Guest post by Janetti Marotta, PhD.
- Group services in a variety of settings appear an effective therapeutic intervention.
- Support group participants not only receive support from one another, but also share information, resources, and suggestions for improved coping.
- Psycho-educational groups offer valuable information, group interaction, tools for change, and take-home material for participants to apply practices in everyday life.
- Blending a support group with a psycho-education group, and shifting into a process group to attend to interpersonal dynamics, can be a useful model of treatment.
- To maximize therapeutic benefits and know how to handle clinical dilemmas, leaders need to distinguish between a support group, psycho-educational group, interpersonal process group, and hybrid group model.
Group services in a variety of settings appear an effective therapeutic intervention (Burlingame, Fuhriman, & Mosier, 2003; Holmes & Kivlighan, J., 2000). In comparison to individual treatment or standard health care, group therapies have been found to be cost-effective (Lamb et al., 2010), linked to lower dropout rate (Minniti et al., 2007) and determined time efficient in terms of serving more individuals at once (Sobell, Sobell, & Agrawal, 2009). Significant therapeutic factors are linked to group therapy (Yalom, & Leszcz, 2006), and therapeutic benefits of psychotherapy have been found to be enhanced through mindfulness practices (Germer, Siegel & Fulton, 2013).
Professionally-led support groups and psycho-educational groups comprise the majority of group interventions today. They require no prior screening and are found in a variety of settings, from hospitals and clinics to community centers and universities. Support groups are time limited, open ended, or drop-in and cost a nominal amount or are provided free of charge. For many participants, joining a support group can feel like finding “home.” In the comfort of a group with others sharing similar life challenges, the basic need of feeling understood quickly emerges. In a safe container of shared empathy, group members often shift from feelings of alienation to an ever-growing sense of connection. As members impart the unique issues of their common situation, i.e. diabetes, cancer, or post-partum depression, participants receive not only support, but also obtain information, resources, and suggestions for improved coping.
In contrast to support groups, psycho-education groups are typically highly structured, time limited (typically four to twelve sessions), and capable of enrolling a large number of participants in each program. Because enrollment is to an education class rather than a counseling group, participants are less resistant to register, as issues such as depression or generalized stress are “de-pathologized.” Psycho-educational groups offer valuable information, group interaction, tools for change, and take-home material for participants to apply practices in everyday life. Because everyone shares the same incentive for participation, bonding often occurs quickly and naturally. Many psycho-educational groups today offer a mind-body approach which helps participants make more room for themselves; they create strength, hope, and resilience for the challenge at hand.
It is not uncommon for facilitators to blend a support group and a psycho-education group. A support group component is either built into the group time frame or emerges given facilitator discretion. There is always the possibility of a group dynamic occurring that interferes with leading a support and/or psycho-education group. Shifting into a process group by attending to the interpersonal dynamics in the here-and-now can be especially important, if not necessary.
To maximize the powerful benefits of groups and know how to handle clinical dilemmas therapeutically as they occur, leaders need to distinguish between a support group, psycho-educational group, interpersonal process group, and hybrid group model. Learning about forming, deepening the group encounter, and intervening when most needed in different types of groups, helps to build confidence as a group leader and capitalize on the power of the group experience.
Janetti Marotta, PhD, has been leading psychotherapy and support groups over 25 years and mindfulness-based groups over 10 years. Along with her private practice, she is coordinator of the Mind-Body Program at PAMF Fertility and author of the book: 50 Mindful Steps to Self-Esteem.