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Beating Phobia with Group Therapy

written by: Emma Lloyd • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 6/12/2011

Can group therapy help you conquer your phobia? This type of therapy can be a useful method of treating phobias, and is a standard treatment for social phobia in particular.

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    Benefits of Group Therapy

    Starting group therapy can be frightening for many people, because the idea of opening up to strangers is intimidating. However, often the opposite turns out to be true: sometimes it’s easier to talk about your phobia, and other issues, with people you don’t know in your daily life. You can talk about the most intimate feelings relating to your phobia with people you don’t have to see on a day-to-day basis, and that can be a very freeing experience.

    In addition, developing relationships with people who understand what it feels like to have a phobia is a good way to help normalize your experiences, so that having a phobia doesn’t feel quite so isolating.

    Group therapy also provides you with the opportunity to not only learn from the therapist and your fellow group members, but also to help others in the group. Helping others with their phobias can be a great self-esteem boost and can help you feel more in control of your own phobia.

    One of the potential drawbacks of group therapy becomes apparent if the group is too large. In an oversized group, there is the possibility that some people won’t receive enough talk time during each therapy session. Another issue is that people within the group bond more effectively when the group is smaller. For these reasons, group therapists tend to limit group sizes to no more than six to twelve participants.

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    What happens during a Group Therapy Session?

    Most group therapy sessions last between sixty and ninety minutes. During a session, participants are encouraged to be open and honest with one another, while the interaction is guided by a psychotherapist who helps to facilitate communication within the group.

    In a group therapy session, participants might talk about their specific phobias, the effects the phobias have on daily life, and their feelings about being phobic, as well as sharing tips and coping strategies. One key feature of group therapy for phobias is that, unlike a support group or self-help group, therapy is designed to encourage change and growth, rather than simply alleviate symptoms. For example, in a support group participants might learn how to cope with their situation, but in group therapy the objective is to learn how to change the situation.

    In some groups, a psychotherapy strategy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) might be used. This type of therapy involves talking about the specific feelings and behaviors involved in a phobic reaction, and developing new and more effective ways to think and feel during these episodes. In a group that uses CBT, participants might be encouraged to expose themselves to the things or situations that they fear, and to note the feelings and thoughts that accompany the exposure.

    During a group session, the psychotherapist might suggest topics for discussion but does not necessarily dictate what the group talks about. In addition, the psychotherapist might encourage all members to participate, but will never try and force a group member to talk if he or she does not want to.

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    References

    American Group Psychotherapy Association. Information about Group Therapy. From <http://www.agpa.org/group/consumersguide2000.html>. Accessed 8 June 2011.

    American Group Psychotherapy Association. Practice Guidelines for Group Therapy. From <http://www.agpa.org/guidelines/factorsandmechanisms.html>. Accessed 8 June 2011.

    Herkov, Michael, Ph. D. About Group Therapy. From <http://psychcentral.com/lib/2006/about-group-therapy/>. Accessed 8 June 2011.