Although people come to group therapy with a variety of different symptoms (e.g., depression, anxiety, stress, marriage or parenting problems), they have in common a desire to be closer to important people in their lives. In my roles as a psychologist and certified group therapist, I often recommend group counseling as an adjunct to individual or couples therapy. Group counseling tends to trigger the feelings and distancing behaviors that people seek to change, in addition to providing a contained space to explore and understand them. Group therapy is an ideal place to learn and practice new behaviors “live,” since the presence of the other group members often triggers the feelings and reactions that challenge people in their close relationships. In addition, everyone in the group shares the individual challenge of learning to manage distressing emotions in a way that brings people closer as opposed to sending them further away.
While participants may share details of their lives with the other group therapy members, the most productive meetings are those in which people share thoughts and feelings in the here and now of each session. Members agree to keep confidential the identities of the other participants, as well as anything that is said during group therapy sessions that could identify other members. In order to maintain group therapy as a space where anything can be discussed and explored, members also agree not to socialize with each other outside the group counseling sessions.