In recent years there has been an increasing demand for mental health services in Canada. The increased awareness of the importance of mental health, reduced stigma, and modern stressors including the pandemic have increased people’s readiness to engage in psychological treatments. Although group therapy is not a new concept, there is increased access to this format of treatment as group sessions are able to effectively target a number of concerns while increasing efficiency and reducing cost. Furthermore, group treatments offer some unique benefits including meeting other people who may have shared experiences as well as opportunities for social connection. If you are seeking psychological treatment, group therapy may be an ideal choice for addressing your concerns and working towards positive change!

What is group therapy?

Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy where a mental health clinician works with multiple clients simultaneously1. Cartoon group therapy sitting in chairs with bubble textTogether, the clinician and clients work to minimize distress through discussing feelings and experiences, changing unhelpful thoughts and behaviours, and learning helpful coping skills1. Groups are formed around a shared diagnosis or concern amongst clients (e.g. stress, depression, insomnia). Most therapy groups occur for 1-2 hours weekly, and last for about 6-12 weeks.

Some groups are primarily focused on psychoeducation and skill-building – providing clients with knowledge related to the topic at hand, mostly following a structured plan set by the clinician2. Psychoeducational groups focus on educating clients about the topic, learning about potential triggers, and related coping skills2. The relationships between clients in this setting is not the main focus, but clients may find comfort in knowing they are not alone in their particular situation1. Think of this type of group as a classroom, where the clinician is leading discussion and educating group members on the given topic. These types of groups also often have a homework component, where participants practice the skills being learned between sessions and have opportunities to debrief these exercises during group sessions. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) groups fall into this category of treatment.

Other groups are aimed at being more of a support group, or ‘process-oriented’ group. This type of therapy involves clients delving deeply into their experiences, problems, and emotions with others in the group3. Instead of teaching and following a plan, the main focus is reflection on individuals’ interpersonal experiences, and working through challenges together with the support of peers. In this type of group, the clinician is there for support and to lead discussion when needed, but peer support and interaction remains the main focus.

Who can benefit from group therapy?

If you have ever felt alone in your struggles, it can be beneficial to become connected with other individuals who are in the same boat as you. Although family and friends can be supportive during difficult times, they often struggle to grasp the emotional difficulties you may be facing and connecting with others who understand and can empathize with your experience can be helpful. For skills-focused groups, you may also learn from others or benefit from their perspectives. Furthermore, since group therapy is often offered at a lower cost than individual treatments, it may make evidence-based care more accessible to members of a community.

Group therapy can benefit individuals struggling with a variety of mental health conditions including4:black head outline with pink brain and red heart

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

In addition to mental health conditions, therapy groups can also be centred around a variety of shared life experiences or specific skills such as4:Cartoon couple facing each other back to back with a broken purple heart in the backround

  • Life Stress
  • Grief
  • Chronic pain or illness
  • Mindfulness
  • Parenting
  • Anger management

Benefits of group therapy

Opening up about personal struggles to a group of strangers can be intimidating. However, group therapy provides some unique benefits that are not available in individual therapy:

  • It is easy to feel alone in your struggles – like no one else has felt this way and there must be something really wrong with you. Group therapy allows you to meet others who are in similar situations or with similar experiences, making you feel less alone3. Many individuals find comfort in surrounding themselves with others who may be experiencing the same problems.
  • Group members can act as a sounding board, helping you work through difficult situations or decisions. Having many individuals withpeople standing in a circle holding hands diverse experiences who have been in similar situations can provide new ways of looking at a given scenario5. Because of these unique backgrounds, others may be able to provide insight into things that you have never considered before.
  • Group therapy gives you access to others who may act as mentors. You may even choose to connect with others outside of the group setting and develop longer-lasting relationships.
  • If you are in an open group (i.e. people join and leave the group at different times), some individuals will have been in the group longer than others. It can be motivating to see their progress, and inspire you to keep pushing forward.
  • Group therapy can improve your ability to make and maintain interpersonal relationships with others – something that may have been falling between the cracks while dealing with major life struggles1.
  • Group therapy can help you become more comfortable interacting in a group setting, something that is challenging for most people who haven’t has much experience with this. Participating in a group context is something that becomes much easier with practice and is a skill that generalizes to many other settings (e.g., school or work meetings).
  • Although many people are unsure about starting a group treatment in the beginning, group programs tend to be very collaborative and supportive settings. We often get feedback at the end of a group that participants enjoyed the format more than they exacted they would.

Group therapy at Waterloo CBT Clinic

In addition to individual therapy, the Waterloo CBT Clinic also provides group therapy several times per year for a few specific and common concerns. Groups at the Waterloo CBT Clinic are structured, skills-based groups that are developed based on the latest research and evidence-based protocols.

One of the groups offered at the clinic is targeted towards stress management. This 8-session CBT group teaches skills to better manage Waterloo CBT logo yellow and blue diamondstress, including cognitive strategies, self-care, mindfulness, behavioural experiments, and effective problem solving. This program is for adults who are experiencing chronic stress and want to learn skills for managing stressors more effectively.

Another group currently offered at the Waterloo CBT Clinic is the Insomnia group. This is a 6-session program that teaches clients how to implement CBT skills to manage their chronic insomnia, quiet their mind, and get to sleep. This group is for adults who regularly experience issues falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up early. CBT is the first-line treatment for insomnia and has been proven to be effective across several clinical trials.

For more information about the group treatments offered at our clinic, visit our website at

Overall, group therapy is an excellent treatment modality that can provide many benefits for a variety of issues. Group therapy can be successful when used alone, or in tandem with other psychotherapies (e.g. individual therapy) or treatments (e.g. medications). If you think group therapy is for you, reach out to your mental healthcare clinician for referrals or search the internet for open groups near you!


Written by: Emma Weber, BSc. and Dr. Dubravka (Dee) Gavric


  1. CAMH. (n.d.). Group therapy.
  2. Sarkhel, S., Singh, O. P., & Arora, M. (2020). Clinical Practice Guidelines for Psychoeducation in Psychiatric Disorders General Principles of Psychoeducation. Indian journal of psychiatry, 62(2), S319–S323.
  3. Department of Health & Human Services. (2015). Support groups. Better Health Channel.–%20either%20physically,to%20health%20or%20social%20problems
  4. MediLexicon International. (n.d.). Group therapy: Definition, benefits, what to expect, and more. Medical News Today.
  5. American Psychological Association. (2019). Psychotherapy: Understanding group therapy. American Psychological Association.,your%20own%20problems%20in%20perspective