Group Therapy for Depression – Help or Hindrance?
There are many depression-management techniques available; antidepressant medication, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exercise and a proper diet, relaxation and general wellness treatments (eg. massage therapy, hypnosis, meditation, aromatherapy, etc.), and so on. Among these therapy techniques is group therapy. But... group therapy for depression? Is it a help or a hindrance?
In my many years of having depression, during which I have experienced three (diagnosed) major depressive episodes, it was only this most recent episode where I decided to attend group therapy sessions.
I was in a very, very bad place. Being rather impatient by nature, the meds + CBT sessions, while effective, were taking far too long. I spoke to my therapist. She suggested that I try group therapy, stating that in a lot of cases it can help. (Depression Support: Why You Need It, Where to Find It)
Anybody with depression knows that it’s hard enough to get out of bed let alone get dressed and out of the house. Still, I agreed to go to a 6-week session starting that week.
Group Therapy for Depression Is Not What I Imagined
I went to the first group therapy session and there were twelve of us there, in a very small room (approximately 8 feet wide x 15 feet long), where we sat, six on one side, six on the other, facing each other. The chairs were small and uncomfortable and doubled as wee desks with a hinge on the left or right so we could position them in front of us, if we wanted. The room was bright and there was an overhead projector at the ready.
I don’t know. I imagined a larger room with a dozen or so chairs, positioned in a sharing circle. I imagined dimmed lights and bad coffee. But this?
Still, trying to have an open mind, I listened as the therapist facilitator told us about herself and what these group therapy sessions for depression would be about (via slide presentation). We were given binders with reading materials and exercises and were told that we should do our best to read and complete the exercise by the following week’s session.
Then the discussion portion of the session began. We went around the room and, if we wanted to, we spoke a bit about ourselves. Mainly, it was two gentlemen who piped up the most, telling us about their lives and various challenges with depression. They talked so much and so often, that even when the therapist interrupted to infuse positivity (which was immediately shot down) and ask if any of us had similar experiences to share; few of us did. Other than introducing myself, I didn’t say a word.
I did my best to do the reading and finish the exercises. Not easy when you have no motivation to do anything.
Group Therapy for Depression Is Not Working For Me
I dragged myself to session two. Sadly, it was no better than session one and, though I sympathized with these gentlemen (the same two), to be completely honest, they were bringing me down! If that was even possible!
The day after session two, I called the facilitator and told her I would not be returning. When she asked me why I was quitting (she didn’t use that word but I felt like a quitter nonetheless), I told her that listening to the others was not helping my depression recovery. I explained to her that these guys had me feeling worse leaving the session than when I arrived.
Group therapy ended up being a hindrance for me. Somehow, I thought that I would leave the sessions feeling uplifted… though I cannot imagine why I would think that. We were . . . after all . . . a group of people in the throes of depression.
Scott, L. (2013, August 4). Group Therapy for Depression – Help or Hindrance?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, October 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/copingwithdepression/2013/08/group-therapy-for-depression-help-or-hindrance
Author: Liana M Scott
I have been wondering this lately. I never opened up to sympathizing with others in a group setting but I felt I needed to work harder on my issues with ptsd and abuse etc. I joined the communities on Facebook to dip my toes in so to speak and am now bombarded daily with people complaining about their abusers but doing nothing about it etc. it just makes me remember everything I went through over and over and I really could do without. I have to snooze people for 30 days but it keeps coming up and I would hate to give up on it so soon but it's not helpful and I don't see how it's helpful to anyone with the exception of the few good positive stories on occasion. It's just a drag. I get people need to talk but is that good for people with ptsd to keep staying in the past? I know people with ptsd tend to stay stuck there so why enable that to keep happening? This is just my opinion of course I see the other aspects of why people are drawn to it and why some feel relief from it but from a standpoint of wanting to move on and heal I don't see why this helps me at all. If anything I think more about sad things I don't need to be dwelling on when I read all these posts.
I think it depends on how guided the group sessions are by the facilitator... mostly for the reason you said, a room full of depressed people are very likely to bring each other down, likewise they can be very supportive of each other with a lot of understanding for the others. If the groups "guide" points them through positive conversation it can be a nice experience, but it's definitely very different than one-on-one therapy. I do think that group sessions are good practice for social coping skills though.
Thank you Stargardteyes for this. "Never let anyone make you feel like your problems aren't important just because someone else has it worse. ...That's the equivalent of saying you can't ever be happy because someone else always has it better."
This analogy is exactly what I was trying to communicate &needed to hear tonight. Thank you!!!
I find CBT & group therapy methods complementary in my work with recovery issues linked to mental health. Within my practice, they represent two sides of same coin.
CBT methods increase clients' awareness of triggers and variable processing within four domains: enmeshment; language use; discursive repertoires and power plays. (Domains represent proximal time & space in which clients operate).
Group therapy methods, grounded in reflexivity of its members, offers clients opportunities to critically examine how and why they process the way they do in identified domains. This is made possible by creating good enough therapeutic environment wherein members can critically examine way they and others construct their identities.
I agree with you. Group therapy NEVER helped me. It left me feeling much worse. And as we all know, just going to the therapy session while severely depressed is the equivalent of picking up 3 houses and juggling them like a clown, so I was VERY let down. I know that's just my personal experience. I've dealt with depression for over 25 years (I'm 40). It took a very close unsuccessful suicide attempt and a stay or 3 in a private psychiatric hospital before I finally was diagnosed with Bipolar 2, Rapid Cycling and Severe Treatment Resistant Depression. I'm considering ECT now. I have a slew of health problems, the latest being I was diagnosed 5 years ago with a rare genetic eye disease: Stargardt Disease. I was 35. I'm blind now and use a white cane. I lost my career of over 15 years that I loved: Dental Hygiene, my drivers license (& much independence...something I'm fierce about), my husband left me, my home foreclosed and I filed bankruptcy because it took a 3 year battle to get my Disability (SSDI) approved. I lost my best friend to suicide a year ago. I've just gotten an apartment for me and my dog in a complex JUST FOR Disabled and Elderly people. I'll have family close to support and help me (as I live 4 hours from any fam or friends now), and I'm about 10 miles from my O&M schooling that I've yet to do. I plan to start blogging, as I've been offered some guest spots. Writing is my forte and I hope to get my Journalism degree since my Dental Hygiene degree had to be retired. However, until I lose this depression, most of that has been unattainable for me. And will be. I have so many health problems, I feel 80. CBT is the ONLY therapy that DID help me and I had the luxury of an insurance that provided me the opportunity to go to therapy every week, then every other week for 8 months of CBT. It took hard work, but I loved it. That was years ago. My teeth are falling apart and I can't afford to have any dental work, which is a HUGE depression for me as I spent so many years saving others teeth only to lose mine. Anyway, sorry to be so wordy, but I'm a very isolating eccentric person who has ALWAYS needed and craved being alone 90% of the time, so group therapy was a Nightmare, yet isolation makes my depression worse. Being blind makes everything so much harder and I'm so slow....I'm just not coping well. Please give CBT a good effort because it has LITERALLY prevented me from suicide. It's well worth it. Good luck in all you do. And I want to leave what I feel is an important thought. NEVER let anyone make you feel like your problems aren't important just because someone else has it worse. That's the equivalent of saying you can't ever be happy because someone else always has it better. Problems are problems, regardless and we need safe places to go for support. Online is my saving grace. For anyone still reading, thank you. Good luck!
Hi Stargardteyes... I agree with Campalex that your statement : “Never let anyone make you feel like your problems aren’t important just because someone else has it worse. …That’s the equivalent of saying you can’t ever be happy because someone else always has it better.”
I'm so sorry you've had such a terrible time but grateful you took the time to share your story. Thank you!
I was diagnosed with major depression, PTSD,and personality disorder. Twenty years ago I was forced into treatment. I lost my job and my home. I have been through hell n back many times. I just can't seem to trust anyone. So I have been in therapy with a psychiatrist. Groups can be a good idea or a bad idea. It depends on your own needs.
I appreciate your struggle. I too have suffered from depression and borderline personality disorder for several years and, at the behest of my psychologist, went to group therapy. My experience was very different and quite helpful, unfortunately, cuts in state funding did away with the therapist-led group therapy. In partnership with the local mental health treatment center and their professional staff, peer support group therapy was implemented. We moved our sessions to a large room with comfortable lighting and seating. Each session focuses on whomever has an issue or whatever questions anyone has and what others have done to successfully handle this issue/question. Everyone gets an opportunity to share (no one is required to participate). Peer support has been very successful. We know from personal experience what is happening and we try very hard to end our session with a smile on everyone's face or we will stay until we can at least have a positive plan in place. Maybe, if there is a next time, peer support would be a better fit?
I can not quite imagine how difficult it has been for you to fight your depression and battle though the major depressive disorders. I'm inspired by your courage to speak out and seek help. You mentioned the CBT therapy was talking too long. As a counselor, I have found CBT to be the most effective in treating depression. Depression is a disease. And as we know, diseases are tough to fight and overcome. They grow and grow and become tougher to beat. But depression is beatable. It is beatable by applying what you learned in CBT every day. Keep fighting!!!!!!!!!