Group Therapy in Psychology: Strengths and Limitations

Group psychotherapy is a modern way of treating psychological problems. It is a form of psychotherapy that implies creating a special group of people determined to meet regularly under the control of a psychologist (Courtois & Ford, 2009). The aims of such meetings are finding an appropriate solution to inner conflicts, relieving stress, correcting behavior deviation, and conducting other psychotherapeutic procedures (Yalom, 1995).

Group therapy can be applied to each form of psychotherapy, which is delivered for a group, for instance, interpersonal therapy or Art therapy (Yalom, 1995). Modern scientists admit this approach to be a practical way of coping with posttraumatic stress interventions (Courtois & Ford, 2009). According to Courtois and Ford (2009), it is “more efficient and can be offered more broadly than individual psychotherapy, a fact that is financially relevant in the increasingly cost-sensitive fiscal climate of managed health care” (p. 415). This way, the purpose of this paper is to gather relevant data on group therapy in psychology, present its strengths and limitations, and outline the differences between group and individual approaches.

Strengths

First of all, it is worth mentioning the book Introduction to Group Therapy: A Practical Guide written by Fehr. The author provides the readers with a profound comprehension of group therapy. Apart from containing a considerable theoretical base, the book also had a practical section, where Fehr shares his experience of working with group therapy. He highlights the power of this approach in conflict resolution and personality change proving this thesis by illustrations from his practice (Fehr, 2003). The psychologist pays attention to the therapeutic power and effectiveness of this methodology.

The approach of group therapy may be applied to coping with such serious psychological issues as depression. For instance, Field et al. (2009) presented a study Benefits of Combining Massage Therapy with Group Interpersonal Psychotherapy in Prenatally Depressed Women. One hundred twelve women with depression diagnoses participated in the experiment and were divided into two groups (Field, 2009).

The first one received interpersonal therapy, and the latter was delivered a combination of interpersonal and massage therapies. According to the authors, the second one “showed a greater decrease in depression, depressed affect and somatic–vegetative symptom scores on the Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression Scale (CES-D)” (Field, 2009, para. 1). Furthermore, “a greater decrease in anxiety scale (STAI) scores and a greater decrease in cortisol levels” were also noted (Field, 2009, para. 1). Nevertheless, the results were beneficial for the first group too. In addition, the study highlights the effectiveness of combined therapy for the prevention of prenatal depression. Therefore, the significance of group psychotherapy in the context of treating depression cannot be underestimated.

Social anxiety disorder is a diagnosis, which is close to depression to some extent, and for this reason, there is an assumption that group techniques can be applied in this case. Fogarty, Hevey, and McCarthy (2019) introduced their explorations in this regard in the article Effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioural Group Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder: Long-term Benefits and Aftercare. The study is based on a prediction that cognitive-behavioral group therapy (CBGT) appears to be useful for treating social anxiety disorder (SAD). It is aimed to “evaluate the long-term effectiveness of CBGT for SAD in a community sample and to explore the relation” (Fogarty et al., 2019, para. 2).

A cohort study intended to measure the extent of SAD, depression, and anxiety, was chosen as a method for this research. Considering the results, it is possible to conclude that CBGT is an efficient intervention for SAD, which is beneficial in the long term.

This thesis is proved in other explorations devoted to this topic. For instance, Thimm and Antonsen (2014) agree on the effectiveness of CBGT on coping with depression in daily life in their study Effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioral Group Therapy for Depression in Routine Practice. However, the researchers highlight that there are patients, who quit following this approach or did not benefit from it at all.

Limitations, Dynamics, and Boundaries

The dynamics of group therapy, it varies from case to case and depends on the aims of the participants. For instance, it could be a small meeting on intimate issues or an Art therapy with numerous members. Although there are considerable benefits of group therapy, some limitations of this methodology should be taken into consideration. The first and the most widespread aspect addresses the fact that people tend to feel reserved and unwilling to share their worries with people, who they are not acquainted with to a large extent (Corey, 2008).

A great number of individuals are highly likely to encounter fear and stress, and such pressure may decline their psychological state instead of contributing to a solution to their problem (Corey, 2008; Brabender, Smolar, & Fallon, 2004). However, in case a patient is capable of overcoming these hardships, he or she appreciates this experience. Individuals may feel confident enough to discuss their worries after a couple of sessions and receive valuable feedback and insights (Eilenberg, Fink, Jensen, Rief, & Frostholm, 2015). Nevertheless, the group approach should be applied carefully in order not to aggravate the situation.

Another possible limitation implies the loss of trust, and this aspect appears to be vital in the context of the dynamics of therapy. Patients tend to feel comfortable and reveal more intimate information about themselves in case of one-to-one conversation (Jónsson & Hougaard, 2009). As for group counseling, it is significantly more challenging to achieve trustful relationships between participants, especially in case individuals have not been acquainted before their meeting.

Moreover, there is a likelihood of the appearance of particular conflicts between the participants of a session. It should be taken into consideration that people of various personalities attend group counseling. Therefore, some participants may accidentally intimidate others, who are more sensitive or introverted (Marmarosh & Tasca, 2013). In addition, some individuals may have different positions on the same aspects or events, and the lack of understanding may prevent them from focusing on finding a solution to their psychological problems.

Privacy limitation is among other hardships, which may affect the dynamics of a group session. There is a likelihood that a patient may lose a sense of privacy while communicating with individuals on personal topics. Some people do not feel comfortable with the idea of sharing their current emotions and difficulties in their lives. It may present particular boundaries within the therapy, and their violation may result in the appearance of psychological problems. Therefore, it is essential to keep them and not violate them in order not to harm the patients.

Differences between Group and Individual Therapies

In present-day developments, comparing the effectiveness of individual and group therapies presents a crucial issue in psychology. First of all, it is essential to outline the differences between these approaches. The most evident one is the fact that individual counseling implies a conversation between one client and one specialist, while group therapy involves multiple patients and multiple psychologists in some cases (Benson, 2019). Therefore, sessions are conducted in different ways, depending on the type of counseling (Corey, G., Corey, M., Callanan, & Russell, 2004). It also influences the content of conversations between clients and specialists and their relationships in the context of the formation of bonds and alliances.

For instance, a patient, who speaks to a specialist alone, tends to cover more intimate topics. Consequently, he or she will likely reveal real feelings and touch-sensitive moments (Stead, Carroll, & Lancaster, 2017). Nevertheless, some private conversations may also be conducted during group counseling. Its participants may discuss one topic, which may be considered relatively personal, and share their own experiences and positions in this regard. Such an approach may also be beneficial and make a significant contribution to achieving and maintaining progress in coping with a particular problem.

It should also be noted that group therapies are more likely to be devoted to a precise topic. In contrast, an individual session may involve touching on a wide range of issues, which are important or extremely painful for a patient. As is evident from the information presented above, both options have their strengths and limitations, and for this reason, it is impossible to decide which one is more efficient.

To continue the contemplations on the differences between individual and group therapies and their effectiveness, an illustrative case should be applied. For instance, Renjilian et al. (2001) published the article Individual Versus Group Therapy for Obesity: Effects of Matching Participants to Their Treatment Preferences, which is informative in this respect. The study provides a deep insight into the comparison of two types of counseling and their results, using the example of treating obesity. The participants had an opportunity to decide, which approach they preferred. Therefore, they were “randomly assigned to either their preferred or their nonpreferred treatment modality within a 2 (individual vs group therapy) × 2(preferred vs nonpreferred modality) factorial design” (Renjilian et al., 2001, para. 1).

The results revealed: that “group therapy produced significantly greater reductions in weight and body mass than individual therapy” (Renjilian et al., 2001, para. 1). In addition, there were no considerable improvements in the context of criteria on preferences on the type of therapy (Renjilian et al., 2001). Apart from this, the results on psychological functioning improvements were equal in each of the groups.

This way, both individual and group counseling have their benefits and drawbacks, and their effectiveness depends on multiple factors. For instance, reserved people tend to feel more comfortable during a private conversation, while some people need to feel the support from group members and responsibility before them. Consequently, the most correct aim is to achieve the balance between two options and apply the one, which is the most appropriate in particular circumstances or to combine them.

Conclusion

In summary, group therapy may provide strong support for patients and lead them to the desired results. Its effectiveness in conflict resolution and personality change cannot be underestimated. In addition, it helps cope with serious psychological issues, such as depression and social anxiety disorder. However, it is possible only in case people are ready to participate in it, as there are possible limitations in the context of this approach.

For instance, some individuals are highly likely to be confused by such an experience, and this state may result in stress and aggravate the situation. Therefore, a psychologist must adjust to the specialties of a particular client and find the most appropriate option. Apart from it, significant differences between group and individual therapies exist, and for this reason, this methodology should not be rejected. In case it is applied competently, it may present a sufficient solution.

References

Benson, J. (2019). Working creatively with groups. London: Routledge.

Brabender, V. M., Smolar, A. I., & Fallon, A. E. (2004). Essentials of Group Therapy. New Jersey, Canada: John Wiley & Son.

Corey, G., Corey, M., Callanan, P., & Russell, J. M. (2004). Group techniques. UK: Thomson Brooks Cole.

Corey, G. (2008). Theory and practice of group counselling. UK: Thomson Brooks Cole.

Courtois, C. A., & Ford, J. D. (2009). Treating complex traumatic stress disorders (adults): Scientific foundations and therapeutic models. Guilford Press.

Eilenberg, T., Fink, P., Jensen, J. S., Rief, W., & Frostholm, L. (2015). Acceptance and commitment group therapy (ACT-G) for health anxiety: A randomized controlled trial. Psychological Medicine46(10), 103-115. Web.

Fehr, S. (2003). Introduction to group therapy: A practical guide. UK, London: The Hawarth Press.

Field, T., Deeds, O., Diego, M., Hernandez-Reif, M., Gauler, A., Sullivan, S., Wilson, D., & Nearing, G. (2009). Benefits of combining massage therapy with group interpersonal psychotherapy in prenatally depressed womenJournal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 13(4), 297-303. Web.

Fogarty, C., Hevey, D., & McCarthy, O. (2019). Effectiveness of cognitive behavioural group therapy for social anxiety disorder: Long-term benefits and aftercare. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 47(5), 501-513. Web.

Jónsson, H., & Hougaard, E. (2009) Group cognitive behavioural therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Acta Psychiatr Scand, 119(2), 98-106. Web.

Marmarosh, C. L., & Tasca, G. A. (2013). Adult attachment anxiety: Using group therapy to promote change. Clinical Psychology, 69(11), 1172-1182. Web.

Renjilian, D. A., Perri, M. G., Nezu, A. M., McKelvey, W. F., Shermer, R. L., & Anton, S. D. (2001). Individual versus group therapy for obesity: Effects of matching participants to their treatment preferences. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 69(4), 717–721. Web.

Stead, L. F., Carroll, A. J., & Lancaster, T. (2017). Group behaviour therapy programmes for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 3(3). Web.

Thimm, J.C., & Antonsen, L. (2014). Effectiveness of cognitive behavioral group therapy for depression in routine practiceBMC Psychiatry, 14, 292. Web.

Yalom. I. (1995). Theory and practice of group psychotherapy. London: Basic Books.

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