Over the last couple of decades, as the stigma around mental health issues has begun to diminish, group therapy – as well as individual therapy – has begun to be a lot more normalized. We no longer view people who go to therapy as being crazy, but merely as needing help or guidance, and that’s a good thing for our society.
When you think about someone going to therapy, you usually envision a one-on-one session, but group therapy is just as common. When thinking of group therapy, the first thing that comes to mind is usually that stereotypical scene you always see in mainstream movies, with alcoholics sitting together in a circle and looking miserable. That’s not what it actually looks like, though.
In group therapy, one therapist guides a group of usually about 10 people through various exercises, most of which are typically not done individually. When they end, the group discusses how it made them feel, and interaction with the other participants is usually a key element in these exercises.
On the one hand, hand it can seem daunting to open yourself up in front of so many people, but on the other hand, it can be a new, interesting way of dealing with your mental health issues. As someone who’s attended group therapy before, I’m here to share my experience with you and to help you find out whether this might be the right form of therapy for you.
Here are 3 reasons why I believe group therapy is beneficial:
1. You may find people who have the same problems you do
Mental health issues can take up a lot of energy, and I know firsthand how it can feel as if there’s nobody out there who understands you or who feels the same way you do. That’s the furthest thing away from the truth, actually. In a therapy group – especially if it’s made out of people of roughly the same age or background – you’re likely to find someone who shares your problems, and it can feel like a breath of fresh air to realize that you’re not alone.
2. You can connect with other people
If you’re an introvert like me, chances are that going to group therapy seems extremely daunting at first. Once your therapy sessions actually start, however, you’ll find that the exercises your group goes through will help you come out of your shell and connect with other people, and they’ll teach you to form skills such as teamwork by forcing you to think outside the box and to come up with unique ways of solving problems.
To give you an example, the exercise that taught me the most about teamwork went like this: each of the participants was told a number from 1 to 16 – we were 16 participants, which is quite a large number for a therapy group – by the therapist, and we weren’t to share our number with anyone else. Then, we had to close our eyes and arrange ourselves in order from 1 to 16, holding hands. The tricky part was that we weren’t allowed to speak or open our eyes, so we had to go around the room poking, clapping, stomping and yelling – yes, we were allowed to yell – at each other, in order to communicate our numbers.
We eventually did succeed in arranging ourselves in the correct order, and although it was difficult, the exercise forced us to come up with innovative solutions to a seemingly unsolvable problem.
3. Group therapy can help you gain insight into your own personality
Although at first glance it can seem as if group therapy won’t help you solve any of your personal problems, since its focus is on a larger group of people rather than just on yourself as an individual, this isn’t really true. Even though the interaction with other participants is perhaps one of the most important aspects of this type of therapy – this is what makes it unique, after all – individual feelings are just as important.
At the end of each exercise, you will be asked to talk about the way it made you feel, which you can refuse (just as you can refuse to participate in any of the exercises) if you don’t feel comfortable sharing your experience with the other participants. Even if you elect not to talk about your feelings, merely thinking about them will be enough to offer you some insight.
For me – and for my groupmates – the most insightful exercise we ever did was called the ‘Family Constellation.’ Here, we had to think of our families and a typical, everyday scene that could be acted out in a couple of minutes and that was representative of our home dynamic. We had to choose members of our group that would play the part of each of our family members based on who they reminded us of, and we had to think of some dialogues (one reply per each member) that would, again, be representative of our family, and then we had to play the whole scenario out in front of the group.
This was the exercise were the largest number of people elected not to participate and present their families, and at the end of it we all agreed that it had been extremely insightful for all of us. For those who did portray their families, it helped us realize what the best and worst parts about them were, in a nutshell, and those who didn’t portray their families were still made to realize those things, as well as the root cause of why they wouldn’t like sharing it.
Even though group therapy probably seems challenging and intimidating to some, it can turn out to be an amazing experience that will offer you a lot of opportunities for self-reflection and teach you more about yourself and about other people and how to interact with them. So, if you’re unsure about group therapy, I strongly encourage you to give it a try, at least for a session or two; it might benefit you in ways that you can’t even think of yet.