Group Therapy: Definition, Uses & Types

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  • 1:17 Family Therapy
  • 1:40 Couples Therapy
  • 2:15 Support Groups
  • 2:50 Transference
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ellie Green

Ellie holds a B.A. with Honors in English from Stanford University. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in English Literature at Princeton University.

When an individual has personal problems they want to work on with the help of a professional therapist, they don't necessarily have to do it one-on-one. They could benefit from group therapy instead. When is group therapy a good option?

Though many patients choose to see a therapist individually, sometimes a patient's particular problems are better served by group therapy. Groups can be made up of people who already know each other, like couples or families, or of people whose primary connection is through the group itself. The therapists leading the groups use a variety of therapeutic approaches, sometimes adjusting the style depending on the developing needs of the group.

Mary's been happily seeing a humanistic therapist like Carl Rogers for about 20 years. In that time, she's gotten married to a used-car salesman named Larry and had a son, Chris, who is now a teenager. She's concerned because Chris has been smoking a lot of marijuana. She's tried to get him to stop, but he doesn't listen. He's smoking enough to interfere with his schoolwork, and he doesn't have many friends outside of some stoner buddies. He says that he smokes because Mary is 'too uptight' and puts pressure on him. The situation with Chris is putting stress on her marriage to Larry as well, since he doesn't seem to think it's as big of a deal as she does. Mary decides that it's time the family went in for some group therapy.

In family therapy, a therapist will see more than one family member at a time. Sometimes Mary, Larry and Chris will all go; sometimes it will just be Chris with one of his parents. Family therapy aims to help them work out conflicts that stem from their family roles and their relationships with each other; Chris links his drug problem to his relationship with his parents, so the therapist works on resolving that.

Mary and Larry also decide to try couples therapy, or relationship counseling, to work out problems that have cropped up in how they interact with each other. Larry's dismissiveness of Mary's concerns about Chris makes her think they really need to work on communicating about values and goals. A couple's therapist can help them to practice active listening instead of being defensive when they criticize each other.

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