Is Group Therapy Right For You?

Stress never feels good, but it can start to feel normal. If you can’t remember the last time you made a quick decision, that’s a sign that stress has dug in deep and made itself at home. Other symptoms include eating more or less, feeling cranky, and having trouble concentrating on what used to feel like simple tasks.

When you’re that stressed for that long, you need to stop waiting for it go to away on its own. Group therapy is one option, but it can be tough to know whether it’s the right option for you. Here’s what to consider as you examine whether or not group therapy makes sense for your circumstances.

What kind of therapist relationship do you want?

The typical patient-therapist model is one-on-one. You’re the only patient in the room, which means you’re going to get all of the therapist’s focus. Some patients love having an hour to talk about their problems. They appreciate the focused attention. For other patients, all that focused attention can feel like a nightmare.

Here’s why: therapy is intense by nature. It’s supposed to be. It’s not just a conversation with someone. You’re trying to work out some serious issues. There’s a saying that therapy often has to get worse before it gets better. It can be tough to unearth some ugly stuff from your past. It may be more comfortable if there are other people in the room with you, especially if they’re also unearthing stuff from their past.

In group therapy, the therapist acts more like a facilitator. They’ll still give advice or suggestions, but they’re also there to make sure the patients in the room can learn from each other. If a therapist tells you something is common in people with depression, you may not quite believe them. But if another person in the room says, “I also did that when I’m severely depressed,” you’ll probably consider them credible. Lived experience counts for a lot; in a group therapy session, you’ve all lived through similar, but not identical, experiences.

Where do you live?

Mental health is easier to access for some people than others. Mental health deserts are more likely to exist in rural states like Mississippi, but cities like Las Vegas also struggle with a mental health environment where there’s too much demand and not enough supply.

That’s unfortunate for many reasons. When you’re mentally ill, you’re more likely to feel isolated. It can feel like no one will understand you. That feeling only gets more intense if you try and fail to locate a therapist. You’re often, but not always, more likely to find group therapy in a big city. For instance, your chances of finding group therapy in SF are probably better than in Cedar City, Utah. San Francisco has a population of almost 900,000, after all, whereas slightly more than 30,000 people reside in Cedar City.

What triggers you?

Therapy should always be as safe a space as possible. While one-on-one therapy has the potential to trigger a patient and cause a painful emotional or physical reaction, group therapy can be more fraught if you aren’t sure what you’re getting into.

For instance, if you have post-traumatic stress disorder and can’t handle crowds, then group therapy might not be for you. It’s true that you’ll only be around a dozen other people at most, but for some people, that’s still too much, especially if all of those people are talking about traumatic incidents.

Group therapy also means getting feedback from other people who aren’t your therapist. If you have trouble accepting even constructive criticism, it might be best to work on that through some individual therapy sessions first. A good therapist won’t just throw you into their group therapy pool without warning. Instead, they’ll meet with you one-on-one to determine if you’re a good candidate.