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A common question or confusion that people have when it comes to mental health treatment is about the difference in group therapy versus support group. Though both are fundamentally conducted as part of a group of people going through a similar issue, there are some differences in many aspects of how these groups are conducted and the purpose of the groups which are highlighted below
The goal of group therapy is to bring about a change, whereas that of a support group is to help a person cope by realising that he/she may not be alone and learning from other people’s experience who are going through a similar situation. The situations are usually unchangeable. For example, coping with the death of a loved one or being diagnosed with a life-limiting illness. So, the focus is more on coping rather than trying to change.
Group therapy sessions are structured and usually closed. The therapist, after assessment, decides the suitability of a patient to attend the group therapy. The sessions are conducted by trained professionals with the aim of improving skills.
Some examples of group therapy are social skills training, speech therapy or occupational therapy groups or cognitive stimulation therapy. Herein, practicing skills with others encourages the development as well as increases self-awareness in addition to providing positive encouragement by seeing others progress as well as attaining their own goals.
Support groups, on the other hand, may be more unstructured and open-ended. The facilitator may or may not be a trained professional as the concept is to learn from others life experiences who are ‘in the same boat’. Some examples of support groups are grief support groups, care-giver’s support groups or even cancer patients support groups. As people are in different stages of their journey, the ones who have started their journey of recovery or are coping better might be able to motivate and encourage others. The participants form a support system for each other which helps them to deal with isolation and feeling hopeless.
Since support groups work on the principle of the members seeking support from each other and forming a support network, meeting outside the group setting is not prohibited. It is in fact encouraged. In group therapy, on the other hand, members are discouraged to discuss anything that happens within the group outside. This helps members to be open and allow themselves to be vulnerable as the purpose is to work on deep-rooted personal issues.
This helps the members to feel safe to share knowing that what they have shared will not be discussed outside the therapy setting. In this regard, communicating or meeting or group members outside the setting is actively discouraged
Groups are a wonderful adjunct to individual therapy and helpful in many ways. The key is finding what is best suited to your needs and reaching out when you need help.