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Group therapy: history, types and phases

Group therapy: history, types and phases

June 11, 2024

The concept of "group therapy" encompasses a large number of different interventions, which can focus on the management of specific problems, on the acquisition of behavioral and cognitive skills or on the social benefits of the group experience itself.

In this article we will describe what they are the phases of group therapy and what types exist . We will also synthesize the development of this therapeutic method and the main theoretical orientations in this regard.

  • Related article: "Types of psychological therapies"

History of group therapy

Group therapy as we know it began to develop in the 1920s and 1930s. In the 20s of the last century Pratt applied pioneering group interventions for the management of tuberculosis, while Lazell did it with schizophrenia patients.


Psychoanalysis, which enjoyed great popularity in the first half of the 20th century, had a great influence on early group therapy. Wender transferred the ideas of Sigmund Freud on family functioning to the therapeutic groups, while Schilder adopted the analysis of dreams and transference as a methodology.

Moreno's psychodrama It was one of the first group therapies to acquire certain relevance. Moreno worked group dynamics through dramatic procedures focused on emotion, close to interpretation. At the same time, in the 30s and 40s, Redl began to apply group therapy in children, and Slavson did the same with teenagers.


Group therapy became popular in the United States after World War II. Slavson founded the American Psychotherapy Association, while his rival Moreno created the American Society of Group Psychotherapy. Later, other schools and authors greatly influenced these therapies, such as Gestalt, neofreudianos, Ellis or Carl Rogers.

From the 60's the different traditions specialized and developed. It began to distinguish clearly between therapies focused on the treatment of specific disorders and others closer to what we know today as psychoeducation. Cognitive-behavioral therapies They acquired great relevance in the most practical side of group therapy.

  • Related article: "Jacob Levy Moreno's psychodrama: what is it?"

Types of group

There are many different ways to classify therapeutic groups. We will focus on some of the most fundamental differentiations, especially those that refer to the composition and structure of the group.


1. Psychoeducational and process-centered

Psychoeducational groups aim to provide their members information and tools to handle difficulties . They can focus on pathologies, such as psychoeducational groups for family members of people with psychosis or bipolar disorder, or on specific topics, such as emotional education for adolescents.

In contrast, the groups focused on the process, closer to the psychodynamic and experiential traditions, focus on the usefulness of the group relationship itself. promote emotional expression and psychological change in the people who participate.

2. Small and large

It is usually considered that a therapeutic group is small when it is formed by between 5 and 10 members, approximately. In these groups interaction and cohesion are greater, and in many cases close relationships are created. The ideal size of the groups It is between 8 and 10 people, according to experts.

Larger groups are more productive, but they tend to facilitate the formation of subgroups and the division of tasks. In addition, participants in large groups tend to feel less satisfied than those in small groups.

3. Homogeneous and heterogeneous

The homogeneity or heterogeneity of a group can be assessed according to a single criterion, such as the presence of a single problem or several, or at a general level; For example, the members of a group can vary in gender, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity , etc.

Homogeneous groups tend to function more quickly, to generate more cohesion and to be less problematic. Despite the heterogeneity, especially in specific disorders or difficulties, it can be very useful to present different behavioral alternatives.

4. Closed and open

In the closed groups the people who are present in the creation of the group are also present when it ends, while in open groups members vary to a greater extent , usually because they remain active for longer.

Closed groups generate greater cohesion but are more vulnerable to the departure of members.Open groups are applied, for example, in psychiatric hospitals and in associations such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

  • Perhaps you are interested: "Systemic therapy: what is it and on what principles is it based?"

Phases of group therapy

In this section we will describe the four phases of group therapy according to Gerald Corey . Although other authors speak of different phases, most classifications of the stages of the group process converge on the key aspects.

1. Initial or orientation stage

In the orientation phase the central task of the therapist is establish the trust of group members towards him and towards the rest of the participants. The norms, both explicit and implicit, must also be clear. There is often a clash between the needs for autonomy and those of belonging to the group.

2. Transition stage

After the initial stage it is possible that members feel doubts about the benefits they can get from the group, as well as fear of exposure. It is common for conflicts to appear between members and for the authority of the therapist to be questioned.

3. Work stadium

According to Corey, in the work phase there is cohesion among the participants as of addressing specific problems and conflicts that arise in the group itself. The therapist can challenge the members in order to move towards therapeutic goals.

4. Final or consolidation stage

In the consolidation stage, a recapitulation of the progress made by members , which aims to integrate the experience of group therapy in everyday life.

Participants may feel some sadness and fear of facing new difficulties without the help of their colleagues and the therapist, so it is advisable to prepare the finalization well and plan follow-up sessions, if necessary.


Four Stages of Group Development (June 2024).


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