Guide to Group Therapy at UMW

•  Why Group Therapy?

People join therapy groups for many reasons. Some may be experiencing personal difficulties, while others may seek personal growth and development. Group therapy provides a unique and important way to learn about oneself and one’s relationships, to gain confidence as well as develop new skills and abilities, and to give and receive support and feedback from others.

•  Why Choose a Group Instead of Individual Therapy?  

For many types of problems, group therapy is the treatment of choice. Groups provide the opportunity to observe others solving their problems. Groups provide the advantage of a network of support. Groups are also especially helpful in building trust, self-acceptance, intimacy, communication skills and empathy.

•  How Do Groups Work? 

Although groups may differ, most meet weekly, for 75 – 90 minutes, and include 6 to 8 group members and one or more mental health professionals who act as facilitators. Open groups meet on an ongoing basis and permit participants to join and finish at different times. Closed groups usually meet for a predetermined number of sessions with all members joining and ending together. There are many different types of group experiences. For example,

Psychoeducational groups help participants develop new skills as they acquire and share information. Psycho-educational groups are often organized around topic areas, such as managing stress, assertiveness, or coping with depression. Group facilitators typically provide basic educational information and, together with group participants, share and explore information in a supportive forum.

Support groups also often include individuals who share common problems or issues and who are seeking help as they adjust to new roles or experiences. Examples include groups to help individuals cope with parental divorce, sexual assault, bereavement, sexual orientation issues, and family substance abuse.

General psychotherapy groups bring together individuals with diverse concerns and issues. All participants though, share a commitment to developing increased personal effectiveness and self-understanding through the process of personal disclosure, as well as by offering and accepting interpersonal feedback and support.

•  How Do I Know If A Group Is Right For Me?

Before you join a group, you will meet individually with the group facilitator. S/he will review the group’s goals and expectations and will answer any questions you may have. Together you will discuss how the group fits your needs so that you can reach a mutual decision about participation. You may decide to join a group directly, after meeting with the facilitator(s) or, during the course of individual sessions, your psychologist or counselor may recommend group therapy. If you would like to see a certain type of group offered through the counseling center, please talk with a staff member, and we will try to help. Remember, group therapy is not a “second-choice” intervention; rather, it adds a special, interpersonal dimension to counseling.

•  What About Confidentiality?

Confidentiality is of utmost importance in all counseling settings, including therapy groups. All group members must commit to confidentiality as a prerequisite to group participation. This means that the identity of group members, as well as the nature and content of group discussions must not be discussed with anyone outside the group. Commitment to this principle allows individuals to build trust and encourages members to share support and feedback with each other.

•  What’s Expected of Me?

An important part of any group experience is the effort and commitment shared by all in the creation of a safe, supportive environment in which to learn and grow. Group members are expected to respect and encourage each other and to work together to build trust. Depending on the type of group, participants may share information and support and may offer and ask for personal feedback. Members are also expected to share aspects of themselves, their concerns, and their feelings, as they feel comfortable in doing so. Remember, that while everyone is encouraged to actively participate, no one is ever forced to speak. Just as confidentiality is a group norm, so too is respect for each person’s right to privacy and right to participate at the pace that s/he chooses. Members are also expected to attend sessions regularly, and on time, and to communicate with others in a manner that promotes safety and demonstrates respect for individual diversity and autonomy.