How Psychoeducational Group Therapy Can Help Phobias

Group therapy

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Did your therapist recently suggest group therapy as part of your treatment plan for a phobia? That wouldn't be unusual.

A psychoeducational group is a common component in treatment plans for phobia, which includes agoraphobiasocial phobia (social anxiety disorder), and a specific phobia, an exaggerated or irrational fear of a specific object or situation.

Common Characteristics of Psychoeducational Group Therapy

A psychoeducational group is a specific type of group therapy that focuses on educating clients about their disorders and ways of coping. A psychoeducational group is often based on the principles of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).

Your psychoeducational group is likely to consist of members who all share the same diagnosis. In this case, education tends to focus on coping with that specific disorder.

In other groups, members may have very different diagnoses, and the educational focus is on practical life skills such as managing stress or improving relationships.

The leader of the psychoeducational group you attend could be a mental health expert, a peer counselor who shares a similar diagnosis, or a member of the community. There are specific formats for certain types of psychoeducational groups, but some may be less structured than others.

Group Treatment for Adolescents with Social Anxiety Disorder

A psychoeducational group is the first part of a successful school-based treatment plan for adolescents with social anxiety disorder (formerly known as social phobia) called Skills for Social and Academic Success (SASS). The students gather in small groups for 12 weekly sessions of 40 minutes each. The group leaders guide each session and supportive peers without social anxiety disorder are in attendance, too.

During the first session, the group leaders use psychoeducation in a group setting to:

  • Normalize the experience of anxiety
  • Present the behavioral symptoms and let students share their own symptoms
  • Give students space to discuss their negative thoughts and how avoidance affects their lives
  • Identify students' goals for the SASS program

The next four topics presented in the subsequent sessions of SASS are:

  • Realistic thinking
  • Social skills training
  • Exposure
  • Relapse prevention

Group Interventions for Specific Phobias

A psychoeducational group intervention is an effective approach for reducing the symptoms of the social anxiety known as erythrophobia, a fear of blushing, and the specific phobia arachnophobia, a fear of spiders.

When it comes to a fear of blushing, a study published in the journal Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy found that when 47 erythrophobia participants attended one weekly psychoeducational group session for six weeks, they showed significant improvement from baseline on a Blushing, Trembling, and Sweating Questionnaire.

In regards to the specific phobia of spiders, a pilot study published in a German medical journal on child psychology evaluated 36 children between the ages of 8 and 10. Researchers wanted to try and reduce the likelihood of developing this common fear using a psychoeducative group program. After completing the program, both boys and girls showed a reduction in their fear. 

A Word From Verywell

If you think you may benefit from this type of therapy, consider consulting with your doctor or a mental health professional. For instance, it's possible that a psychoeducational group on managing social phobia can teach you ways to reduce your anxiety in social situations.

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