Individual therapy is a wonderful resource for kids who need help learning to manage symptoms of anxiety and mood disorders, to process emotions, to work through a variety of stressors (grief, social issues, low self-esteem, etc.), and to improve their moods. Individual therapy provides a safe space for kids to verbalize their struggles and seek help. In many cases, working one-to-one with a therapist is enough to help kids overcome their struggles and learn to self-regulate.

Some kids, however, also benefit from group therapy. While individual therapy helps kids explore their emotions, responses to stress, and steps they can take to improve their emotional wellbeing, it doesn’t address the specific difficulties kids face in the classroom, on the playing field, or in small groups.

Group therapy gives therapists an opportunity to see how kids relate to one another in a group setting. For kids struggling with social anxiety, poor social skills, or inattentiveness, the group setting offers the therapist a chance to help kids work through their obstacles with other kids as they occur. Group therapy can also be a source of support for kids dealing with grief, bullying, anxiety and depression, and other mental health issues.

Group therapy is effective. One meta-analysis of 56 studies found that kids or adolescents treated with group therapy were better off at the end of treatment than 73% of those who were not.

When a child struggles with social interaction skills, parents often seek help to improve the child’s ability to communicate and connect with others. In individual therapy, the child will work on specific goals to address these skills. An example might be making one new friend by initiating a conversation and using active listening skills. This helps the child practice a specific skill set. In a group setting, however, the child has the opportunity to work on these skills with other kids in the room. If a child struggles with social interaction skills because of anxiety, the child can work on initiating a conversation with another child in the safety of the group.

What Kind of Groups Are Available for Kids?

There are different groups available to address different issues. In general, a small group of kids working through similar stressors are placed together. Groups are typically small in size, about 8 to 10 participants depending on the nature of the group. In some cases, groups are organized by gender, but many groups focus on working through a specific issue (ex: social skills, anxiety, etc.). Examples of group therapy include:

  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): This emphasizes a combination of individual psychotherapy and group skills training classes to help kids learn and use new strategies to improve their emotional functioning. Skills learned include mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. Dialectical behavior therapy is an offshoot of the more common practice of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). DBT was initially developed to help individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD).
  • Process groups: These groups help kids work through psychosocial stressors in a safe and supportive environment. Grief groups, social groups to work through bullying, eating disorders groups, play therapy groups, and empowerment groups are examples of process groups. Process group therapy is a powerful tool in helping kids learn how to trust others, how to share experiences that they might otherwise keep bottled up, and how to provide and accept supportive feedback to and from peers.
  • Social skills groups: These groups include skill-building exercises and practice with age-appropriate peers. Social skill groups are typically aimed towards developing social skills in younger children, approximately ages two to eight. Social skill group therapy sessions can involve role-playing practices to help kids better understand how to start conversations as well as appropriate body language.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) groups: These groups help kids identify inaccurate thinking that reinforces negative behaviors and are generally focused on a specific issue. CBT groups are particularly effective with anxiety disorders. Learn more about CBT here.

Keep in mind that it is important to create a schedule that you and your children can stick to with group therapy sessions.

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How Will My Child Benefit from Group Therapy?

Group therapy can build self-confidence and assertiveness and empower kids to sidestep negative peer pressure. It can also equip kids with the tools they need to process and manage negative emotions and work through stress and anxiety. Check out these benefits from group therapy for kids:

Say hello to social confidence

Working through complex emotional issues with a peer group helps kids learn new ways of relating to others. Through group work, kids find their voices and practice new skills in a safe environment with feedback from a therapist.

Say goodbye to unmanageable emotional stress

Kids often feel overwhelmed by their emotional responses to stressors. Groups offer kids a place to vent their emotions, connect with other kids, and empathize with one another. This decreases their stress level.

They’ll feel heard and supported

When kids struggle with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, they often feel isolated or alone. They feel like others don’t understand them. Groups help kids feel heard and known. They also help kids learn to talk openly about their struggles and learn from peer modeling.

Friendships will be fostered

Whether your child enrolls in a social skills group to learn friendship making skills or a support group for kids who have been bullied, friendships will improve as a result of the group. Kids don’t have a ton of opportunities to get meaningful feedback on social skills in the moment. Through group work, kids learn to empathize with, support, and care for their peers. This translates to positive friendship skills in their own communities.

They’ll gain communication skills that will last a lifetime

It can be difficult to find the right words when you’re overwhelmed with negative emotions. Kids who haven’t yet learned communication tools can end up experiencing frustration or sadness by communicating anger, or not communicate at all. Group therapy provides an opportunity for kids to practice verbalizing and exploring their emotions with their peers. This helps kids build effective communication tools to use when they are in distress.

Are there any circumstances in which group therapy might not be a recommended option for children? Kids who are in crisis or experiencing suicidal ideation are not good candidates for group therapy. Additionally, to gain the most out of group therapy, kids need to attend weekly. Distance and scheduling can make that difficult for some. Lastly, kids with significant social anxiety might not be ready for a group in the beginning phase of treatment, as speaking in a group setting can be difficult.

Barring these situations, group therapy can be an excellent option for many children dealing with various mental health issues.

How Do I Find A Group for My Child?

Some groups are open and ongoing, meaning that kids can join at any time, while others are closed and have a specific beginning and end. A school counselor is an excellent resource for groups in the area, and it’s always a good idea to check in with your primary care physician for referrals.

When paired with individual therapy to work through specific interpersonal issues, group therapy is an effective and supportive resource for kids who might benefit from additional social support and skills training to target their social-emotional needs.

Last Updated: Nov 25, 2018