Therapeutic factors in groups

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There are 11 factors listed below that purpose to be the curative factors that operate in group psychotheraoy. As you read them I invite you to consider that these same factors can easily be present in many other groups. Groups such as teams, work groups, organisational groups, professional associations, student groups, hobby groups and others. Dare we suggest family groups?

Unlike the simple two-person relationship between patient and therapist in individual therapy, group therapy, and we suggest groups generally, offer multiple relationships to assist individuals in growth and problem solving. The noted psychiatristDr. Irvin D. Yalom in his book

The Theory and Practice of Group Therapy

identified 11 of these "curative factors" that are the "primary agents of change" in group therapy. See whether you consider my suggestion as reasonable. Please email me if you do or have other thoughts at

1.     Instillation of hope

All patients come into therapy hoping to decrease their suffering and improve their lives. Because each member in a therapy group is inevitably at a different point on the coping continuum and grows at a different rate, watching others cope with and overcome similar problems successfully instills hope and inspiration. New members or those in despair may be particularly encouraged by others' positive outcomes.
2.     Universality
A common feeling among group therapy members, especially when a group is just starting, is that of being isolated, unique, and apart from others. Many who enter group therapy have great difficulty sustaining interpersonal relationships, and feel unlikable and unlovable. Group therapy provides a powerful antidote to these feelings. For many, it may be the first time they feel understood and similar to others. Enormous relief often accompanies the recognition that they are not alone; this is a special benefit of group therapy.
3.     Information giving
An essential component of many therapy groups is increasing members' knowledge and understanding of a common problem. Explicit instruction about the nature of their shared illness, such as bipolar disorders , depression, panic disorders, or bulimia, is often a key part of the therapy. Most patients leave the group far more knowledgeable about their specific condition than when they entered. This makes them increasingly able to help others with the same or similar problems.
4.     Altruism
Group therapy offers its members a unique opportunity: the chance to help others. Often patients with psychiatric problems believe they have very little to offer others because they have needed so much help themselves; this can make them feel inadequate. The process of helping others is a powerful therapeutic tool that greatly enhances members' self-esteem and feeling of self-worth.
5.     Corrective recapitulation of the primary family
Many people who enter group therapy had troubled family lives during their formative years. The group becomes a substitute family that resembles—and improves upon—the family of origin in significant ways. Like a family, a therapy group consists of a leader (or co-leaders), an authority figure that evokes feelings similar to those felt toward parents. Other group members substitute for siblings, vying for attention and affection from the leader/parent, and forming subgroups and coalitions with other members. This recasting of the family of origin gives members a chance to correct dysfunctional interpersonal relationships in a way that can have a powerful therapeutic impact.
6.     Improved social skills
According to Yalom, social learning, or the development of basic social skills, is a therapeutic factor that occurs in all therapy groups. Some groups place considerable emphasis on improving social skills, for example, with adolescents preparing to leave a psychiatric hospital, or among bereaved or divorced members seeking to date again. Group members offer feedback to one another about the appropriateness of the others' behaviour. While this may be painful, the directness and honesty with which it is offered can provide much-needed behavioural correction and thus improve relationships both within and outside the group.
7.     Imitative behaviour
Research shows that therapists exert a powerful influence on the communication patterns of group members by modelling certain behaviours. For example, therapists model active listening, giving nonjudgmental feedback, and offering support. Over time, members pick up these behaviours and incorporate them. This earns them increasingly positive feedback from others, enhancing their self-esteem and emotional growth.
8.     Interpersonal learning
Human beings are social animals, born ready to connect. Our lives are characterized by intense and persistent relationships, and much of our self-esteem is developed via feedback and reflection from important others. Yet we all develop distortions in the way we see others, and these distortions can damage even our most important relationships. Therapy groups provide an opportunity for members to improve their ability to relate to others and live far more satisfying lives because of it.
9.     Group cohesiveness
Belonging, acceptance, and approval are among the most important and universal of human needs. Fitting in with our peers as children and adolescents, pledging a sorority or fraternity as young adults, and joining a church or other social group as adults all fulfil these basic human needs. Many people with emotional problems, however, have not experienced success as group members. For them, group therapy may make them feel truly accepted and valued for the first time. This can be a powerful healing factor as individuals replace their feelings of isolation and separateness with a sense of belonging.
10. Catharsis
Catharsis is a powerful emotional experience—the release of conscious or unconscious feelings—followed by a feeling of great relief. Catharsis is a factor in most therapies, including group therapy. It is a type of emotional learning, as opposed to intellectual understanding, that can lead to immediate and long-lasting change. While catharsis cannot be forced, a group environment provides ample opportunity for members to have these powerful experiences.
11. Existential factors
Existential factors are certain realities of life including death, isolation, freedom, and meaninglessness. Becoming aware of these realities can lead to anxiety. The trust and openness that develops among members of a therapy group, however, permits exploration of these fundamental issues, and can help members develop an acceptance of difficult realities.