Group Therapy for Panic Disorder

An Overview

Group therapy. Getty Images Credit: Tom Merton

If you have been diagnosed with panic disorder, your doctor or mental health specialist may refer you to group therapy. You may be wondering how group therapy can help you cope with your symptoms. The following describes an overview of group therapy for panic disorder.

What is Group Therapy?

As the name implies, group therapy involves psychotherapy in a group setting. Typically, one or more qualified professionals facilitate the group therapy process. The facilitators are responsible for planning the group activities, screening members, determining the topic or goals of the group, and leading the general direction of the group.

The group therapist also decides the general structure of the group therapy sessions, such as dates, times, and location. The facilitator and members meet at a private location for about one to two hours a week. Group therapy sessions can be limited, running over a period of weeks, or more open-ended. Most groups will consist of as few as three to upwards of fifteen members. The facilitator will determine if the group will be open to new members joining or if it will be a closed group that will retain the same members throughout.

When the group meets, seats are generally arranged in a circle to promote relating and sharing. The group therapy process typically occurs in stages. One way to conceptualize this is: forming, working, and closing. During the forming stage, participants will introduce themselves and begin to get to know each other.

Opening up in group therapy may seem intimidating in first, but sharing and cohesion is necessary for each member to grow through the group therapy process.

Next, the working stage involves getting deeper into learning about the condition and problem-solving. This occurs through sharing exercises, skill-building activities, discussions on progress, goal setting, and other group activities. During the final, or closing stage of the group, participants begin to transition to looking towards the future and determining how they will apply what they have learned to life outside the group. This final stage focuses on how members plan to maintain success after treatment.

What Are the Benefits of Group Therapy for Panic Disorder?

There are many benefits to attending group therapy. Some of the most common benefits of group therapy for panic disorder include:

Social support- Many people with panic disorder are dealing with feelings of loneliness and isolation. Family and friends may try to be supportive but may be unable to understand their loved one's struggle. Group therapy provides a sense of belonging, allowing people with panic disorder to build skills with others who can relate. Not all group members will have the same experiences, but members will be able to understand each other’s struggle with panic disorder symptoms. Through group therapy, members can feel safe and supported as they share their progress, setbacks, aspirations, and goals.

Incentive and inspiration- Not only does group therapy offer acceptance, but it can also provide members with accountability. People are often more inclined to work on goals when others are holding them accountable for achieving them. It can be very motivating to work on issues in a group setting. Members may feel inspired by sharing ideas and witnessing the success of others. Group therapy can instill a sense of hope, foster encouragement, and provide inspiration on the road to recovery.

Personal growth and symptom management- The main purpose of group therapy is to assist in managing symptoms. Through the group, a person is offered the ability to try new ways of being and coping. Feedback offered by other members can help in increasing self-awareness. Group therapy can also allow members to let go of pent up emotions, reduce stress, improve self-esteem, and learn new ways to manage anxiety.

The type of psychotherapy used for group therapy will depend on therapist’s training and theoretical approach. Many groups will be facilitated using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques, which have been found to be effective in treating anxiety disorders. Many of the CBT techniques are a good fit for a group format, such as role-playing, cognitive restructuring, and behavior modification. To keep the momentum of the group going between sessions, homework, such as writing exercises, may also be assigned each week.

Getting Started In Group Therapy

Group therapy is frequently offered through hospitals, clinics, private practices, and nonprofit community agencies. Some groups may focus specifically on managing panic disorder. Other groups may be more general, centering on common issues for those with anxiety disorders, such as overcoming negative thinking, learning relaxation techniques, and assertiveness training.

Group therapy is usually only one part of a person’s treatment plan. Your treatment plan may include other effective treatment options, such as individual psychotherapy and medications for panic disorder. Your treatment provider will help you determine which treatment options are best for your needs.

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  • Corey, M. S., Corey, G., & Corey, C. (2010). Groups: Process and Practice. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
  • Yalom, I. D. and Leszcz, M. (2005). Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, 5th ed. Cambridge, MA: Perseus.

By Katharina Star, PhD
Katharina Star, PhD, is an expert on anxiety and panic disorder. Dr. Star is a professional counselor, and she is trained in creative art therapies and mindfulness.