Group Therapy for Teens

Understanding Therapy: Group Therapy

While one-on-one therapy can be indispensable, sometimes adolescents need an opportunity to practice their social skills and work through the exploration of common issues alongside their peers. This is where group therapy can be extremely helpful. Group therapy is an umbrella term for approaches which include more than a single client and a therapist. Most often, group therapy involves a client’s friends, family, or a peer group of individuals with similar conditions or challenges. It can also be directed by multiple therapists. Group therapy is an essential part of multiple therapeutic interventions, and can be adapted to treat many different mental health conditions and behavioral challenges.

How Group Therapy Helps Teens Overcome Mental  Health & Other Challenges

Mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, can be highly isolating. Many teens who experience these conditions feel as though they are alone or “abnormal.” Group therapy, such as that offered at Shortridge Academy, often shows them that this is not the case. In group therapy, teens and adolescents have an opportunity to discuss and share their experiences and challenges with other teens. Teens can relate to one another’s experiences, talk through how specific coping techniques have worked for them in the past, and find common ground and support as they learn and practice new skills together. These conversations assure teens that they are not alone in their struggles, and provide much-needed social support.

Beyond mental health disorders, group therapy can also be a powerful component of treatment for substance use disorder. Teens learn from one another how substance use has impacted their lives, how they can work through underlying emotional issues with one another’s support, and how to develop new, healthy forms of coping techniques. Group therapy is also highly effective in helping teens work through common areas of struggle, like grief, interpersonal and conflict resolution skills, and decision-making. Practicing conflict resolution or social skills in real life can often be difficult or intimidating, since failure has real social consequences. Among supportive friends and with the expert guidance of a counselor in group therapy, teens can have a safe environment in which to work through new challenges without feeling intimidated.

How Group Therapy Fits into Different Treatment Approaches

Group therapy is commonly adapted for different treatment methodologies. These may offer different approaches towards treating the same broad spectrum of issues, like how Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Interpersonal Therapy both address depression in different ways. Other forms of group therapy are targeted to help teens develop specific skills. Some of these approaches include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral group therapy, which focuses on the relationships between our thoughts and emotions. Teens learn how to address negative beliefs about themselves, replace them with more positive and self-affirming ones, and how to cope with depressive and anxious symptoms in healthier ways. Group-focused CBT carries these traits into settings where teens can practice more interaction with one another. In group CBT, teens can discuss their symptoms of a given mental health disorder; learn about the causes of the disorder; participate in exercises to build self-esteem and solve common emotional problems; learn specific skills to use in crisis; and include friends or loved ones in the program to bolster their support network.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy includes group therapy as part of its methodology. Here, the goal in group therapy is specifically to practice the skills one has learned in one-on-one sessions. These revolve around mindfulness, emotion regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance. Skill practice might include role-playing, learning in a standard lesson format from a group leader, or the completion of specific homework assignments.
  • Interpersonal Therapy, or IPT, includes group sessions in which teens and their parents work together to identify the most significant social challenges in one’s life, and how they may be contributing to depression. IPT has also been adapted for use in peer groups, where adolescents learn new communication skills in contextTheme groups are not necessarily targeted towards a particular mental health condition. Instead, they may be structured as open discussions around particular topics in which adolescents need help. This is a chance for teens to have common questions answered, to share their struggles, and to develop a support network of friends.

Advantages of Adolescent Group Therapy

Group therapy is not necessarily an alternative to individual therapy. Rather, the two can be used in conjunction to reinforce one another. One-on-one therapy is often the right choice for confidentiality and an individualized focus. But the skills learned in individual therapy only work if one applies them in daily life. Similarly, a support network is key to a healthy sense of self-esteem. Interaction with one’s peers can help teens learn more about their challenges and themselves than one-on-one interactions can alone. As interpersonal therapy has identified, many sources of depression and anxiety stem from social needs not being met. Group therapy helps teens meet these needs, encourages positive relationship building, and keeps teens engaged in treatment as they work towards their goals.

The Role of  Group Therapy in an Adolescent’s Treatment Plan

Group therapy can be incorporated into most treatment plans due to its versatility. Sessions may relate directly to a specific condition, or focus more on broader topics depending on a teen’s needs and the program in which they’re engaged. Group counseling or therapy can even be adapted to address academic issues and needs, where students set goals together and learn new strategies to apply to their studies.

Regardless of the specific challenges they may face, the social support afforded by group therapy offers teens and adolescents a better chance to overcome the difficulties in their lives and maintain the motivation to do so in the future. When incorporated into a broader treatment plan, group therapy reinforces the lessons learned elsewhere, helps teens combat isolation and unhealthy coping strategies, and provides a vital social outlet and guided support which are crucial to one’s personal development.

Read more about the therapeutic support offerings at Shortridge here.

Further Reading