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It can be difficult figuring out what kind of treatment is best for someone suffering from a mental health condition like anxiety or substance abuse. Often, a comprehensive mix of treatments is used to treat mental health issues. Group therapy is a normal part of substance abuse and mental health treatment and offers patients peer support, perspective and accountability in their recovery.
Group therapy is led by one or more therapists in a group of between five to fifteen members. Many groups are formed around a specific issue, such as depression, substance abuse, or a specific medical condition. Group therapy typically runs one or two hours each week. Some have open enrollment into a group, while others run in cycles and only accept new members for each new cycle.
Many rehab and counseling programs offer group therapy alongside individual therapy sessions. Individual therapy is when one therapist works with one person on a scheduled basis. A therapist may recommend their patient join a group if they would benefit from the support of peers who are going through the same thing they are.
Group therapy can be helpful for issues such as:
Group therapy is run by licensed professionals, such as social workers or other medical professionals, who act as facilitators rather than participants. In group therapy, the members agree to keep whatever is discussed in the group confidential so that it can be a safe space for all those participating.
Members listen to one another and provide feedback during group therapy. These interactions help members feel like they are helping others with a similar issue and can use feedback to help themselves as well. The group environment can help participants feel safe and gain a sense of community, knowing that others are experiencing the same thing they are.
There are two types of group therapy that someone can participate in. Open groups allow members to join at any time. Closed groups are when all members start at the same time; they do not accept new members for the duration of the group.
Both open and closed groups have their benefits. An open group will provide many different types of people and perspectives throughout the group experience, but it might provide less stability due to changing membership. A closed group will have more consistency in the participants, but someone may be left waiting to join a closed group, as they run in sessions and are not open anytime to join.
Group therapy is often part of a comprehensive addiction treatment plan. The group therapy environment carries benefits that do not necessarily occur in individual therapy or support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
In group therapy, there is an immediate sense of peer support around participating in the group. More importantly, there’s accountability to work towards the common goal, including avoiding substance use and building a life in recovery. Group therapy also helps people who may have isolated themselves during their drug or alcohol abuse re-learn how to interact with people without substances, starting with trusted peers.
Group therapy allows people who are new in their recovery to learn from others who are already doing it. It can help someone struggling with substance abuse to see that recovery is possible, and to receive support and useful coping mechanisms from their peers. Group therapy’s supportive environment helps members remain accountable for their actions and their recovery.
When you join group therapy, there are certain things you can expect and ways to make the most of the experience. In group therapy, you can expect:
A new group therapy session goes through different stages of development as the group grows together. It is important to understand how a group changes over time and how that change impacts the overall success of the group. There are five stages of group development.
When a group first begins, this is the forming stage. It is common for participants to feel anxious during this stage and often have feelings of distrust toward other members and uncertainty towards the group. The facilitator is crucial during this stage to encourage participation. The facilitator will inform the group of the rules and expectations of the group and work to establish mutual goals.
In the storming stage, members of the group are normally more comfortable sharing details and speaking with each other. This is also when conflict may start to occur in the group, which the facilitator will help manage and resolve. They’ll help the group members work through their issues and form strong relationships with each other.
After the transition and conflict of the storming phase, this is when the group will experience norming. In this stage, the group’s mutual goals and bond will get stronger, and members will start to have more control over their group instead of the facilitator. The facilitator will become more of an observer during this stage but will step in if conflict returns.
During the performing stage, the group largely runs on its own without intervention from the facilitator at all. The group members have formed a strong bond and are aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Members are able to provide helpful feedback to one another and continue to grow in the group goals.
If the group is a closed session or someone is planning to leave a group, the adjourning stage will take place. Members may experience feelings of sadness and fear of the group ending, as it has been a large part of their support system. In the adjourning stage, the facilitator will help the group process these feelings and plan for support outside of the group setting.
Group therapy sessions typically run between 75 and 90 minutes, depending on the group. The length of sessions depends on the type of group someone is joining and what the goal of that group is. Closed groups that are devoted to one specific issue may last anywhere from four to 20 sessions. Open groups may allow a member to have more flexibility in the length of time in the group. The facilitator can help a member figure out how long they need to participate in the group to reach their personal goals.
Group therapy involves many people but should be very individualized depending on a member’s needs. Someone in a group should not consider leaving a group until they have started to get relief from the circumstance that brought them to the group. When leaving a group, the member should feel like they can move forward to a normal life with healthy relationships and boundaries. This process may take weeks, months or even years.
Group therapy is a cost-efficient way to get treatment. Fewer professional resources are needed to participate in a group therapy session, so more people have access to support than in individual therapy. Group therapy costs can vary depending on:
Group therapy can often be covered fully or partially by insurance, depending on the individual’s coverage and plan. The mental health parity law that passed in 2008 requires coverage of services for mental health, behavioral health and substance use disorders to be comparable to physical health coverage. This means that an insurance provider can not make the cost of accessing mental health care more expensive than getting care from any other medical provider.
If you are unsure of your mental health coverage, you can contact your insurance company and ask about your mental health coverage. You can also contact the outpatient rehab center or treatment provider to verify your insurance coverage.
Joining group therapy may seem like a scary thing in the beginning, but the benefits of group therapy far outweigh the fear someone may have about it. Group therapy can be a great added support for those in individual therapy or for those who do not feel comfortable in individual therapy. Other benefits of group therapy include:
If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health or substance abuse, Denver Mental Health and Counseling by The Recovery Village offers outpatient rehab and intensive outpatient rehab services that can be beneficial. Included in these programs are:
Denver Mental Health and Counseling is located in Highlands Ranch, close to downtown Denver and conveniently near Boulder, Fort Collins and Colorado Springs. If you are interested in learning more about group therapy at Denver Mental Health and Counseling, contact us and get started on your recovery today. Calls are free and confidential, with no obligation to enter treatment.
American Psychological Association. “Psychotherapy: Understanding group therapy.” October 31, 2019. Accessed March 31, 2022.
American Group Psychotherapy Association. “What is Group Therapy?” Accessed March 31, 2022.
Appalachian State University. “Discover the Advantages of Group Therapy.” 2022. Accessed March 31, 2022.
Malhotra A, Baker J. “Group Therapy.” StatPearls Publishing, July 25, 2021. Accessed April 1, 2022.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). “Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy.” Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, 2005. Accessed April 2, 2022.
William and Mary University. “What to Expect in Group Counseling.” Health & Wellness Counseling Center, 2022. Accessed April 4, 2022. American Psychological Association. “Does your insurance cover mental health services?” October 10, 2019. Accessed April 4, 2022.
Denver Mental Health Counseling by The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.
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