Group therapy: history, types and phases

The concept of “group therapy” encompasses a large number of different interventions, which may focus on the management of specific problems, the acquisition of behavioral and cognitive skills, or the social benefits of the group experience itself.

In this article we will describe what they are the phases of group therapy and what types exist. We will also summarize the development of this therapeutic method and the main theoretical guidelines in this regard.

    History of group therapy

    Group therapy as we know it began to develop in the 1920s and 1930s. In the 1920s Pratt applied pioneering group interventions for the management of tuberculosis, while Lazell did so with schizophrenic patients.

    Psychoanalysis, which enjoyed great popularity in the first half of the 20th century, had a major influence on early group therapy. Wender transferred Sigmund Freud’s ideas about family functioning to therapeutic groups, while Schilder adopted dream and transference analysis as a methodology.

    Moreno’s psychodrama it was one of the first group therapies to gain some relevance. Moreno worked on group dynamics through dramatic and emotionally focused procedures, close to interpretation. At the same time, in her thirties and forties, Redl began to apply group therapy to children, and Slavson did the same with teenagers.

    Group therapy became popular in the United States after World War II. Slavson founded the American Group Psychotherapy Association, while his rival Moreno created the American Society of Group Psychotherapy. Later other schools and authors remarkably influenced in these therapies, like the Gestalt, the neofreudianos, Ellis or Carl Rogers.

    From the 1960s, the different traditions became more specialized and developed. A clear distinction began to be made between therapies focused on the treatment of specific disorders and others closer to what we today call psychoeducation. Cognitive-behavioral therapies they have acquired great relevance in the more practical aspect of group therapy.

      Group type

      There are many different ways to categorize therapy groups. We will focus on some of the most fundamental differentiations, especially those relating to the composition and structure of the group.

      1.psychoeducational and process-oriented

      Psychoeducational groups aim to contribute to their members information and tools for managing difficulties. They may focus on pathologies, such as psycho-educational groups for relatives of people with psychosis or bipolar disorder, or on specific topics, such as the emotional education of adolescents.

      In contrast, process-oriented groups, closer to psychodynamic and experiential traditions, focus on the usefulness of the group relationship itself for promote emotional expression and psychological change in the people involved.

      2. Young and old

      A therapeutic group is generally considered small when it consists of around 5-10 members. In these groups, interaction and cohesion are excellent and in many cases close relationships are created. The ideal group size that’s between 8 and 10 people, according to experts.

      Large groups are more productive, but tend to make it too easy to form subgroups and divide up tasks. In addition, participants in large groups tend to feel less satisfied than those in small groups.

      3. Homogeneous and heterogeneous

      The homogeneity or heterogeneity of a group can be assessed on the basis of a single criterion, such as the presence of one or more problems, or at a general level; for example, the members of a group can vary from sex, age, socio-economic level, ethnic origin, etc.

      Homogeneous groups tend to function faster, generate more cohesion, and be less problematic. However heterogeneity, especially in specific disorders or difficulties, can be very useful in presenting different behavioral alternatives.

      4. Closed and open

      In closed groups, the people present in the creation of the group are also present at the end, while in open groups members vary moreUsually because they stay active longer.

      Closed groups generate greater cohesion but are more vulnerable when members leave. Open groups apply, for example, to mental hospitals and associations such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

        Phases of group therapy

        In this section we will describe the four group therapy phases according to Gerald Corey. Although other authors speak of different phases, most classifications of the stages of the group process converge on the key aspects.

        1. Initial or orientation phase

        In the orientation phase, the central task of the therapist is build trust among group members towards him and towards the rest of the participants. The rules, both explicit and implicit, must also be clear. There is often a conflict between the needs for autonomy and the needs of belonging to a group.

        2. Transition stage

        After the initial phase is possible that members have doubts on the benefits they can derive from the group as well as the fear of exposure. It is common for conflicts to arise between members and for the authority of the therapist to be called into question.

        3. Work stage

        According to Corey, in the work phase, there is cohesion between the participants of the resolve specific problems and conflicts that arise in the group itself. The therapist may challenge the limbs in an effort to advance toward therapeutic goals.

        4. Final phase or consolidation

        During the consolidation phase, a recap of progress made by members, Which aims to integrate the experience of group therapy into everyday life.

        Participants may experience sadness and fear of facing new difficulties without the help of their peers and the therapist, so it is a good idea to prepare well for completion and to schedule sessions for completion. follow-up, if necessary.

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