Depression is a serious mental illness that saps your energy and reduces your quality of life. Living with depression can cause other illnesses, and it can lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices, including drug or alcohol abuse. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 20 percent of American adults who suffer from depression also have a substance abuse disorder, and 20 percent of people with a substance abuse disorder are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Depression can be effectively treated with both medication and psychotherapy, although the National Institute of Mental Health notes that psychotherapy is typically the best option for mild to moderate depression in adults.
Psychotherapy can be administered one-on-one or in a group setting. Group therapy is less expensive than individual therapy, and numerous studies, including one meta-analytic study published by the American Psychological Association, show that there is no difference in outcomes between group and individual therapy.
How Group Therapy Works
Therapy groups typically have between 5 and 15 members, along with a professionally trained therapist who facilitates the group meetings. Some groups meet for the short-term, usually between 8 and 12 weeks, while others are ongoing and may last for years. Groups meet once or twice a week for one to two hours, and they may be focused on one issue – such as depression – or they may have members who are working on a wide variety of issues.
Some groups limit members to a certain demographic, such as gender-specific groups or those made up of a certain age group. Regardless of the demographic makeup of the members, group therapy offers a number of benefits over individual therapy.
Benefits of Group Therapy
The fundamental benefit of group therapy is the realization that while different people have different issues and a variety of coping mechanisms, humans share some very basic struggles that define our species. This revelation is a very comforting concept that can help reduce feelings of isolation, particularly for those who suffer from depression, which is, by nature, an isolating condition.
The benefits don’t stop there, though. Group therapy can bring about profound experiences and important epiphanies for those suffering from a variety of conditions, including depression and substance abuse disorders.
Support and Acceptance
Groups offer support and acceptance. Group therapy is uniquely suited for forming strong bonds with other people from all walks of life. Therapy group members enjoy intense feelings of trust toward one another, promoting an honesty and openness that can lead members to share – and question – very deeply held beliefs without worrying about being judged. Groups are extremely supportive and accepting of both superficial and fundamental differences among members.
Advice and Comfort
Groups provide the opportunity to help others. Sometimes, we’re so mired in our own problems that it’s hard to imagine that we might be able to help someone else through their struggles.
But with group therapy comes the unique opportunity to share your perspectives to help bring comfort or clarity to others, which feels good and helps divert attention from your own struggles for a while. And sometimes, the advice we give others is the advice that we, too, need to take.
Groups offer a variety of perspectives. Hearing different perspectives on an issue can help you sort through and synthesize your own feelings, and it offers ways of looking at a problem that you may not have considered. This helps you learn to think through issues more objectively.
Groups can increase momentum. Learning how others grapple with their issues and overcome certain problems can be very encouraging for those who are currently working through similar situations. It’s easier to push yourself harder when you see what others have done and how they have fared.
Groups help us see ourselves more clearly. Each member of a therapy group has different experiences, and they draw on those experiences when addressing others’ issues. This enables you to see yourself from many perspectives and uncover truths about yourself that may not otherwise have been revealed.