May Is Mental Health Awareness Month: Health First’s Behavioral Wellness Relies on Group Therapy to Improve Daily Functioning
By DeAnn Collins, Program Manager, Health First’s Behavioral Wellness // May 5, 2023
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – At Health First, the rallying cry is – Wellness starts with “We.” Nowhere is that truer than at Health First’s Behavioral Wellness, where group sessions are our primary way of delivering mental health treatment.
You can bet I’ve heard this more than once – I need one-on-one help, not one-size-fits-all. Sigh. Group therapy is actually where the magic happens. It’s the opposite of generic.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I’ve been asked to debunk this myth and a few more about group therapy and counseling services in general.
I’m all too happy to do this. Let’s jump in.
MYTHS #1 and #2: I don’t want to share my darkest thoughts with strangers, and I don’t want to sit there and listen to other people’s problems.
For new participants to group therapy, the comfortable setting might be just to listen. Disclosure happens at the pace that is right for that person – not a moment sooner.
At any stage of therapy, participants share what they’re comfortable sharing – no one is forced to share their darkest thoughts or anything that makes them uncomfortable.
And listening is an essential part of a therapeutic improvement – whether from peers in group or a professional in their office. It’s simply not true that your peers’ observations and tribulations have no value. There are absolutely things to be learned just by listening to others.
The emphasis always is on learning new skills in a supportive environment with a trained facilitator. The skills are applicable to multiple types of issues, and multiple patients.
Group therapy often focuses on improving daily functioning. It will likely help you to hear other people’s stories and how they might be working to get better.
MYTH #3: Group therapy isn’t as good as individual. There’s absolutely no medical or scientific proof of this. Group therapy participants report a strong sense of belonging – as well as surprise over how quickly they felt this.
There are significant benefits to hearing the challenges, stumbles and successes of others. One is validation – I’m not the only one who faces this.
According to one study a few years ago, the most effective groups develop a shared identity – a common purpose. In other words, the group itself becomes a therapeutic strength.
MYTH #4: Group therapy, that’s like a support group, right? Wrong.
A strength of group therapy is that it’s supportive by nature. That’s true, but peer-directed support groups typically talk about problems, even retelling traumas, perhaps offering advice but mostly the strength of supportive listening – not therapeutic intervention.
In group therapy, the primary focus is on identifying cognitive distortions, understanding the best science around conditions and therapies, and developing science-based skills to improve.
What We Work Toward
Group therapy helps participants gain insight into their behavioral responses to stressors – some possible answers to the question, Why do I always do that?
After years of individual therapy and feeling stuck, a good working group can be a game changer in someone’s quality of life. Group members report feeling empowered to take more control over their thoughts and behaviors.
They might say, Now I have the tools that I need to control my thoughts and not let my thoughts control me. That’s what we work toward. It is a process, but as we like to say – we’re all in it together.
To learn more or to schedule a confidential consultation with one of our clinicians, call 321.434.7604 or visit HF.org/BehavioralWellness to learn more.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: DeAnn Collins is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Program Manager at Health First’s Behavioral Wellness, where she oversees intensive outpatient programs and assesses new patients. She has specialized in senior mental health needs and treatments. She is committed to daily mindfulness practice and is a devoted animal lover who may be spotted “in the wild” at Disney theme parks with her daughter or friends.