Group psychotherapy as the name implies relies on being a shared therapeutic process, rather than an individual one. Facilitated usually through a group of people with a shared mental disorder, group therapy utilizes natural social support and collaborative mental healing to address a variety of diagnoses including depression and anxiety.
The basic idea is simple – by banding together, people with a similar path of struggle can create a space to talk about and discuss what it’s like living with their disorder while drawing strength and motivation from the successes and progress of those in the group around us.
How Group Therapy Addresses Mental Health
There are many theories and concepts regarding the human mind, but one of the simplest assumptions we can make about how our psyche develops is that it develops through each other. We’re all mirrors for one another – no matter how warped, twisted or changed other people’s perceptions may be of us, we learn about ourselves through the people we surround ourselves with. And on the other hand, we develop primarily through the people we surround ourselves with.
It’s only logical that the premise of therapy based on human interaction has merit – and indeed it does. Group-based therapy has been around for the better part of the 20th century, and research has shown that it’s at least as, or even more effective than individual therapy for people who function normally yet still possess a mental diagnosis.
Typical Activities in Group Psychotherapy
There’s more to group therapy than just attending meetings and talking to each other – most group therapy settings create a more intensive experience through activities built to hone every individual’s ability to deal with their diagnosis, while still focusing on the comradery and mutual growth afforded by working within a group. Typical activities include:
- Physical exercise, such as trekking or simple sports plan (non-threatening and non-competitive).
- Creative exercise, such as drawing or cooking, can also help stimulate group members individually and require a mutual effort.
- Training exercises, designed to educate members in a group on topics of the mind.
If you or a loved one is suffering from a mental health issue of any kind, then group therapy can be a safe way to ease into treatment.
COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY
Psychotherapy comes in many different shapes and forms, but none are arguably more common nowadays than CBT. CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is a kind of psychotherapy that analyses a patient and their connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
The term’s two keywords – cognitive and behavior – relate to the idea that this therapy attempts to understand how a person’s behavior is molded by their thoughts, and how better habits and corrective behavior can, in turn, affect these thoughts. Here at Vantage Point, we use CBT to get through to our patients and get a much better understanding of their mind.
It starts by identifying what a patient considers harmful or negative, to dig deeper and uncover a person’s underlying feelings regarding certain behaviors and thoughts. From there, a skilled therapist can continue to help the patient unravel and move on. CBT is typically used when treating mental disorders like depression and bipolar, anxiety, eating disorders and addiction.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is Goal-Oriented
Ultimately, every form of therapy is designed to meet a specific goal – in most cases, the goal is to free a person from the shackles of their disorder, and allow them to live life on their own terms. So how is cognitive behavioral therapy specifically “goal-oriented”, then? The distinction is simple – general psychotherapy, or “talk therapy”, is designed as a sort of reflective treatment that sits back, analyses a patient and has no direct focus. The point of talk therapy is to provide relief and create a private, safe outlet for a patient to discuss their day, week or month, and unload some troubles.
CBT, on the other hand, has a specifically targeted purpose – to identify the relationship between thoughts and behavior and help a patient correct the way they think and see the world, to help them combat their deeper mental struggles with new perspectives and healthier adaptive behaviors.
In order to achieve its full potential, a cognitive behavioral therapy treatment plan is typically very involved. It’s not just about giving a patient a place to emotionally unload – therapists will often issue homework and exercises to create a more active relationship between the patient and their mind, and speed up the process of getting behind what makes a person tick, and how to help fix it.
A cognitive behavioral therapy tends to have the following focus:
- identifying thoughts and associated feelings and behaviors
- replacing negative or harmful thoughts with more positive ones
- changing behaviors that might have previously caused a person struggle
- identifying and changing thoughts associated with symptoms a person is experiencing
- adding positive activities to one’s life
- restructuring negative and/or false thought patterns
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a bit like an advanced treatment cemented in the whole chicken and egg issue. Behavior and thought aren’t in a perfect cause and effect – rather, one affects the other massively. Negative thoughts can fuel negative behavior, which fuels negative thoughts. It’s important to be negative to a degree – we can’t always be happy and content, and the struggle in life is important to remind us how wonderful joy can really be – but for many, negativity is a place of normalcy, such as in an eating disorder with low self-image or the crippled self-esteem of a clinically depressed patient.
Cognitive behavioral therapy addresses both thoughts and actions to help people wallowing in intense feelings of negativity find the strength they need to undo the vicious cycle and introduce some much-needed balance into their lives.
Research on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy isn’t exactly a treatment type discovered yesterday – it’s been thoroughly researched, adapted, advanced and innovated upon to create the standards and techniques utilized by therapists today. While the goal of including CBT in a patient’s treatment plan is to ultimately reduce and even eliminate symptoms of certain mental disorders, the immediate effects of the therapy type are notable as well – research shows that people undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy have a greater ability to replace negative thinking with positive thinking.
Because of the amount of research that’s gone into the therapy, it’s known as an evidence-based approach. In fact, it’s recognized to be just as effective in combating mood disorders as medication. Because this form of therapy is short-term, intensive, and goal-oriented, it is often included short-term residential treatment plans or short-term programs that address psychological illness.
If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental illness or disorder, then it’s likely that we’d recommend getting into cognitive behavioral therapy as a new way to get to know yourself – and combat the issue.
DIALECTICAL BEHAVIORAL THERAPY
While cognitive behavioral therapy is probably the most common and well-known of psychotherapy treatments, it is not the only one. Another commonly applied treatment is dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). DBT is a type of therapy that focuses on the connections between one’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
Now, that’s basically exactly what CBT was, right? Well, DBT sets itself apart by analyzing how a patient’s social interactions are affected by their psychological illness and its symptoms. This therapy was originally designed to help treat people with Borderline Personality Disorder but has since become a treatment option that shows promise for other specific cases of mental illness.
The basic premise for the treatment is simple: patients with Borderline Personality Disorder tend to experience extreme fluctuations in mood, which affects their social interactions. They also tend to experience more intense reactions to emotional stimulation and these reactions are sustained for longer than average. They’re also often woefully incapable of properly regulating and handling their emotions. Put all that together, and you have people that are emotionally-hyperactive, and thus, constantly wired and in need of coping mechanisms and behaviors that help them take the edge off. Trouble is, far too often the coping mechanisms people do adopt by themselves tend to be maladaptive, or harmful. DBT is designed to help patients manage their mood and emotions, identify and avoid triggers, and keep themselves in check.
Three Parts to Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
A person who is participating in a DBT program will likely have individual therapy as well as group therapy. That means that DBT isn’t a solely one-on-one process, and it’s usually a very flexible therapy type that depends on the available resources, a patient’s time and preferences, and whatever therapists deem most effective in any given specific case. However, one significant and non-negotiable aspect of the therapy is participation in a 16-week skills group, designed to teach people with personality and emotionality issues the skills they need to manage themselves going forward. Thus, you have the three basics of DBT:
- Individual Therapy – Simple one-on-one therapy with a trained therapist. Every case is different – and thus, every approach is unique.
- Group Therapy – Shared therapy, typically between different mental illnesses and disorders.
- Skills Group – The place to learn the actual skills and self-applied techniques that allow people to function with their disorder without the constant help of a therapist.
At Vantage Point, the Skills Group typically meets for 90 minutes once per week, while individual therapy or group therapy can take place once to twice per week.
Research on Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
Like CBT, DBT is a branch of psychotherapy with a lot of evidence behind it. Research on the treatment effectiveness of dialectical behavioral therapy revealed that those participating in DBT were half as likely to make a suicide attempt and required fewer hospitalizations. They were also less likely to drop out of their treatment, meaning there is a perceived improvement strong enough to motivate post people to keep moving forward. Just like CBT, this means DBT is an evidence-based treatment option.
Strategies of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
We mentioned earlier that dialectical behavioral therapy started out as a way for sufferers of borderline personality disorder to keep their fluctuating emotions and moods in check.
But since, DBT has evolved to be included in treatment plans for many other mental diagnoses, such as severe depression, suicidal thinking, Bipolar Disorder, self-harm, and other illnesses that result in extreme mood fluctuations. The therapy is built to prioritize, focusing first on pressing behavioral concerns and the prevention of self-harm or suicide, to less urgent, less frequent issues.
DBT can be broken down into four core strategies, all of which, just like the therapy itself, helped influence and shape other existing therapy tools for different diagnoses. The strategies include:
- The Support Strategy – This is a focus on working with individuals to help restore a positive self-image, and help them build on their strengths, rather than focusing on their weaknesses. It doesn’t specifically refer to group support, but rather focuses on supporting an individual by reinforcing their better qualities.
- Structuring the Environment – This involves providing individuals with a safe, non-judgmental place in which to experience treatment, as well as teaching them ways in to alter their own environments, such as refusing to spend time with harmful people. This can range from residential treatment for severe cases to learning how to avoid social and emotional triggers in everyday life.
- The Dialectical Philosophy – This is an underlying philosophy which guides the therapeutic work. It refers to the balance that DBT therapists strive for – helping participants know that they are well-accepted while encouraging them to make positive changes, to move forward and grow.
- Mindfulness – This is a skill of concentration taught to participants. Mindfulness invites a person to be fully present and notice oneself and one’s environment, without judgment. Over time, by individuals can learn to be fully engaged in the situation they’re currently in, without reacting. Mindfulness also helps them develop self-awareness which can also help them better manage their reactions, which is a core function of dialectical behavioral therapy.
If you or someone you know is suffering from a severe psychological illness, dialectical behavioral therapy might be able to help.
Whereas cognitive and dialectical behavioral therapies are short-term, focused and goal-oriented, psychoanalytical therapy is a much slower, more long-term approach to tackling any given mental illness.
Psychoanalysis was popularized and truly innovated upon by Sigmund Freud, a very famous figure in the origins of modern day psychology.
While it’s a rather debated topic as to how much of Freud’s thinking truly applies today – and the consensus is not very much – psychoanalysis is a shining beacon of progress in our understanding of how to analyze and work with the human mind, specifically when aiming to treat mental illnesses. It’s an investigative form of therapy, designed as a long-term foray into a person’s mind, their development, and growth as a human being. Its goal is to create deep-seated changes in one’s personality by facilitating insight and resolution in one’s life. The idea is that by understanding who we are and how we function, we can unravel and re-knit the way we approach life.
Principles of Psychoanalytic Therapy
Psychoanalysis differs from other forms of therapy by its length, and more specifically, the goal it sets. It’s wrong not to call it goal-oriented per se, but it’s not a short-term, focused therapy option like CBT or DBT. Instead, psychoanalysis is process-oriented, working with a client over time by facilitating the experience of insights, which essentially guides the therapy. These are the principles of psychoanalysis:
- Psychological problems have their origin in the unconscious mind.
- Mental health diagnosis and symptoms are often triggered or the result of hidden or latent disturbances in our subconscious.
- Causes for a patient’s primary concerns are rooted in unresolved trauma from any stage in life, or developmental conflicts, i.e. childhood and puberty
- Treatment includes facilitating insights and awareness surrounding these conflicts so that a person might better manage them, by being aware they exist.
Essentially, this form of therapy aims to bring about insights and awareness in a client, to resolve those repressed conflicts and make changes on a deeper level.
Facets of Psychoanalytic Therapy
As mentioned above, this therapy is process-oriented, facilitating awareness on how the past plays a role in a person’s life now. Sessions take place in a safe, nonjudgmental environment which can help a client feel comfortable in discussing his or her life. A psychoanalytic therapist might look for patterns in a client’s life as well as use certain techniques to facilitate the analysis, such as:
Free Association – This is a technique in which a client is invited to speak freely about memories, ideas, dreams, and/or images, without censoring or editing.
Transference – The unconscious mind of a client can sometimes project its ideas of those who were influential in life (parents, siblings, etc.) onto the therapist.
Interpretation – While a client speaks freely about his or her dreams, ideas, feelings, and inner images, a therapist might occasionally offer an insight related to a client’s mental patterning.
Psychoanalytic therapy can be used to treat anxiety, relationship concerns, problems related to sexuality, social phobias, and issues with low self-esteem. It works not only to help combat mental diagnosis but general discontent. However, it takes time. There are other short-term, goal-oriented therapies that will produce quicker results. But the strength in psychoanalysis lies in the long-term: through a dedicated, skilled therapist, you can gain incredible insights into who you are.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a psychological concern, psychoanalysis could be the key.