Anxiety can make you feel like you’re all alone in your fears. But many people live with this condition every day. Hearing from others who know what it’s like can make you feel less isolated and help you find new ways to deal with nervous feelings. Group therapy is one way to make those connections as part of your treatment.
What a Group Is Like
Group therapy usually includes five to 15 people with a common issue -- in this case, anxiety -- who meet, usually every week for an hour or so. Yours might be for people with all types of anxiety or for specific types, such as social phobia. Most groups are held in person in a space like a community center or hospital. Others meet online.
A trained therapist will lead the sessions. Your therapist will talk to you and the group and make suggestions about dealing with anxiety. You’ll also talk with other members of the group, who share their experiences and may make suggestions to each other. The goal is to learn about yourself and find new ways to ease your anxious feelings. You might improve your relationships with others, feel more connected, and be more satisfied with your life, too.
Groups that focus on anxiety often use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In CBT, a therapist helps you identify negative thoughts (including anxious ones) and replace them with healthier, more realistic ones. Some sessions may include outings or social events.
You may decide to see a therapist on your own and also go to a group, along with using other treatments for anxiety, such as medication.
Finding the Right Group
Before you join, it can help to ask the organizer or therapist running the group these questions:
Is this group open or closed? Can people join at any time, or does everyone begin together and meet for a set period of time (for example, 12 weeks)? Starting together as a closed group may help you get to know the members better, making for good, productive conversations. But with an open group, you can start therapy right away instead of waiting for the next open session.
How many people are in the group? A large gathering means you get to hear from more people. A small one can give you more time to work through your own feelings. A psychologist or another therapist can help you decide which size suits your needs.
Do all the members have anxiety? There are lots of different kinds of support groups. They often work best when most of the members have similar issues.
What are the rules for sharing in this group? A therapist won’t share anything you say to her. Group members aren’t supposed to, either. Ground rules about keeping what’s shared during therapy confidential can help the members build trust with each other.
What to Consider
One of the biggest advantages is that you’ll get support from other people who feel like you do. That can improve your mood and make you feel less alone.
Other people who have started to treat their anxiety may inspire you. You might pick up tips or techniques that help you deal with your own situation.
Helping problem-solve for your fellow group members can also remind you that you know a lot about managing anxiety. That can prompt you to use those skills in your own life. And group therapy is often less expensive than individual counseling.
There can be drawbacks, though. If one person doesn’t want to open up to the group, others may hesitate to share their thoughts. That can make sessions less effective.
While you may get helpful ideas from other members, don’t take their opinions and comments more seriously than the therapist who is leading the group.
If you have concerns about how your group is going, you may want to privately talk to the therapist who leads it to see if they can change how things are done. Or you may want to try another group or one-on-one therapy.