Individual talk therapy is when a patient and their therapist can discuss and overcome unwanted and negative thoughts and behaviors through self-reflection and insight-oriented work. Talk therapy is complicated and challenging, and it nearly always requires a willing and cooperative patient. To that end, it can be challenging to apply individual talk therapy to teens without a thoroughly established relationship and plenty of rapport, as many teens tend to favor a contrarian attitude and are unlikely to be cooperative.
Helping a teen in a one-on-one setting requires a specialized and experienced therapy that knows how a teen’s mind operates and responds and can best relate to them. When a therapist can finally get on the same page as their teen patient, the progress they can make together can be incredible. But often, finding an alternative approach is productive in the early stages of treatment. This is where group therapy becomes a powerful tool when treating adolescents for multiple essential reasons.
Offers Peer Support and Encouragement, Helps Teens Feel Less Alone or Isolated
The first thing group therapy teaches a teen is that they’re not alone with their thoughts and struggles. Teens are inexperienced and naturally self-centered (this is not a bad thing). They are preoccupied with the rapid and complicated changes they are experiencing on a nigh-daily basis. When they realize that they are “different,” one of the significant issues they face is the crippling isolation experienced by feeling cut off from their peers due to their condition and the treatment process. It is fun to be unique, but it is lonely and terrifying to be “weird.”
Group therapy can help teens realize that they’re not alone at all and that while there might not be too many people out there who can completely relate to their experiences, there are still enough people out there to fill a room and talk about it. It also helps them remember that struggling with a mental health disorder does not make someone less of a person or somehow alien. People are people, and even with a variety of different problems, there is always some way in which different people can relate to one another and make each other feel a little more “normal.”
Addresses Unique Teen-Specific Substance Use and Mental Health Issues
Teens aren’t just self-centered; they’re also famously and painfully self-aware. With that comes a great deal of social anxiety, particularly among teens who feel shy and nervous around strangers and struggle with serious communication issues. These issues and fears are easily masked in a one-on-one session. Still, for teens with social anxiety and communication problems, group therapy becomes a safe space to practice critical social skills and overcome many fears amplified by inexperience or victimization.
Often, teens resort to absorbing other identities into themselves to figure out who they are. It is part of the process of becoming an adult and might involve suddenly gaining ultimately new friends, looks, and interests overnight. However, there are cases when this kind of behavior is maybe contributing to an inner conflict stemming from guilt or shame over one’s immutable characteristics or flaws.
Teen insecurity is nothing new. It’s a natural part of being in that “awkward” stage, but learning to overcome them – not by transforming into someone else, but by developing the self-confidence to be oneself – is an essential part of growing up. A safe and healthy group therapy environment can help empower teens to identify with what makes them unique and stand out, rather than seeking solely to blend in with others or adapt to whatever is most popular.
Provides a Platform for Peer-to-Peer Connections and Discussions
A group therapy setting is not just a place to listen to others talk, but it is also a place to be heard. It can feel validating and empowering to finally sit among other teens who are capable of reacting empathically and with understanding, who have likely gone through similar experiences or, in the very least, know what it can feel like to be alone or ostracized because of specific symptoms or behaviors. Being heard is something we all yearn for, whether we are children, adolescents, or adults.
And the best way to feel like you truly belong somewhere is to tell your story and feel like it resonates with those around you. Getting the chance to talk about one’s anxieties and struggles can also help confirm to the speaker that these are real issues they need to address, and not just quirks or things to be belittled for. Teens can begin to contextualize and even better understand their thoughts and behaviors and compare their experiences to those around them and gain insight into how others have dealt with their problems.
Offers a Safe, Structured Place for Teens to Experience Positive Social Interactions
Consequently, group therapy also becomes a place where positive experiences and learning experiences are shared and discussed, and it becomes a place where those teens who have had more experience with therapy can help guide others through the early stages of the treatment process and become part of their path towards understanding their condition. These relationships go both ways – while newcomers feel welcomed and understood, those who have had more time in therapy can reap the benefits of helping others through their own experiences.
Helps Teens Develop Social Skills and Effective Coping Tools
Through group therapy sessions, teens are encouraged to practice their social skills, engage with their peers empathically, learn to reflect on their own experiences by way of reviewing or recontextualizing what happened to others, and gain a chance to help one another by giving advice, sharing stories, and being there for each other.
Group therapy becomes a place where teens with various issues learn to identify similarities and work out their differences, making a lot of progress in developing stronger self-esteem, a more concrete identity, communication skills, and relationship skills.
The Bottom Line
Group therapy may be ideal for teens because it’s a setting where they can interact with and help their peers, work on their social skills, and develop a stronger sense of self amid a group. These improvements and skills can carry over into individual therapy and day-to-day life outside of treatment. Through other people’s experiences and stories, teens can also better understand their thoughts and behaviors. It is still hard work – all therapy is – but it may help many teens in ways unique to adolescence.