Many people have reservations about group therapy. When I discuss the option of joining a group, people often bring up similar concerns. I’ll share these and my responses in the hope that it eases some of your worries. Then I’ll walk you though five reasons group therapy might actually be a great fit for you!
Talking in front of a group is too anxiety provoking.
If you have some trepidation about public speaking, you might worry that you’ll be so uncomfortable talking in front of others that you won’t benefit from the skills or connections.
These are completely valid concerns! Many people feel nervous in new group situations and it’s normal for there to be some initial awkwardness.
There’s no pressure to dive right in and start talking all about yourself. You can contribute to the group in a way that feels right for you at the time. In the beginning, that might just be introducing yourself or saying a few words. After a few meetings, you might feel more comfortable getting more involved.
In fact, group therapy is actually a great opportunity to practice getting comfortable in social settings. Most therapy for anxiety will involve practicing facing your fears (exposure therapy). What better way to get some experience than with a group of supportive peers who totally get it?
I feel uncomfortable sharing personal information with other people.
Think about group therapy as Las Vegas. What happens in group, stays in group.
Therapists have extensive training in maintaining confidentiality and adhere to a strict code of ethics. We take confidentiality very seriously. In group settings, everyone works together to maintain privacy.
You’ll get more information from the group leader before the group starts about what’s expected and the procedures in place to keep information protected. You’ll discuss confidentiality in the first meeting and periodically as the group moves forward.
What if we don’t get to talk about what’s bothering me?
In individual therapy, the time is all about you. In a group setting, you might worry there won’t be time for your particular symptoms or concerns.
We organize our groups in a really specific way to make sure that there’s shared experiences in the group. Whether that’s based on identity factors, like a group of moms with young kids or young professionals who identify as women, or lived experiences, like dealing with symptoms of OCD or social anxiety. Group members are chosen so that everyone can relate to each other.
It might also be surprising to learn that your experiences aren’t as unique as you thought (in a good way!). One of the most common things I hear in my OCD group is “Oh my gosh, I’ve never known anyone else who thought that too!”
Group therapy has many benefits and can also provide experiences that individual therapy can’t.
1. Interacting with others in a group helps you to feel less alone.
When you’re feeling anxious or depressed, it can feel really isolating. It might seem like everyone else has got their stuff together (thanks, social media) and you’re the only one suffering. You might find it hard to relate to others. You might feel like you’re the only one dealing with stress, anxiety, imposter syndrome, or feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.
Connecting with a group of other people dealing with the same things can help normalize your experience. It can help you realize that what you’re going through isn’t weird and that you’re not broken.
Because groups are a safe space where other people totally get it, you can get support.
Oftentimes spouses, parents, friends, family, and co-workers can’t relate. Although they might feel anxious from time to time and really want to help, they just don’t understand. When you’re in a group with others like you, you can get the support you need from people who know what it’s like to walk in your shoes.
2. Hearing about how others solve problems and use skills can give you new ideas.
When it’s just you and your therapist, you might get stuck thinking of alternative ways to use the skills or solve problems. With group therapy, you get to take advantage of other people’s successes and failures. They can make something that was hard for them easier for you. Hearing others talk about how they relate to the concepts can also shed new light on the ideas. A turn of phrase or a personal example might make an old concept suddenly make sense.
3. You can give back by helping others.
Groups also give you the chance to share your experience. No matter how much you’re struggling, you’ve already found strategies that work along the way. And, as you go on this journey, week by week, with others in the group, you’ll have your share of successes and moments of struggle.
Sharing what you’ve learned can have a powerful impact on someone else and ease their struggle just a little. Being active and engaged in the group is a meaningful way to give back to others.
4. It’s a way to set up some accountability.
Setting therapy goals is an important first step. We often feel excited and energized by goal setting and imagining how we’ll feel when we accomplish what we set out to do. Research also suggests that writing goals down, sharing them with others, and providing weekly progress reports has a meaningful impact on the likelihood of success (Mathews, 2015).
But setting goals is only the beginning. Making progress toward goals doesn’t always feel so exciting. It’s normal for motivation to wax and wane over time. Having a group of people who are invested in you and your progress can help you push forward. Knowing that you’ll give an update on your efforts can help you stay on track when you feel like giving up. Setting up an accountability system is a way to honor the commitment you’ve made to yourself
5. It can help you practice self compassion.
We are often our own worst critics. When things go wrong we point out our mistakes, judge ourselves for things we’ve said and done, and call ourselves names.
Yet in your everyday life, you’re a kind and supportive person. You encourage your partner when they’ve had a demoralizing day at work and ask for a pep talk. You listen to your best friend when they’re going through a hard time. You validate your child’s feelings when they’re having yet another tantrum. You would never talk to other people the way you talk to yourself.
Sharing your struggles in a group setting can provide a template for how to treat yourself with kindness and compassion. It may sound simple, but being kinder to yourself can go a long way in decreasing anxiety and depression. For more information on self compassion, check out Dr. Kristin Neff’s website.
I hope this helps ease any reservations you might have about group therapy and maybe raises some benefits you hadn’t thought of.
Whether group therapy is right for you or not, we want to be a resource. Please feel free to reach out to our care coordinator with any questions.