Research, and Practice, 2012).
“An individual group therapist, no matter how skilled,
cannot keep up with the richness of the group experience,”
says Sally H. Barlow, PhD, professor of psychology at Brigham
Young University. Important cues, particularly non-verbal
cues, are in danger of being missed with only one leader at
Research is also shedding light on how, exactly, groups help
people heal. One important factor is the ability to interact with
peers. Numerous studies, including Kivlighan’s 2012 work in
Group Dynamics, have found that peer interactions tap into
many therapeutic factors.
“In cases of abuse or trauma, groups provide social support,
they improve social networks and they can reduce stigma,
isolation and feelings of alienation among members,” says
In fact, according to Stanford University’s Irvin David Yalom,
MD, in the 2005 book “The Theory and Practice of Group
Psychology,” hearing from peers may be more helpful than
receiving guidance from a therapist since peers can identify with
one another. Those peer interactions appear to translate to real-world gains. In a meta-analysis of five studies, Kelly L. Callahan
of Harvard Medical School found that sexual abuse survivors
improved markedly after participating in group therapy
(Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 2004).
And as participants improve, the group as a whole benefits,
says Brown. “Members can be agents of change for each other,”
she says. “Seeing others’ progress can help group members
realize they, too, can cope and feel better.”
Group therapy also offers advantages for the psychologist:
The approach allows therapists to observe relational patterns,
says Kivlighan. Rather than rely on the accuracy (or inaccuracy)
of self-reports, patients reveal their problems through
interactions with other members.
“The group becomes a mini-re-creation of the patients’
universes,” says Kivlighan. “You have so much more data
available to you in the group setting. All you have to do is
Amy Paturel is a writer in Murrieta, Calif.