If you’re considering participating in a group, how do you determine whether it’s for you? One way is to understand the differences between support groups and therapy groups. Another determining factor may be what kind of therapy group it is and the therapist’s facilitation style. The following may help you think through what you need most: a support group or a therapy group.
How is group therapy different from a support group?
A support group can be led by almost anyone with knowledge, a passion for, or experience with a particular topic like grief, cancer, chronic pain, alcohol, and drugs, etc. Sometimes a support group will be professionally led, but no matter the leader, there is no cost to attend.
Group therapy is facilitated by one or two professionals, counselors, therapists, art therapists or occupational therapists. Group therapy is very common in hospitals, residential facilities, out-patient clinics, and in-patient treatment settings. Treatment facilities offer care for a variety of issues including but not limited to eating disorders, alcohol and drugs, and general psychiatric. In an out-patient setting there is usually a reasonable fee to attend group therapy, typically around $25 to $30.
In a support group there can be books or workbooks the individuals read on their own time and then come together to discuss the content and offer support to one another. Another option is the leader will have prepared topics each week that the group will discuss and offer support.
Group therapy can also have prepared topics, depending on the professionals leading. It often has to do with the therapist’s training, the setting (out-patient vs in-patient) and the leader’s preferred style of facilitating groups. It is not uncommon in an out-patient setting for clients to be asked to bring to group issues with which they are currently struggling. The individual and the group then work together to help each person work on awareness, insight and ultimately change.
In a support group the primary goal is giving and receiving support from one another. The leader facilitates discussion, provides a safe environment, keeps the group on track and offers support when needed. All is in support of the goal that individuals support one another rather than all the support coming from the leader.
Group therapy goals include giving and receiving support, but also offers the opportunity to go deeper. Change occurs in relationship and one of the benefits of group therapy is members have the chance to get feedback with professionals present to facilitate conflict so that resolution and healing can occur. We bring our relationship issues into group therapy with us. The same things that impact our relationships outside group, impact our relationships within the group. We learn how to relate differently when we have safe people to increase our self-awareness and a safe place to try new behaviors and ways of relating.
Another way group therapy differs from a support group is, in therapy, individuals explore deeper issues that may be contributing to the maintenance of their problem. A support group stays in the present and members are not asked to look at the past and explore how their past experiences may be impacting their present.
The benefits of group support or group therapy are significant. In both you find support and acceptance. You get to see you are not the only one with this issue and you know the people in the room understand what you are thinking, feeling, and experiencing. This is very empowering and healing.
The added benefits of group therapy are you can deal with issues more quickly. The amount of support and acceptance and working on relationships in real time brings about quicker change in group relationships, which then results in outside relationship change. There is nothing like group therapy to promote growth and change. When you find a group that has your back, you will wonder why you waited so long to try it.