Why Group Therapy Works

I am firm believer that group psychotherapy is one of the most powerful tools for growth and change having witnessed amazing results firsthand. The power of a group lies in that a group allows for the creation of a person's social microcosm, where the patterns of how you relate to people outside of group are recreated inside the group. Thus, while you speak about your struggles in individual psychotherapy, you live out your struggles in group therapy. Furthermore, there is a vast amount of research which shows that in many cases group psychotherapy is more effective that individual therapy, especially when interpersonal difficulties are a primary concern or when a person's alienation, isolation and lack of support exacerbates their symptoms of depression and anxiety.


Group therapy provides the unique opportunity to receive multiple perspectives, support, encouragement, and interpersonal feedback from other individuals in safe and confidential environment. During the group session, members are responsible for talking about what is currently troubling them. Discussion flows according to what members would like to talk about, and in general, there is not a specific theme or topic that the group is assigned discuss. Members are encouraged to give support and feedback to others, and to work with the reactions and responses that other members' contributions bring up for them. As individuals begin interacting freely with other group members, they usually re-experience or recreate some of the interpersonal difficulties that prompted them to seek therapy in the first place. Within the context of a safe, supportive therapeutic atmosphere, the group is able to point out these troublesome interpersonal patterns by providing honest feedback. Thus, the group provides members the opportunity to witness how their behavior impacts others and how, in turn, they are impacted by others. As individuals increase their self-awareness, develop new ways of relating to people, and learn to relate more authentically with others, they are then able to generalize those skills to "real world" outside of group.

Common Struggles

Addressed in Group Therapy:

  • Unfulfilling or unhealthy relationships

  • Feeling lonely, isolated or disconnected

  • Struggles with emotional intimacy

  • Difficulties with conflict

  • Feeling chronically misunderstood

  • Difficulties asking for help

  • Difficulties depending on others

  • Struggles with assertiveness

  • Difficulties expressing your needs

  • Low self-esteem and self-criticism

  • Fears of rejection or abandonment

  • Perfectionism and over-functioning

  • Discomfort in social situations

  • Struggles with your identity

  • Struggles with depression or anxiety

  • Concerns about how you are perceived by others

What You Can Expect in My Psychotherapy Groups

The therapy groups that I run in my practice are “interpersonal process groups” where the common elements that bring members together are the desire for self-understanding and a shared commitment to strive towards authenticity. These groups are comprised of 5-8 individuals and meet on a weekly basis for approximately 90 minutes. The groups are varied in their composition, but all members are psychologically-minded and have had previous individual psychotherapy (or are currently in individual psychotherapy), thus they are prepared to do the more advanced psychological work of an interpersonal process group.

 

The first few sessions of a psychotherapy group  usually focus on the establishment of trust. During this time, I will help the group members work towards establishing a level of trust that allows them to communicate openly and honestly. In a climate of trust, people feel free to care about and help each other. New members are often amazed at how much their contributions help other members.  Group trust is enhanced when all members make a commitment to the group as evidenced by their consistent attendance and their attempts to engage authentically, genuinely, and openly with one another. During the group meeting time, members are responsible for talking about what is troubling them.  Discussion flows according to what members would like to talk about; as the group therapist, I do not generally assign topics for the group to discuss, though will share my observations of potential personal or group issues that could merit further exploration.  Members are encouraged to give support and feedback to others, and to work with the reactions and responses that other members' contributions bring up for them.  Group members and the group therapist may serve as models for effective communication, offer problem-solving strategies, and promote self-acceptance .


Unexpressed feelings are a major reason why people experience difficulties and distress in their lives. Sharing your thoughts and feelings in a safe and supportive environment is an important part of group therapy and strongly affects how much you will be helped. The climate of trust provided by the group promotes an environment where members feel safe to share their struggles and work collaboratively to understand one another.
 

As individuals begin interacting freely with other group members, they usually re-experience or recreate some of the interpersonal difficulties that brought them to the group in the first place. Many of the reasons people seek help with personal issues usually stem from difficulties in their relationships with others. Within the context of a safe, supportive therapeutic atmosphere, the group is able to point out troublesome interpersonal patterns by providing feedback and support and offering alternatives, and in such a way that the difficulty becomes resolved. As individuals increase their self-awareness, develop new ways of relating to people, and learn new adaptive behaviors, they make progress towards their personal goals that brought them to the group.

 

New Therapy Groups Starting Fall 2019

Limited Number of Openings Available

Mixed Gender Interpersonal Process Psychotherapy Group

Tuesdays 6:00 - 7:30pm

This group is a interpersonal process psychotherapy group that provides a safe, supportive environment for individuals to process their personal struggles and explore healthier ways of relating to others. This group is ideal for those who wish to gain self-awareness and learn how to cultivate more intimate, satisfying relationships. Insight and self-growth are facilitated as members share their struggles, provide support, exchange honest feedback, and practice more honest, authentic ways of relating. Those experiencing depression, anxiety, loneliness, relationship struggles, poor self-esteem/self-confidence, and trust issues can benefit from this group.

An initial assessment session is required before you can participate to assess if the group would be a good fit for your needs. This group is intended to be a long-term group, and a 12-session minimum commitment is required.

This group will meet on a weekly basis for 90-minutes. Cost is $65 per group session.  

Interpersonal Process Psychotherapy Group for Mental Health Clinicians

Meeting times TBD

This is a long-term interpersonal process psychotherapy group for professionals in the mental health field interested in furthering their personal and professional growth. This group provides a safe, supportive environment for mental health clinicians to connect with fellow clinicians with an aim of further developing their capacity to establish more meaningful, authentic, and nourishing relationships in their lives through the process of cultivating a deeper awareness of their relational patterns. The here-and-now is a central focus of the group wherein all thoughts, feelings and associations to the process are explored. Insight and self-growth are facilitated as members share their personal struggles and professional challenges (including countertransference concerns), exchange honest feedback, and practice relating in more authentic and emotionally vulnerable manner.

An initial assessment session is required before you can participate to assess if the group would be a good fit for your needs. This group is intended to be a long-term group, and a 12-session minimum commitment is required.

Ongoing weekly meeting time to be determined based on the collective needs of the group members. Potential meeting times are Wednesdays 7pm-8:30pm or Thursdays from 12-1:30pm. Cost is $65 per group session.

Ready to join a group? Contact Dr. Sophia Aguirre for  more information!
Ready to join a group? Contact Dr. Sophia Aguirre for  more information!

Frequently Asked Questions About Group Therapy

How effective is group therapy?
Group therapy has been proven effective in helping young adults deal with a broad range of issues from mild adjustment and developmental concerns to severe or chronic mental health concerns. It has been shown to be as effective as individual therapy, and for some issues, it can be even more effective than individual therapy.

How can group therapy be as effective as individual therapy?
Group therapy is typically just as effective as individual therapy for various reasons. First, most members identify with issues other members share and find they are helping themselves just by being present and processing the issues vicariously. Second, by listening, giving feedback, and engaging other group members about their concerns, you may also be practicing new ways of interacting. Third, group therapy offers the opportunity to get multiple perspectives and increased support from peers. Fourth, the group environment offers a safe a place to try out behaviors or new ways of being.

What kind of people join therapy groups?
For many of these difficulties and concerns, group is the most effective therapy method for resolving that concern. Most often people participate in group therapy because they are having difficulties in their relationships or have something in their lives that they are finding painful and difficult to handle. 

Some examples of the types of personal issues that members bring to group are:

  • Discomfort in social situations

  • Lack of intimacy in relationships

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Family of origin problems

  • Dissatisfaction with their friendships or romantic relationships

  • Poor self-esteem and lack of self confidence


What does a typical group session look like?
My psychotherapy groups are typically unstructured. There isn't a specific topic for each group session, but of some of the groups may be target to specific group of individuals (e.g., women, men, or graduate students, etc). I provide an opportunity for a brief check-in at the start of the group, but after this check-in,  it is the group members’ responsibility to bring any issues to the group that they feel are important, and a primary focus of therapy in the group is on the interactions among group members. Members are encouraged to give support and feedback to others, and to work with the reactions and responses that other members' contributions bring up for them.

How does group psychotherapy differ from a self-help group?   

The psychotherapy group is different from support and self-help groups in that it not only helps people cope with their problems, but also provides for change and growth. Support groups help people cope with difficult situa-tions at various times but are usually geared toward alleviating symptoms. Self-help groups usually focus on a particular shared symptom or situation and are usually not led by a trained therapist.
 

What is your role  as the group therapist?
As the group therapist, I use my knowledge and experience to facilitate, promote, and monitor individual and group growth and change. During the initial sessions, I will focus on establishing norms and creating an atmosphere of trust, and safety so that group members will feel a sense of security in self-disclosure. As the group proceeds, I may direct the therapy as necessary, provide feedback and support, and help individuals identify themes which block personal growth. In an effort to increase interpersonal growth, I will also share my observations regarding relational dynamics, group dynamics, communication patterns, and share possible underlying feelings and meanings behind issues being dealt with or avoided. I will also work to strike a balance within the group so no one is dominating and no one goes unheard. I encourage you to request my assistance as needed during group sessions, and to openly share your reactions and thoughts concerning my role and interventions during group.

 

How does listening to other people’s problems helps me?
Group therapy is far more than the simple extension of individual treatment, with the group leader going from one person to the other in rapid succession. Just listening to another person's problem is rarely helpful to anyone, the listener or the person with the problem. Effective group therapy is more about the relationships that group members develop with each other in group and how these relationships trigger past relational patterns, both helpful and ineffective. Not only are group members able to identify their difficulties, they are able to identify their strengths and build on them. Far more important is the group becomes a vehicle for people to identify and deal with their own emotional blocks and limitations.
 

Do I need to receive individual therapy in addition to group therapy?

Sometimes group therapy is used as the main or only treatment approach. Sometimes it’s used along with individual therapy. Often people find that working simultaneously in both group and individual therapy stimulates growth in mutually complementary ways. Also, clients may see two different therapists for individual and group therapies.

 

What if I’m uncomfortable discussing my problems in front of others?
It’s not unusual to feel uneasy or embarrassed when first joining a group, but soon you begin to develop feelings of interest and trust. Most clients find that group therapy provides a great deal of relief because it allows them a chance to talk with others who are experiencing similar problems -- in a private, confidential setting. Most new members find that the group process quickly draws them in and they begin sharing in ways they had not expected. As the group therapist, I will help facilitate conversations and can help process whatever anxiety the group may be feeling. 
 

Do I have to reveal all my deepest fears and feelings to the group?
No, you do not. You alone decide how much you want to share and no one can force you to reveal your secrets or feelings. Most group members tend to share more about themselves when they feel safe in the group. While I recognize that sharing can sometimes be uncomfortable, I also know that many members report getting more out of group when they decide to share more personal aspects of themselves. I encourage you to be aware of your pace for group involvement and to share when you feel comfortable doing so.
 

What kind of commitment do I need to make?
My groups are long-term, open-ended process groups. Each member commits to participate in the group for a minimum of  10 sessions. This agreement assures that the group process will not be disrupted by new members dropping in for one or two sessions and then dropping out. This agreement also ensures that you will make enough of a commitment to benefit from the group.
 

 

Dr. Sophia Aguirre, Ph.D, CGP

Licensed Psychologist

Certified Group Psychotherapist

(404) 565-4385 (Atlanta)
(541) 357-8513 (Eugene)

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ATLANTA OFFICE:

675 Seminole Ave, Suite T-05

Atlanta, GA 30307

EUGENE OFFICE:

132 E. Broadway Suite 500

Eugene, OR 97401

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​© 2019 by Dr. M. Sophia Aguirre, Ph.D., CGP