Group therapy may hold answers for some

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During the pandemic, Angela Lundberg’s mental health plummeted.

“I became anxious and depressed, and it disrupted my life,” said the 43-year-old substitute teacher from Minneapolis. “I lived in a constant state of fear and was afraid that everyone I loved would die.”

Lundberg’s struggles are far from unique in the coronavirus era. Her decision to try group therapy could also offer a path for others to follow.

Lundberg, who is also a freelance writer, was initially worried about “sharing my personal life with strangers,” but she says she decided to try group therapy. “I desperately wanted to feel better, she says, and group therapy helped me.

Since 2019, the mental health needs of the United States have increased. “More than four in 10 adults, 43%, told a Census Bureau survey in November 2020 that they suffered from anxiety or depression,” The Washington Post reported last year. From late August 2020 through February 1, 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans reported “symptoms of a anxiety or depressive disorder increased significantly,” from 36.4% to 41.5%.

This is why it’s so hard to find mental health counseling right now

Unfortunately, many mental health professionals are too busy to keep up with the growing demand, says Vaile Wright, senior director of healthcare innovation at the American Psychological Association (APA). “We had a shortage of suppliers before the pandemic started, and it’s even worse now,” adds Wright.

One possible solution, she says, is to find more innovative ways to reach people, including telehealth, support groups and group therapy.

For some, the idea of ​​group mental health care might cause concern. A study 2021 found that social anxiety, anger from others, and fear of humiliation kept people from trying it.

But one Meta-analysis 2021 found that group therapy for mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder was more effective than individual therapy and could be just as curative as taking medication.

Groups also promote benefits that individual therapy cannot, says psychologist Nicole Cammack, a member of the clinical advisory board for Sesh, a mental health platform that offers therapist-led support groups. “Not everyone is comfortable opening up right away, even to their own therapist,” Cammack says. In a group, however, people can hear others facing similar struggles.

Like individual therapy, group therapy is led by a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, social worker, or psychiatrist, trained to provide “competent group therapy,” says Wright.

Group therapy is often structured around a specific theoretical orientation. For instance, to research shows that cognitive behavioral therapy can help relieve social anxiety. In contrast, interpersonal groups can help solve relationship problems, including asking for help, expressing emotions, and resolving conflict.

Therapist or Coach: Understanding the Difference and How to Choose One

Group treatment can also help people overcome eating disorders, the Depression and substance useall of which have increased since the start of the pandemic.

Lundberg’s group met three times a week via Zoom for several months. “The main benefit was being part of a caring group of people,” she says. “I looked forward to seeing them every week, and it helped me feel less alone.”

Lundberg, who has an autoimmune disease and fears getting seriously ill if she catches covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, says the group therapist taught coping skills such as mindfulness , work of breathing and self-care tools that have been clinically proven to help manage stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Another point to remember is that group therapy gives members the opportunity to receive feedback from many people. “It can lead to a broader perspective for solving life’s problems,” Cammack says.

But while groups offer many benefits, Wright warns they aren’t the first line of treatment for people with thoughts of self-harm or in crisis. In these cases, group therapy can be used in conjunction with individual therapy, she says.

What is a Peer Support Group?

Unlike group therapy, peer-led groups are not run by a mental health professional. Instead, they are led by people who have encountered challenges that the members of the group also face.

After her mother died many years ago, Barri Leiner Grant, 56, a certified grief coach in Chicago, hosted a group event for motherless daughters. “I realized that we don’t ‘overcome’ grief; we learn to live with the loss,” says Grant. Recognizing the need for more support, Grant was inspired to begin”the circle of memorya bereavement group for anyone facing loss.

Even though peer-led groups like Grant’s don’t provide psychotherapy, they can still ease emotional pain and ease stress. A study found that these groups can increase resilience and help people feel more empowered and optimistic about the future.

Tips for getting started and getting the most out of therapy

Although each peer group differs, Wright says the underlying goals tend to be similar. “Peer support is about validating people’s emotions, helping them feel less alone and building community,” she says.

In his groups, Grant does not seek to change anyone’s beliefs or behavior: “We don’t come together to fix each other, but to keep space and time to grieve. »

Teri Brister, program director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), says peer groups can be right for anyone looking for personal support and learning from others.

Healthcare professionals, including doctors and nurses, can provide peer support and group therapy referrals. Online directories operated by Psychology Today and the American Association for Group Psychotherapy provide lists of therapy groups.

Non-profit organizations such as NAMI offer peer-led groups for people living with mental illness. And for new parents looking for support, International postpartum support offers support groups for mothers struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety.

Before signing up for a group, Wright recommends reviewing your health insurance and, since group therapy isn’t always covered by insurance, finding out the costs ahead of time. Lundberg’s group was donated by the University of Minnesota as part of an intensive outpatient program; most hospital programs accept insurance.

Telehealth companies, including Sesh and Circles, offer support groups, but it’s important to read the fine print. Cammack says Sesh runs on a confidential platform, but not all telehealth apps follow these guidelines.

“In the United States, there is no regulatory body that oversees mental health apps, which makes it difficult to determine what is ‘good’ and what is not,” says Wright.

Teletherapy works, and it is absolutely necessary

To ensure privacy, find out if your medical information is sold and, in the event of a data breach, what recourse members have.

Also ask who is leading a group and if they are a trained mental health professional, suggests Wright. In some cases, but not all, support groups (not peer groups) will be led by therapists.

If group mental health seems fine, try a few sessions. Pay attention to how the interactions between the therapist and other group members feel. Witnessing the suffering of others is often an opportunity to express empathy and altruism to someone else, which can also be healing, to research shows.

Ultimately, Lundberg says his experience has been invaluable.

“Before covid-19, I couldn’t imagine trying group therapy or seeing a psychiatrist,” she says. “However, it was a great source of support at a very unpredictable and scary time.”

About Leslie Schwartz

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