Group therapy is diverse. There are two general ways of categorizing group therapy, by the time limits set on the duration of the group, and by the focus of the group and the way group members are selected.
First, group therapy can be offered on an ongoing basis or for a specific number of sessions. In an ongoing group, once the group starts, it continues indefinitely, with some group members completing treatment and leaving the group, and others joining along the way as openings are available in the group. Most of these groups have between six and twelve members, plus the clinician. There are some clinicians who have had a therapy group running for several years.
Time limited groups are limited in the amount of time they will run. This does not refer to the length of the group sessions, but to the number of sessions, or the number of weeks, the group will run. Time limited groups have a distinct beginning, middle and end, and usually do not add additional members after the first few sessions. Most time limited groups run for a minimum of eight to ten sessions, and many will run for up to twenty sessions. The length of these groups always depends on the purpose of the group, and the group membership. The clinician running the group will structure it to run for the number of sessions necessary to accomplish the goals of the group.
The focus of the group is another way of categorizing group therapy. Some groups are more general in focus, with goals related to improving overall life satisfaction and effective life functioning, especially in interpersonal relationships. These groups tend to be heterogeneous. This means that the group members will have varying backgrounds and varying psychological issues that they bring to the treatment group. The clinician will select group members who are likely to interact ways that will help all group members. These groups tend to be open-ended, because of the nature of the group therapy process. However, some of these groups are also time-limited, but they may run longer than most time-limited groups.
Other groups are “focused” or “topical” therapy groups. The group members tend to have similar problems because the group is focused on a specific topic or problem area. For example, there are therapy groups for Depression, Adult Children of Alcoholics, or Parents of ADHD Children. Some focus therapy groups are skill development groups, with an emphasis on learning new coping skills or changing maladaptive behavior. There are groups to help people develop Stress Management Skills, Parenting Skills, Assertiveness, and Anger Management Skills, among others. Focus therapy groups can be either open-ended or time-limited groups. The skill development groups (Stress Management, etc.) tend to be time limited and usually run between eight and sixteen sessions. The single-issue focus groups (Adult Children of Alcoholics, Women’s, or Men’s Groups, etc.) may be open-ended or they may run for a specified number of sessions.
Group therapy is different from individual therapy in several ways, with the most obvious difference being the number of people in the room with the clinician. In group therapy, the client can learn that they are not alone in experiencing psychological adjustment problems and can experiment with trying to relate to people differently in a safe environment, with a clinician present to assist as needed. Additionally, group therapy allows the client to learn from the experiences of others with similar problems and allows them to better understand how people quite different from themself view the world and interact with people. Group members are told not to discuss information shared in the group with others, and usually the need for mutual confidentiality preserves the privacy of the information.