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Published on December 27, 2022

How Group Therapy is Changing the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Sometimes it can be surprising how much talking with another person who has been through a similar, painful experience as you, can truly help.

Although over 60% of Americans will experience trauma in their lives, many of those who go through those experiences feel lonely and isolated from others–feeling as if there’s no one who can relate to what they might be going through. 

This is especially true for individuals suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which affects nearly 6% of the US population, and between 11-15% of veterans

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that occurs in individuals who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event or set or circumstances. The person’s well-being may be affected in a variety of ways, mentally, physically and socially. 

For veterans, it has been known by other names, such as “shell shock” during World War I, and “combat fatigue” after World War II. PTSD doesn’t occur in just combat veterans, however. It can happen to anyone, given the right circumstances.

People impacted by PTSD have intense thoughts and feelings that arise about their traumatic experience that last long after it’s ended. They may feel a wide range of emotions, possibly detached from society and other people. People with PTSD may avoid situations and individuals that remind them of the event, and they may have strong reactions to certain stimuli. 

The Role of Group Therapy in Treating PTSD

Over the last decade or so, there have been a variety of studies that have shown a very successful solution to PTSD symptoms both in civilians and veterans alike, and the ability to help manage the disorder, is the existence of trauma group therapy.

What is group therapy, exactly? 

It’s a type of psychotherapy where a certain number (usually smaller) of people attend regular sessions. These sessions in particular, involve individuals who are survivors of traumatic experiences. They are led by licensed professionals, usually who specialize in PTSD.

There might be specialized groups, including groups for women with a history of sexual trauma (including military sexual trauma), or individuals who have specific severe symptoms. Additionally, there are multiple different types of groups available, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Group Therapy (IPT), Mind-Body Skills Therapy, among others.

How Group Therapy Helps in Treating Trauma

The practice of group therapy in assisting with easing the symptoms of trauma has been occurring for decades. It started around the time that PTSD became a formal diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), in 1980.

In a study conducted back in 2017, research showed that group therapy offers advantages over individualized therapy. Including not only helping to “normalize” the symptoms of trauma and PTSD, but also offering a social support system to those participating.

Another meta-analysis from 2017 evaluated the efficacy of group psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adults. It was found that group treatments were associated with improvements of symptoms, particularly with those who participated in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) groups.

Some of the Major Benefits of Group Therapy for PTSD Treatment

With any type of psychological condition, group therapy offers a variety of advantages: 

  • A support system
  • An alternative point-of-view about your condition
  • Motivation and encouragement 
  • Increased social skills 
  • A better understanding of self

There are also a few major benefits of group therapy for those specifically suffering from PTSD symptoms.

It provides a method of validation

Being able to feel accepted and authentic with your diagnosis and your experiences is a critical component of treatment. 

When an individual attends group therapy sessions, they can see that there are other people who are going through similar experiences. These individuals will also likely be more inclined to accept them for who they are, regardless of their diagnosis. 

For those suffering from PTSD, sometimes this can be difficult. Not everyone can understand what PTSD is like, or has the ability to understand the struggle. Therefore, group therapy is a place where those who may be dealing with a traumatic past can congregate and find connection through their shared experiences.

Helps with Learning Coping Skills from Others

A big component of psychotherapy is the ability to learn what are called coping mechanisms, or methods of which to cope with difficult situations. People who attend group therapy often share with one another the different skills they utilize, as well as their unique perspectives. 

Sometimes hearing other’s problems and solutions may prompt someone to realize there are things they haven’t tried themselves. Group therapy provides a space for individuals to relate to others and learn coping skills that might help overcome their trauma. 

The Ability to Help Others Like Them, While Also Helping Themselves

Perhaps one of the most useful benefits of group therapy is the fact that it’s mutually beneficial for most. Individuals not only benefit from listening to others’ problems and connecting with their experiences, but others may benefit from that individual’s perspective, too. 

It Provides a Social Support Network

Meeting others who share similar experiences is another very important benefit of group therapy. It provides an effective way to build a social support system.

Getting help from others who can relate to your experiences and may be going through similar circumstances, can feel like a safety net of sorts, that someone can fall back on if needed. 

Sometimes dealing with PTSD and other trauma can bring up intense emotions and reactions that might be difficult to deal with. In these cases, having someone to reach out to is critical.

While one type of psychotherapy and treatment might not fit everyone, group therapy has been scientifically proven to provide benefit to many. It ensures a safe space for others to come together and share in their experiences, and try to heal. Therapy with others can be a rewarding experience, and provide a variety of benefits. 

However, it’s important to remember that everyone is different, and sometimes a more tailored approach to treatment might be necessary. It’s important to discuss this with a licensed professional to determine what the best course of action might be.

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