The expectations and practice of group therapy differs from institution to institution. At inpatient treatment centers, group therapy often occurs several times a day, allowing fellow residents to really get to know each other. At outpatient treatment centers, however, group therapy meetings might occur on a weekly schedule. Meetings are generally one hour long, though they can sometimes extend to roughly two hours.
At the beginning of a group therapy session, it is common for physicians to begin with an icebreaker to help people relax and open up. Fun group therapy games not only serve as valuable ways of developing comfort in a new setting, but they often have clinical value as well. Group therapy activities for adults with mental illness, for example, often help people combat their anxieties and phobias in a safe and playful way. Some forms of group therapy, such as play therapy, involve group therapy activities for the entirety of each session.
The majority of group therapy meetings, however, eventually move on to a more focused discussion period. The clinician will often come prepared with group therapy discussion questions. In process-oriented group therapy meetings, these group therapy topics will often emerge naturally from the group’s developing concerns and interests. The clinician moderates and directs the course of the group’s discussion, sometimes having the group take turns sharing in a round, and other times having them split off into two-person dyads.
During group therapy discussions, it is crucial for individuals to be able to discuss their thoughts and feelings freely. Unlike traditional one-on-one therapy, where one person simply communicates thoughts about their own life, during the course of group therapy people will inevitably express their thoughts and feelings about each other. It is natural for members to have thoughts and feelings as they react to experiences related by other members. Group therapy is designed to be a safe and supportive space for people to express themselves. In fact, getting and receiving real-time feedback in a community setting is often helpful for improving behavioral, emotional, and even physical health.
At the end of a group therapy meeting, clinicians sometimes assign homework to members. This homework, which often comes in the form of group therapy worksheets, is designed to facilitate further discussion and help members progress in their recovery. An individual who suffers from social anxiety might, for instance, be asked to fill out a worksheet listing 5 phone calls they made that week.
Someone dealing with anger issues may be asked to describe the thoughts that led up to an outburst. Individuals recovering from substance use disorders may be asked to record the triggers they experienced that week. Group therapy homework is not graded and there are no wrong answers. Rather, it is intended to help bring issues to the forefront of the group consciousness that might have evaded detection.
Group therapy meetings sometimes meet regularly for an indefinite period, providing people with a safe space that they have the option of attending for years. Many rehabs and treatment centers provide group therapy that is finite and goal-directed. In this latter case, group therapy meetings might last for 12 to 16 weeks. After this, clinicians evaluate members’ needs on an individual basis to determine the next step of their treatment plan.