What Is Group Therapy?

Group therapy is a psycho-therapeutic treatment within a carefully formed group, in which group members talk about their difficulties, their lives, and everything that matters to them. Under the guidance of a professionally trained group therapist, group members help each other explore the personal, interpersonal, and social factors that shape their relationships and affect their psychological health. Within a therapy group, stimulating, lively, thoughtful, and supportive interactions between group members become a powerful way of learning about oneself and others, providing new perspectives and opportunities for personal development.

Group therapy has been shown to be effective for a variety of life situations and difficulties. Perhaps best known for its role in the psychological treatment for anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, emotional, and relationship difficulties, it can also be helpful to those who struggle with the effects of trauma, loss, grief, divorce, or the psychological impact of health-related issues. Group therapy can also help group members uncover their personal aspirations and develop their creativity, in part by facilitating authentic self-expression, increasing self-awareness, and by developing new and more fruitful ways of relating and interacting with others.

The idea of treating people in groups originated in the 1940s in the wake of World War II when psychoanalyst S.H. Foulkes used group therapy to efficiently and economically treat returning soldiers suffering from combat fatigue. Foulkes’ group treatments facilitated healing and gave veterans hope by providing a safe space to process difficult experiences and feelings.

The effectiveness of group therapy for trauma-related disorders—as well as a variety of other emotional and psychological difficulties—is well established. Multiple studies have demonstrated its efficacy in improving the psychological health of cancer patients, treating anxiety disorders, and overcoming depression. Moreover, this treatment model exceeds the Society of Clinical Psychology’s efficacy standards for panic disorder, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social phobia, and substance abuse recovery.

Who Can Be Helped By Group Therapy?

Humans are social creatures. We derive much of our happiness and fulfilment from our interactions and sense of connection with the various groups in our lives, for example our families, couple relationships, and our work and friendship groups.

Despite the importance of connection, many of us struggle to find a comfortable balance between belonging, closeness, and intimacy on the one hand; and authenticity and being true to ourselves on the other. Group counselling can help group members to reflect and better balance these core aspects of life.

Group therapy has the potential to help a wide variety of people. It is a powerful therapeutic medium which offers an opportunity to better understand ourselves, to become more aware of and correct unhelpful family dynamics and patterns of communication which for many of us originate in our families of origin. In group therapy we can observe and practice new ways of relating and interacting with others within a supportive, safe, and thoughtful environment.

How Does Group Therapy Work?

We are all born into a group: our family. This original family group acts as an inner, often unconscious,  model for our future relationships and interactions, shaping our ideas and beliefs of what “normal” relationships look and feel like and what roles we should play within them.

Unfortunately, these social “lessons” learned from our earliest relationships may not be conducive to our current and future relationships. For example, the child of an abusive and/or neglectful parent might learn to repress their feelings as a form of self-preservation. This person might then carry this fear of intimacy into adulthood, leading to social isolation and loneliness.

The group therapy environment provides an opportunity for re-socialisation, helping group members to learn and grow in ways that their family of origin may have been unable to offer. As each member, over time, progressively shares their feelings, thoughts, ideas, problems, struggles, and progress, the multiplicity of responses and perceptions they receive back from the group can be very helpful in developing a more balanced self-image. This can be very helpful in improving low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and relationship difficulties.

People who consider joining a therapy group might wonder how to overcome low self-esteem, depression, or anxiety within a group therapeutic context. This happens as we discover through the group’s reflections that we have gifts, talents, strengths, and vulnerabilities that may have been ignored. As our self image evolves over time from the feedback of the group, we can see ourselves differently—in a more differentiated and true light. This can inspire far-reaching changes and enhance our sense of well-being. In summary, group therapy offers an arena for new essential experiences, which can enable us to learn to better pay attention to ourselves and our feelings, to become more aware of others and their feelings, and to better deal with conflict in relationships. The development of these vital interpersonal and social skills go inevitably hand in hand with a reduction of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and social isolation.

Learning to change in this way requires a strong and sustained commitment to self-development, and assimilating the benefits of group therapy takes time. On the other hand, this process of growth and change can be deeply rewarding and engender a new sense of vitality and belonging in our life which we can carry into our relationships, families, and other areas of life.

Meet The Group Therapist Kirsten Heynisch

I am a Chartered Clinical Psychologist, qualified Group Analyst & Group-Analytic Supervisor, and Accredited Practitioner of Mentalization-Based Treatment (MBT). My extensive training and professional experience coupled with my passion and commitment to support people to heal, develop, and unfold their true potential are important ingredients that I bring to the experience of facilitating therapy groups.

I have trained and worked as a psychologist and psychotherapist for over 25 years. Within the last twelve years, I have undergone extensive specialist training in group-analytic therapy. This included six years of being a client in a therapy group, whilst simultaneously studying and practising group therapy in some depth. This experience has definitely changed me, my way of communicating, my sense of belonging, and my connectedness with others. Being part of a therapy group for six years helped me to see and experience first-hand the potential and great value of this powerful therapeutic modality.

I have facilitated therapy groups within the context of the NHS for the last twelve years. In April 2018, I set up my first private therapy group in Chesham, Buckinghamshire. The group is thriving and growing.

If you are curious and interested in joining my therapy group, I will be delighted to hear from you. Please contact me via my website to arrange an initial consultation.

Due to Social Distancing, my therapy group is now meeting weekly online. If you are interested in engaging in Group Therapy, this could be a very meaningful step at this particular time. Group Therapy is a powerful therapeutic medium. Online Group Therapy creates the rich opportunity for new group members to join from across the UK and possibly other countries. Please feel free to contact me to explore potential next steps.