In group therapy, a clinician meets together with several clients with similar problems (Figure). When children are placed in group therapy, it is particularly important to match clients for age and problems. One benefit of group therapy is that it can help decrease a client’s shame and isolation about a problem while offering needed support, both from the therapist and other members of the group (American Psychological Association, 2014). A nine-year-old sexual abuse victim, for example, may feel very embarrassed and ashamed. If he is placed in a group with other sexually abused boys, he will realize that he is not alone. A child struggling with poor social skills would likely benefit from a group with a specific curriculum to foster special skills. A woman suffering from post-partum depression could feel less guilty and more supported by being in a group with similar women.
Group therapy also has some specific limitations. Members of the group may be afraid to speak in front of other people because sharing secrets and problems with complete strangers can be stressful and overwhelming. There may be personality clashes and arguments among group members. There could also be concerns about confidentiality: Someone from the group might share what another participant said to people outside of the group.
Another benefit of group therapy is that members can confront each other about their patterns. For those with some types of problems, such as sexual abusers, group therapy is the recommended treatment. Group treatment for this population is considered to have several benefits:
Group treatment is more economical than individual, couples, or family therapy. Sexual abusers often feel more comfortable admitting and discussing their offenses in a treatment group where others are modeling openness. Clients often accept feedback about their behavior more willingly from other group members than from therapists. Finally, clients can practice social skills in group treatment settings. (McGrath, Cumming, Burchard, Zeoli, & Ellerby, 2009)
Groups that have a strong educational component are called psycho-educational groups. For example, a group for children whose parents have cancer might discuss in depth what cancer is, types of treatment for cancer, and the side effects of treatments, such as hair loss. Often, group therapy sessions with children take place in school. They are led by a school counselor, a school psychologist, or a school social worker. Groups might focus on test anxiety, social isolation, self-esteem, bullying, or school failure (Shechtman, 2002). Whether the group is held in school or in a clinician’s office, group therapy has been found to be effective with children facing numerous kinds of challenges (Shechtman, 2002).
During a group session, the entire group could reflect on an individual’s problem or difficulties, and others might disclose what they have done in that situation. When a clinician is facilitating a group, the focus is always on making sure that everyone benefits and participates in the group and that no one person is the focus of the entire session. Groups can be organized in various ways: some have an overarching theme or purpose, some are time-limited, some have open membership that allows people to come and go, and some are closed. Some groups are structured with planned activities and goals, while others are unstructured: There is no specific plan, and group members themselves decide how the group will spend its time and on what goals it will focus. This can become a complex and emotionally charged process, but it is also an opportunity for personal growth (Page & Berkow, 1994).