With many more people finding themselves experiencing depression and anxiety in the past three years, demand for mental health services has skyrocketed.
The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that most Americans believe the country is in a mental health crisis, which the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified. That’s in addition to life’s everyday struggles, which can become more pronounced this time of year as issues like holiday stress and grief and seasonal affective disorder arise.
Group therapy can offer a solution that helps several people at once while providing some unique benefits.
“Group therapy involves one or two therapists typically working with four to 10 people who are dealing with similar issues that they are looking to improve,” says Michael Larkey, MSW, LCSW, a therapist withThedaCare Behavioral Health in Menasha.
The program offers groups focused on depression, anxiety, mindfulness, emotional regulation and challenging cognitive behaviors. It also offers therapy for more specific issues such as managing pain or support for people before and after bariatric surgery.
“Most research shows that group and individual therapy have similar outcomes,” Larkey says. “But some studies show group therapy can be more effective.”
He cites several benefits of mental health help in this kind of setting.
- You find people who can relate. “Most clients who complete group therapy consistently tell me, ‘This made me feel like I am not alone,’” Larkey says. They find people in similar circumstances who struggle with similar emotions. “Group therapy gives you a safe space to interact with others and learn the power that connection can have in real time, helping you relate to others and yourself in healthier ways.”
- It feels good to give and receive help. In “open” groups — where group members start at different times — people can share their progress and in doing so, may feel empowered to support new members. “Being able to give and receive support from others helps one’s overall mental health,” Larkey says. “Dopamine — the ‘feel-good’ chemical messenger — is increased when we give and receive help from others. We get better when we feel heard.”
- Expressing oneself can be healing. “Group therapy can give you a voice or help you find your own voice. You don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not, which can be the case in other environments in a person’s life,” Larkey says. “When you connect with other people in a group setting, it can help you discuss your own feelings as they’re happening. This can be validating.”
- It’s empowering to work together toward a common goal. “A shared goal can help people influence one another positively and provide motivation to make healthy changes,” Larkey says. “You can learn new perspectives with others and feel safe to share your own perspective.” This approach might open you up to ideas you haven’t heard previously since many people exist in their own “information bubbles,” he says.
Finding the right group
“Group therapy is trial and error just as in anything else,” says Jeanine Rysewyk, LPC, a counselor with ThedaCare Behavioral Health. “At times, people need an extra boost of education or clarity, and we can give them that in a group setting.”
In the selection process, she suggests you understand the following about the group before choosing the right one for you.
- Make sure it concentrates on a like-minded struggle you’re facing and matches what you’re looking to overcome.
- Understand the duration of each session, the facilitation format, questions asked and how long each person is encouraged to speak.
- It’s important to attend the meetings regularly, so location, time and day of week, and frequency might make all the difference in whether group therapy will be effective for you.
ThedaCare Behavioral Health offers groups both online — through a telehealth option — and in person, so you have choices depending on your needs and preferences.
Once you determine the group best suited for you, Rysewyk recommends attending a minimum of two group sessions before deciding whether to continue. Preparation for those two sessions is key to getting the most out of them.
“I challenge people to prepare for the group setting. Many people are nervous to be vulnerable in a group, so one way to prepare is to talk with a friend for encouragement the day of each session,” Rysewyk says. “Most clients seem to adjust well, saying they feel part of a great dynamic instead of being ‘just a problem.’”
A bonus of group therapy (compared to individual therapy) is that more people can have immediate and sustained access to mental health services. “People are able to get into services quicker and learn skills in a more efficient manner, coming to group therapy weekly for a set period of time,” Larkey says.
Learn more about therapy options through ThedaCare Behavioral Health. Call (920) 720-2300 for information on group therapy offerings.