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GROUP THERAPY Group therapy is a way of giving psychological help

TO  a number of people at the same time. But can it ever replace individual treatment?

Q Is group therapy ever harmful?

A In the early days of group therapy when there were few properly trained group organizers, some people were psychologically harmed by it and this affected its image. But now that there are professional facilitators (organizers). or specialized therapists who can monitor those who are accepted into any particular type of group, and can look after the group's functioning without interfering unless absolutely necessary, the dangers are virtually non-existent.

Q Can anybody run a group therapy session?

A Looking after a group looks easy, for the really good facilitator hardly seems to be anything more than just another group member. But, in fact, a group leader should either have professional psychological qualifications, or a great deal of group experience, or­ preferably both. If you are thinking of attending group therapy sessions, make sure beforehand that the organization running the group has some sort of professional standing.

Q I have heard that some groups take off all their clothes and have an orgy as a form of therapy. Is this true?

A Nudity has been used as a technique to lower people's defences in some cases. Touching and stroking, either while clothed or unclothed, has also been used to make people more aware of feelings and relationships. However, groups do not indulge in orgies, as these would' be unlikely to help anyone, In any'case, nothing ever happens at a session without the express. agreement of all the members.

Q Does group therapy always benefit all the members of a group?

A This is very difficult to answer, sometimes the benefits are subtle and recognized less by the person than by those around him. It is probably fairer to say that most people benefit from most of the sessions, but to different extents.

Group therapy is used to help people with mental problems, those with difficulty in relating to other people, or those who simply want to try and understand them­selves better. Many of the peoflle who undergo treatment are attracted by the reassuring informality in the approach used and by the wide range of help that group therapy can give.

Types of group therapy

Therapy groups are set up for various purposes. The form they take depends on the reason why they were set up. An assertion group, for instance, might be set up for people who feel that they back down too easily in arguments. The members of such a group will help each other by role-playing-acting out situa­tions similar to those with which they have difficulty coping. They can thus learn and practise argument-winning techniques. In this way they will be able to project confidence into their approach to such confrontations.

Groups run to help people improve the way in which they relate to others, or just to help them understand themselves, are sometimes known as encounter groups or T-groups.

People who suffer from particular phobias or anxieties may be treated in groups by desensitization. With the help of the therapist, members of the group

can learn to overcome their fears. The motivation to succeed becomes greater when others are present.

It has also been found that in spite of the reticence many people have about speaking of their sex lives, many sexual problems can be successfully treated in a group situation.

Who needs group therapy?

People with marital problems who go to a family planning or family therapy clinic may take part in group therapy. Doctors and hospitals may refer a patient for group therapy and put him or her in touch with a group.

It may also be used in situations where individuals are ha\'ing difficulty in inter­grating with society. such as delinquent centres, open prisons or addiction rehabilitation centres. Sometimes it is used on some fairly sewrely mentally disturbed patients in hospital-though often the communication in these cases is more between therapist and patient than between patient and patient.

It could be said that group therapy is good for anyone because it can be used as a process for enha!1cing life-style as well as for remedial purposes. Certainly it

A tug of war is used to teach teamwork and organized effort and to dispel feelings of frustration and hostilit)·.


seems to have particularly good results with people who have no specific problem but wish to have a better understanding of themselves or want to improve their ability to communicate with others.

Where it takes place

A group therapy session may take place in a hospital, a prison or a psychiatric centre. It might take place in a doctor's consulting rooms after surgery hours.

Sometimes group therapy sessions are advertised in magazines which feature forthcoming events, or they may be advertised on Town Hall or family planning clinic notice boards.

Often these sessions take place in a room specially hired for the purpose, anything from a church hall to a hotel suite. Sometimes they are held at the home of one of the group members, generally an unmarried person so that there are no interruptions.

When a session is advertised like this it is always a good idea to check that it is being run by a reputable person. Mostly they are run by societies, who are quite used to people checking up and do not mind.

What happens

What actually happens at a group therapy session depends on why it was set up. A typical encounter group session starts with exercises to help members to

Revertion to childlike behaviour is common when a person is under stress.

Possible group therapy exercises and their purpose

One member breaks into the circle formed by members interlocking arms.

To enable a new group member or a member who feels shut out to feel part of the group.

Making noises, playing tag, imitating the play­ground activity of children

To reduce anxiety and shyness in a beginning group; to warm up a group; to produce a return to childhood which allows members to lose their adult inhibitions.

Arm wrestling, tussling and other 'combat' games.

To eliminate hostile tensions between members and to teach very shy people to be more aggressive.

Members acting in pairs confront each other with their exact feelings towards each other.

To teach emotional assertiveness; to get rid of anxiety attached to being assertive.

Tug of war.

To teach teamwork and organized effort; to teach instant response to others; to dispel frustration and hostility.

Fantasy and pretend games.

To arouse emotions and to give members the opportunity to work through a difficult rela­tionship emotionally.

Miming affectionate attitudes to another group member

To teach people how to show and how to accept affection.

Members acting in pairs sum up and para­phrase partner's statements before making their own statements.

To teach each member to listen carefully to what others say before responding; to teach understanding of other's points of view.

get to know each other and work on their problems (other groups restrict them­selves to talking about problems I. K 0 lead is given as to the purpose of the group or how it should work. Not even the group organizer, or facilitator, as he or she is generally Clllled, tries to resolye

this uncertainty, for it is up to the group itselfto work out its own purpose.

The group begins to discover whether not being told what to do is unnerving and that sometimes people like or dislike one another for no good reason. Members often start by expressing very positive statements to each other. These positive sentiments are very much surface pleasantries but they help to build a web of trust around the group.


That web of trust nevertheless gives a certain right to say less pleasant things to each other and this stage is both natural and inevitable. A marked feature of the group is it powerful ability to support and heal any member of the group who seems to be under excessive pressure.

The benefits

Some critics of group therapy have sug­gested that the skill learned within the group do not transfer to the real world and that any advantages gained from group therapy do not last. However, when a specific aim, such as curing a phobia or helping a person to become more asser­tive, is involved the effects are as good as individual therapy.

With encounter and other life-style enhancing groups, effects vary from person to person but some people enjoy the experience so much that they will attend sessions just for pleasure.


Taken from The Marshall Cavendish A – Z GUIDE IN WEEKLY PARTS -   DOCTOR’S ANSWERS – PART 22, GROUP THERAPY, Page 599 – 600.


(Sorry - Due to the urgency of education on this site, spelling will be corrected at a later stage….All photos in the  script have been left out) 

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