Northeastern Society for Group Psychotherapy Foundation, Inc.

Phone: 617.431.6748

Facts about Group Therapy

The History of Group Therapy

BC – 1800s Many prominent thinkers, including Aristotle, have been drawn to study the effects of social interaction on the behavior of individuals. According to J. Scott Rutan, PhD and Walter N. Stone, MD, " Rigorous scientific exploration of the effects of grouping… began as early as 1895, when Gustav LeBon, a French social psychologist, referred to the phenomenon of ‘ the group mind.’" About the same time, an Englishman, William MacDougall, also observed that groups have the potential to enhance individual behavior.

1900 – 2000s Freud also studied individual behavior in groups and proposed that groups form based on attraction, idealization or identification between members and leaders.

In 1905 medical doctor in Boston, Joseph Pratt, held one of the first formal therapeutic groups, when he brought together 15 of his tuberculosis patients in order to educate them about the disease and allow them to discuss their common problems. According to Rutan and Stone, "Pratt reported very positive results from this new type of treatment."

Other early pioneers in the US, established experimental groups for psychiatric patients, neurotic patients, alcoholics and disturbed children.

During and after World War II, influenced by Plancks’s quantum theory, Kurt Lewin proposed that human beings’ personality development was the result of "whole fields of influences that touch upon each person. Perhaps the most important forces in each person’s field are other persons."

The Research Center for Group Dynamics at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts was the "first agency specifically designed to study the dynamics of small groups."

Carl Rogers, in Chicago, established group training for emotional education and individual growth.

Wilfred Bion, Henry Eziel, S. H. Foulkes, Whitaker and Lieberman and Yalom are key theorists who have influenced modern group theory.

(Source: Rutan, J. Scott, and Stone, Walter N., Psychodynamic Group Psychotherapy, The Collamore Press, 1984)

The Curative Factors of Group Psychotherapy
Developed by Irvin Yalom, MD

Irvin D. Yalom, M.D., is Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine. He was the recipient of the 1974 Edward Strecker Award and the 1979 Foundations’ Fund Prize in Psychiatry. He is the author of the classic texts The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy (Basic Books) and Integrated Group Psychotherapy (Basic Books). He lives in Palo Alto, California.

1. Instillation of hope—members gain confidence in the effectiveness of group to help with emotional problems
2. Universality— members often feel relief that they are not alone: others share similar struggles and concerns
3. Imparting information—members receive direct guidance from the group leader and other members, obtaining valuable information about mental health issues
4. Altruism—group members receive through giving, gaining self-esteem as they are able to help others
5. Corrective recapitulation of the primary family group—the group offers an opportunity to be a member of a family where the group member can be heard, understood, and accepted
6. Development of social skills—e.g., learning how to listen, to be empathic, to take turns
7. Imitative behavior—the group leader and other members serve as models for new behavior and coping skills
8. Interpersonal learning—the group is a social microcosm where members can try out new behaviors, and learn from observing others
9. Group cohesiveness—members experience group identity, the feeling of belonging, and value
10. Catharsis—group members learn to express feelings, and gain relief from expressing painful emotions
11. Existential factors—members recognize universal themes such as life and death, grief and loss, love, personal responsibility

Group Therapy Research Highlights

A 1989 report by Stanford University's David Spiegel, MD and his colleagues demonstrated that women with metastatic breast cancer who participated in their study lived an average of 18 months longer if they participated in supportive group therapy than if they didn't (Lancet, Vol. 2, No. 8668, p. 888_891).