Mental health treatment: The difference between group therapy and support groups?

If you are planning to seek mental health treatment and the idea of individual therapy does not interest you, choose group therapy or support groups.

group therapy
Ask for help when depressed through a support group. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Dr Sapna Bangar Published on: 25 January 2022, 14:00 pm IST
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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

Mental health: What is the purpose or goal of groups?

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.

mental health
Your well-being is in your hands, and if therapy is the solution, there’s nothing wrong about it! Image courtesy: Shutterstock

What is group therapy for mental health treatment?

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.

Also read: This New Year, give your mental health the priority it deserves

What are support groups for mental health treatment?

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.

Interpersonal relationships outside group settings

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.

mental health
Therapy can transform your life for the better. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

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.

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About the Author
Dr Sapna Bangar Dr Sapna Bangar

Dr Bangar is the head of MPower centre in Mumbai. She is specialist child and adolescent psychiatrist with a certificate of clinical training from the UK. She completed her undergraduate medical degree and postgraduate degree in psychiatry from Nair Hospital in Mumbai, prior to going to the UK.

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