If you suffer from nervousness, just the thought of group therapy for anxiety can be enough to get your heart beating faster. But there are good reasons why group therapy might be the right prescription for you.
First, it’s important to consider the kind of anxiety you’re feeling. Here’s a quick list of the types of anxiety that are commonly reported.
- Panic disorder describes persistent panic attacks, or periods of acute fear and terror, usually accompanied by physical sensations within the body.
- Agoraphobia refers to the fear of having a panic attack in a place where escape is not possible and help is not available.
- Specific phobia encompasses fear of certain things or places such as animals, natural environments, and blood. Situational fears include flying, bridges, or tunnels, or other specific fears.
- Social Phobia describes fear of social situations such as talking to authority figures or dating.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is caused by experiencing a traumatic event.
- General anxiety refers to ongoing, persistent fear and worry.
How Groups Work
While group therapy formats vary, you’ll usually be with 4-12 individuals who share similar experiences with anxiety. Groups are sometimes larger and may focus on learning about anxiety, in which case they are described as psychoeducational rather than therapy groups. These psychoeducational groups don’t ask participants to share their personal experiences or feelings to the same degree as therapy groups.
Participants of group therapy report that it’s a relief to know that other people have the same concerns. The feeling of “being crazy” is lessened by knowing they are not alone. It can be a relief to talk about things with people who understand and who openly share their own strategies for coping. If you’re feeling alone and isolated, group therapy can be an excellent way to re-engage outside your home in a safe place with people who understand your situation. However, group therapy is not for everyone.
Groups are often formed explicitly for individuals with specific trauma, such as war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). American war veterans frequently decline to talk about their experiences with those who have not “been there,” yet they report much greater ease with their peers. In another example, a group for PTSD due to sexual abuse or domestic violence might be separated by gender. You may find a group that specifically focuses on your experience of anxiety, such as fear of flying.
Cost and Time Efficiency
A positive feature of group therapy is its cost effectiveness, as groups can cost a fraction of individual therapy. If treatment consists of both individual and group therapy, the combination may expedite the time required for improvement. However, a positive group experience that fosters a sense of safety and camaraderie should always take precedence over cost efficiency.
Group therapy can be helpful for all the types of anxiety you might experience, but those with social anxiety may find the experience challenging. Individuals with social anxiety experience extreme distress when they must interact with others. They fear being embarrassed and judged. They may refuse to speak for fear of sounding inarticulate. Social phobia can be a debilitating condition that causes people to drop out of school, quit jobs, or never gain employment. While groups are not generally designed to address social phobias, participants in a general anxiety group may experience some degree of social phobia, resulting in diminished sharing in the group format. However, diminished sharing doesn’t imply diminished benefits.
Assessing The Benefits
Can group therapy help your anxiety? Yes, it can. You might not realize the benefits until you’ve been in the group for 6 to 8 weeks. As with anything regarding our fears and emotions, fixes don’t come quickly. A personal sense of commitment to your goals is required. Group therapy can help you achieve those goals.