual and/or medication. Talk to your doctor or therapist to decide what treatment approach is right for your needs.

How to Find a Therapist


What are the 4 stages of group therapy? ›

These are: Forming or Orienting; Storming or Transition; Norming or Cohesiveness;Performing or Working; and Adjourning or Termination.

What are 3 advantages of group therapy? ›

  • 5 Benefits of Group Therapy. By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. ...
  • Group therapy helps you realize you're not alone. ...
  • Group therapy facilitates giving and receiving support. ...
  • Group therapy helps you find your “voice.” ...
  • Group therapy helps you relate to others (and yourself) in healthier ways.
  • Group therapy provides a safety net.

How is group therapy structured? ›

It usually consists of four to ten clients and one or two therapists. The group usually lasts for one or two hours, once a week. Group therapy is a way for group members to discuss their concerns, and group members offer support and feedback.

What is the main goal of group therapy? ›

The fundamental goal of group therapy is to initiate a sense of belonging or relatability through understanding, which is achieved by sharing common experiences. For this reason, group therapy is most effective when utilized to address a specific concern common to all members of the group.

How long do people stay in group therapy? ›

How long do groups last? Most groups last 8-10 weeks. Others will continue from one term to the next, perhaps taking a break over summer and winter vacations.

What is expected in group therapy? ›

What should I expect? Group therapy involves one or more psychologists who lead a group of roughly five to 15 patients. Typically, groups meet for an hour or two each week. Some people attend individual therapy in addition to groups, while others participate in groups only.

What is a weakness of group therapy? ›

Disadvantages of Group Therapy

Not being the center of attention. In many groups, the old adage “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” seems to apply. Thus, the level of intervention is not as focused and intense for any single person as individual therapy. Less confidentiality.

What is the success rate of group therapy? ›

One study found that group therapy saved 25% with 4 patients per group and 42% with 6 patients per group. One study found that group therapy cost 8 to 17% that of individual therapy.

Who is not appropriate for group therapy? ›

Clients who, for some reason, are unsuitable for group therapy. Such people might be prone to dropping out, getting and remaining stuck, or acting in ways contrary to the interests of the group. People in the throes of a life crisis. Such clients require more concentrated attention than groups can provide.

What are the 5 stages of group therapy? ›

Stages of Group Therapy: How does it Proceed | A Space Between
  • 5 stages of group therapy. Stage 1: Forming. Stage 2: Storming. Stage 3: Norming. Stage 4: Performing. Stage 5: Adjourning.
  • Conclusion.
Jun 11, 2021

How do you run effective group therapy? ›

How to Run a Successful Group Therapy Session
  1. Know the Rules and Regulations for Group Therapy. ...
  2. Put Proper Systems in Place. ...
  3. Set Expectations for the Group. ...
  4. Set the Objective. ...
  5. Learn Icebreakers. ...
  6. Manage Interpersonal Dynamics. ...
  7. Make Group Therapy Fun. ...
  8. Successful Group Therapy Begins with You.
Apr 23, 2022

How do you engage clients in group therapy? ›

How to Engage Clients in Therapy: 6 Steps
  1. Make sure the focus is on the client. ...
  2. Introduce, maintain, and keep confidentiality. ...
  3. Incorporate client preferences into the treatment decision-making process. ...
  4. Structure the session. ...
  5. Use an eclectic approach. ...
  6. Practice questions.
Apr 24, 2021

What are the pros and cons of group therapy? ›

Group therapy offers the benefits of a group setting, including the ability to talk to others and avoid being the center of attention. However, it has far less of a personal focus than individual therapy, as well as privacy and scheduling disadvantages.

Why group therapy is effective? ›

Groups may enhance social interactions. Patients can model healthy behaviours and healthy attachments. The group cohesiveness imparts a sense of safety. Participants may be encouraged to own their feelings, learn from each other and develop better understanding of how they interact.

What is a major advantage to group therapy? ›

An important benefit of group therapy is the opportunity to receive feedback from others in a supportive environment. It is rare to find friends who will gently point out how you might be behaving in ways that hurt yourself or others; this is a unique benefit of the group.

Do you make friends in group therapy? ›

In group therapy, you can expect everyone to be highly supportive and practice confidentiality. Group therapy can also help you form new friendships and practice your social skills.

Why do people drop out of group therapy? ›

The authors note some reasons why patients drop out: They are unwilling to open up about themselves; they cannot agree with the therapist about what the problem is; they just don't get along with or feel confidence in the therapist; they believe they are not improving quickly enough; they have unrealistic expectations.

What are the three stages of group therapy? ›

The four stages of a group, once established, are; the initial stage, the transition stage, the working stage and the final stage. Each stage has a purpose and there are different expectations that must be addressed as the group progresses through each stage.

What are the challenges of group therapy? ›

Overcoming 6 challenges of group therapy
  • Challenge 1: Transporting patients to group in a timely manner. ...
  • Challenge 2: Setting up and running the session. ...
  • Challenge 3: Wide functional variability among patients. ...
  • Challenge 4: Gaining full alignment and engagement from therapy staff.

What are the rules of group counseling? ›

Group Counseling Guidelines
  • What's said in the group stays in group. Feeling safe in group is very important to a successful group experience. ...
  • Weekly attendance is expected. ...
  • Group members do not socialize outside of group. ...
  • Safety of group members is important.

How do I prepare for a group therapy session? ›

12 Tips for Participating in Group Therapy
  1. Set an intention to be open. ...
  2. Respect and guard group boundaries. ...
  3. Practice authentic connection. ...
  4. Take up your fair share of group time. ...
  5. Take a risk: Avoid social niceties. ...
  6. Be curious about yourself and others. ...
  7. Bring any topic. ...
  8. Examine your choices.
Apr 22, 2020

What time of day is best for group therapy? ›

Another tip: Be sure to give your clients enough time to get to your group after work, or get the kids taken care of. I like 6:00-7:30 or 7:00-8:30 PM.

How do you deal with difficult clients in group therapy? ›

Here's advice from practitioners who have eased stressful encounters with their clients:
  1. Calm yourself. ...
  2. Express empathy. ...
  3. Reframe resistance. ...
  4. Cultivate patience. ...
  5. Seek support from your peers. ...
  6. Consider terminating the relationship.

Is group therapy worth it? ›

There are several advantages of group therapy, including the opportunity to develop both socialization and communication skills. It can also teach you how to appropriately communicate problems or issues you're having and learn to accept criticism.

Is group therapy good for anxiety? ›

Social anxiety group therapy can be extremely effective in helping people manage symptoms of anxiety. Group therapy involves meeting with a licensed counselor or professional to discuss their experiences, feelings, and find solutions along with a group of people who experience similar challenges.

What is the most common group therapy? ›

Perhaps the most common, effective, and popular type of group therapy outside of an intensive treatment program are mutual self-help support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Is group therapy good for trauma? ›

Group therapy, a widely accepted treatment option for over 50 years, is extremely beneficial in treating trauma. Groups provide a safe, nurturing, accepting environment in which painful feelings and experiences can be shared.

Do I have to talk in group therapy? ›

You decide what, how much and when you share with the group and no one can force you to reveal anything you don't feel comfortable revealing.

When should you stop group therapy? ›

Stopping therapy may be an option if you feel you have achieved all the goals you set and you've developed the skills to move on. You've learned how to manage your symptoms or have found a way to move through a challenge.

What should you not share in therapy? ›

With that said, we're outlining some common phrases that therapists tend to hear from their clients and why they might hinder your progress.
  • “I feel like I'm talking too much.” ...
  • “I'm the worst. ...
  • “I'm sorry for my emotions.” ...
  • “I always just talk about myself.” ...
  • “I can't believe I told you that!” ...
  • “Therapy won't work for me.”
Aug 9, 2021

What are the 5 P's in counseling? ›

They conceptualized a way to look at clients and their problems, systematically and holistically taking into consideration the (1) Presenting problem, (2) Predisposing factors, (3) Precipitating factors, (4) Perpetuating factors, and (5) Protective factors.

What are the 11 therapeutic factors of group therapy? ›

Group Therapy
  • Instillation of hope. ...
  • Universality. ...
  • Information giving. ...
  • Altruism. ...
  • Corrective recapitulation of the primary family. ...
  • Development of social skills. ...
  • Imitative behavior. ...
  • Interpersonal learning.
Aug 15, 2019

What is group therapy examples? ›

Just a few examples of group types include:
  • Substance abuse (Alcoholics Anonymous, etc.)
  • PTSD.
  • Grief.
  • Dealing with specific physical illnesses.
  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Bipolar disorder.
  • Caregiving.

What is the ideal group therapy size? ›

Optimum number for group therapy is 8-12 members. Seating arrangements: There should be enough chairs to accommodate the group members.

How do you build trust in group therapy? ›

How to Build Trust with a Client in Therapy
  1. Show a desire to understand. You build trust by connecting with your clients and actively listening to their concerns and challenges. ...
  2. Speed of rapport. ...
  3. Give them space. ...
  4. Respect the client. ...
  5. Be helpful. ...
  6. Match each other's rhythm. ...
  7. Self-disclosure. ...
  8. Online presence.
Sep 10, 2020

How do you introduce yourself in group therapy? ›

At the start of group therapy, you will be asked to introduce yourself and explain your purpose. You do not need to detail or explain your experiences right away, but it is highly encouraged to speak openly. For the less outspoken, it is important to still listen to others and the experiences that they share.

How do you close a group therapy session? ›

Students take turns sharing their hopes for group members. They can say something to each group member or you can draw names so that each person shares their hope for one other person. Students simply say, “My hope for you is…” and share what they hope for the group member after group ends.

What questions do therapists ask in the first session? ›

During the first session, your therapist may ask you:
  • What are your symptoms?
  • What brought you to therapy?
  • What do you feel is wrong in your life?
  • Some questions about your history, including your childhood, education, relationships (family, romantic, friends), your current living situation, and your career.
Dec 4, 2022

Who would benefit from group therapy? ›

But, if you can get past that feeling, the benefits of group therapy can be quite rewarding, especially for those suffering from depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, bipolar disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, social phobias and substance use disorders.

Is group therapy good for depression? ›

While many people with depression benefit from individual therapy, many also find more comfort in a group setting. The fact is that talking to others who share the same experience can leave a person feeling better.

What are the disadvantages of group? ›

Weaknesses of Working in Groups
  • Group decision-making can take a long time. ...
  • Groups can be vulnerable to errors of decision-making, such as 'groupthink'. ...
  • Existing relationships within a group can damage development of wider group cohesion. ...
  • It takes time to develop full understanding of roles and responsibilities.

What is the most important role for group members in group therapy? ›

Providing a safe, therapeutic frame for clients and maintaining firm boundaries are among the most important functions of the group leader. For many group members, a properly conducted group will be the first opportunity to interact with others in a safe, supportive, and substance-free environment.

What are stages of group therapy per Dr Yalom? ›

5 Stages or Phases of the Group
  • Stage 1. Forming; the orientation phase. The leader is most active in this stage. ...
  • Stage 2. Storming; the transition phase. ...
  • Stage 3. Norming; the cohesiveness phase. ...
  • Stage 4. Working; the performing phase. ...
  • Stage 5. Adjourning; the termination phase.

What is the 4th stage in the process of counseling? ›

Stage 4: follow-up

The counseling process does not end with the initial counseling session. It continues throughout the implementation of the plan of action consistent with the observed results. Sometimes the initial plan of action will require modification to meet the desired outcomes.

What are the 5 stages of group development? ›

To ensure the team runs as smoothly as possible, and goals are hit, it's in everyone's best interest to implement the five stages of team development: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. If you're new to this concept, you're not alone.

What is the ideal size for group therapy? ›

Number of members: Group therapy may be practised with more than two members and less than 15. Optimum number for group therapy is 8-12 members.

What are Yalom's 12 therapeutic factors? ›

Yalom's 12 therapeutic factors generated from his questionnaire were as follows: altruism, cohesion, universality, interpersonal learning input and output, guidance, catharsis, identification, family re-enactment, self-understanding, instillation of hope, and existential factors.

How do you lead a process in group therapy? ›

Learn how to run a successful group therapy session that will have a strong therapeutic impact on your clients.
  1. Know the Rules and Regulations for Group Therapy. ...
  2. Put Proper Systems in Place. ...
  3. Set Expectations for the Group. ...
  4. Set the Objective. ...
  5. Learn Icebreakers. ...
  6. Manage Interpersonal Dynamics. ...
  7. Make Group Therapy Fun.
Apr 23, 2022

What phase of counseling is the most difficult for you? ›

Phase 3: Exploration/Working Phase — Making Progress

This is where you're diving into the issues and working on yourself. It's the hardest part of therapy. During this phase you might temporarily feel worse than you did before.

What is the best counselling technique? ›

The techniques are: (1) Directive Counselling, (2) Non-Directive Counselling, and (3) Eclectic Counselling. 1. Directive Counselling: In this counselling the counsellor plays an active role as it is regarded as a means of helping people how to learn to solve their own problems.

What is the most critical phase of counseling? ›

The most critical phase of counseling is when the counselor and client are able to generate a step-by-step solution to their problem. This is often the most difficult phase of counseling because it requires both parties to be cooperative and committed to working together.

What is Tuckman ladder? ›

Tuckman's Ladder Model is a tool for understanding the five stages of team development: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. The Tuckman Ladder Model describes the predictable stages that teams move through and explains how you can use them to improve your functioning as a group.


1. Introduction to Group Therapy
2. Irvin Yalom Outpatient Group Psychotherapy Video
3. Group Therapy Session: What it’s Really Like
(The Lukin Center)
4. Benefits of Doing Group Therapy vs. Individual Counseling Sessions
(The Lukin Center)
5. Group Therapy: A Live Demonstration Video
6. Group Therapy: How Does it Work?
(Fighting Fear with Kevin Ashworth)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Tyson Zemlak

Last Updated: 04/06/2023

Views: 6239

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (43 voted)

Reviews: 90% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Tyson Zemlak

Birthday: 1992-03-17

Address: Apt. 662 96191 Quigley Dam, Kubview, MA 42013

Phone: +441678032891

Job: Community-Services Orchestrator

Hobby: Coffee roasting, Calligraphy, Metalworking, Fashion, Vehicle restoration, Shopping, Photography

Introduction: My name is Tyson Zemlak, I am a excited, light, sparkling, super, open, fair, magnificent person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.