Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 December 2014
This chapter will (1) outline the main approaches to using groups to help people deal with psychological problems, (2) examine briefly the relevant outcome research and (3) describe the main applications of group therapy, with particular focus on groups in a medical setting.
Models of group therapy
There is an obvious intuitive and experiential validity in the notion that cohesive groups can provide considerable support and psychological help to their members. Throughout our lives the features of our membership in various groups such as the primary and secondary family, school class, work groups and networks of friends are of great importance. Social interactions within such structures are one of the major sources of human happiness and fulfilment, as well as of human misery.
Various religious and secular groups have always helped to alleviate their members' psychological distress. However, the idea of creating groups for an explicitly therapeutic purpose is relatively new. The first account of such groups was published in 1907. Rather surprisingly, this pioneering report is from a general medical rather than psychiatric setting. An American internist, Joseph Pratt, organized group meetings to provide support and encouragement to patients with tuberculosis, and to demonstrate the benefits of compliance with the therapeutic regimen of the day. In recent years, support groups for people with physical or externally-based problems are becoming popular again. Throughout the intervening period however, group therapy has been practised primarily in psychiatric settings, and the most influential approaches were informed predominantly by the work with neurotic populations.