Group therapy is a popular form of psychotherapy in which a number of patientsÑusually 4 to 12Ñmeet together with a therapist. The term group therapy is reserved, strictly speaking, for groups in which individuals with emotional disorders seek help from a mental health professional.
More broadly, the term group therapy describes groups with other purposes. Encounter groups, consciousness-raising groups, and Alcoholics Anonymous are forms of group therapy that each have a different purpose and structure. People join these groups to improve their lives or become more aware of particular issues.
There are many theoretical approaches to group therapy. Among these approaches are the psychodynamic or analytic, Gestalt, transactional analysis, t-group, behavioral, and psychodrama. While the approaches vary in rationale, procedure, and content, they all tend to view the group format as having characteristics that make it different from individual therapy.
In addition to being a more economical format, groups can serve five therapeutic functions. First, the group, a small sample of society at large, provides an interpersonal context in which each patient may reveal his or her problematic styles of relating to others.
Second, the group can provide a sample of social response to each individual. Third, the group can be a source of ideas exchanged between people with similar problems. Fourth, the group can act as a stage on which individuals are able to practice new behavior. And fifth, the group provides a foundation of emotional support for its members, who may gain a sense of not being alone in their problems and of being accepted despite difficulties in overcoming their problems.
Therapists attempt to guide the group in helping themselves and one another. A therapist sets basic rules and interprets events within the group in ways that provide the participants with a language system for understanding their behavior. In some groups, therapists provide exercises by which the group may facilitate interactions.