The MAGIC of Group Therapy

Many of us who hear the words “group” and “therapy” in the same sentence find ourselves almost immediately checking out.

“Telling my problems to a complete stranger (your therapist) is hard enough.  You’re crazy if you think I am going to do that in room full of strangers!”

This thought process is very common and completely understandable.  Being a part of a group in a therapeutic setting is terrifying in a lot of ways.  There is usually a lot of fear involved.

  • Fear of judgment: “What if my life is way more wrecked than others in the group?  Will I still be accepted?”
  • Fear of recognition:  “What if someone in the group knows me, or knows someone that knows me?”
  • Fear of exposure:  “What if another person in group discusses me and my situation outside of the group; and therefore, word gets out?”

These are all valid fears, which your therapist should address with you before you begin your group; however, underneath it all, the most common and strongest fear of all, I believe is the fear of facing myself.

You see, when you become part of a specialized group, you realize very quickly that you are walking into a room of people who are like you – people who are wounded and suffering in much of the same way you are.  But not only that, they may even look like you, have similar jobs, acquired the same level of education, and so on.  This fear, which often debilitates people from being a part of group, is also the thing that can jar people loose from their stuck-ness in life and push them forward in a positive direction.

I have often said that there is a strange magic, which I can’t fully explain, that occurs in group therapy.  The way group members connect and bond is amazing to me.  I think they first do this when they realize they are not alone in what seemed like a storm that uniquely targeted them.  This experience often feels relieving to such an extent they begin to feel the presence of peace nearby.  As group progresses, members become more and more comfortable with sharing their story.  The group atmosphere becomes one that is safe, void of judgment and persecution, but full of validation, honesty, and accountability.  It becomes a place where members not only feel safe enough to challenge each other, but also welcome challenge for themselves.

“So, why should I pay for group therapy instead of being a part of 12-step group or other support group, which I can attend for free?”

I first want to be clear that group therapy should NEVER replace your support group.  Group therapy is more often considered a supplement to your support group and other therapy efforts as a way to help add intensity or maximize your change efforts.

It is important to recognize that support groups and therapy groups are profoundly different although they may seem the same on the surface. The table below illustrates some of the difference:

Support Groups

Therapy Groups

Non-Clinical: Facilitated by an active participant in the group. May have some training.


Functioning: Utilizes share-time, testimonial, no cross-talk allowed

Purpose: To meet the basic needs of the group (awareness, accountability, building a support network, including sponsorship)

Cost: Free

Clinical: Facilitated by a trained mental health professional


Functioning: Utilizes therapeutic technique and intervention to penetrate deeper into the issues at hand; cross-talk is allowed and mediated by the therapist.

Purpose: To create intensity in therapeutic experiences. To enhance or maximize change efforts

Cost: Varies, but usually cheaper than the cost of individual therapy.

For some of you reading this, you may not completely understand the information presented in the chart above.  That is perfectly understandable as I am using  a lot of clinical jargon. What I hope you can take away from the chart above about support groups and therapy groups is:

  1. They both serve a valuable role in treatment and recovery.
  2. They can be utilized simultaneously, not one over the other. And…
  3. They both are profoundly different in structure and purpose.

At Family Solutions Counseling, we run several groups, mainly focused on sex addiction treatment.  However, we have recently started a women’s processing group for women struggling with addiction or other compulsive behavior (e.g., eating disorders).

If you are having a hard time in life, please consider participating in group therapy.  If you are currently in therapy or part of a support group, ask you therapist or group leader if they are aware of any therapy groups in your area that fit with the struggles and concerns that are torturing you.  Whether it be anxiety, depression, marital, addiction, eating disorders, etc., there are usually groups out there in which you can participate.  Please contact us if you think there is any way we can be of service to you.

~ Joshua Nichols, LMFT, CSAT

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