Group therapy is very diverse. Psychologists with different theoretical training will use group therapy for many different types of psychological problems and concerns. There are two general ways of categorizing
group therapy, by the time limits set on the duration of the group, and by the focus of the group and the way group members are selected.
First, group therapy can be offered on an ongoing basis or for a specific number of sessions. In an ongoing group, once the group starts, it continues indefinitely, with some group members completing treatment and
leaving the group, and others joining along the way as openings are available in the group. Most of these groups have between six and twelve members, plus the psychologist. There are some psychologists who have had
a therapy group running for ten years or more.
Time limited groups are just as you would expect, limited in the amount of time they will run. This does not refer to the length of the group sessions, but to the number of sessions, or the number of weeks, the
group will run. Time limited groups have a distinct beginning, middle and end, and usually do not add additional members after the first few sessions. Most time limited groups run for a minimum of eight to ten
sessions, and many will run for up to twenty sessions. The length of these groups always depends on the purpose of the group, and the group membership. The psychologist running the group will structure it to run for
the number of sessions necessary to accomplish the goals of the group.
The focus of the group is another way of categorizing group therapy. Some groups are more general in focus, with goals related to improving overall life satisfaction and effective life functioning, especially in
the area of interpersonal relationships. These groups tend to be heterogeneous. This means that the group members will have varying backgrounds, and varying psychological issues that they bring to the treatment
group. The psychologist will select group members who are likely to interact ways that will help all group members. These groups tend to be open-ended, because of the nature of the group therapy process. However,
some of these groups are also time-limited, but they may run longer than most time-limited groups.
Other groups are "focused" or "topical" therapy groups. The group members tend to have similar problems because the group is focused on a specific topic or problem area. For example, there are
therapy groups for Depression, Adult Children of Alcoholics, or Parents of ADHD Children. Some focus therapy groups are skill development groups, with an emphasis on learning new coping skills or changing
maladaptive behavior. There are groups to help people develop Stress Management Skills, Parenting Skills, Assertiveness, and Anger Management Skills, among others. Focus therapy groups can be either open-ended or
time-limited groups. The skill development groups (Stress Management, etc.) tend to be time limited and usually run between eight and sixteen sessions. The single-issue focus groups (Adult Children of Alcoholics,
Women's or Men's Groups, etc.) may be open-ended or they may run for a specified number of sessions.
Group therapy is different from individual therapy in a number of ways, with the most obvious difference being the number of people in the room with the psychologist. Originally, group therapy was used as a
cost-saving measure, in institutional settings where many people needed psychological treatment and there were too few psychologists to provide the treatment. However, in conducting research on the effectiveness of
these therapy groups, psychologists discovered that the group experience benefited people in many ways that were not always addressed in individual psychotherapy. Likewise, it was also discovered that some people
did not benefit from group therapy.
In group therapy, you learn that you are not alone in experiencing psychological adjustment problems, and you can experiment with trying to relate to people differently in a safe environment, with a psychologist
present to assist as needed. Additionally, group therapy allows you to learn from the experiences of others with similar problems, and also allows you to better understand how people very different from yourself
view the world and interact with people. Of course, there are many other differences between group therapy and individual psychotherapy. Many people are anxious about participating in group therapy, because they
don't want other people (in addition to the psychologist) to know about their problems. Group members are told not to discuss information shared in the group with others, and usually the need for mutual
confidentiality preserves the privacy of the information.