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Group Therapy Provides Mental Health Support to Work Through Challenges

Image of Group Therapy Provides Mental Health Support to Work Through Challenges. U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. David Ottignon, commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force (right), greets U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Biannca Davis, staff noncommissioned officer in charge of Marine and Family Programs, New River (left), during a Suicide Prevention Wellness Symposium on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina on April 16, 2024. During the symposium, mental health professionals from Headquarters Marine Corps discussed important mental well-being issues with service members and civilian contractors with II MEF. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jack Labrador)

[Editor’s note: This article deals with mental health issues and treatment. If you or someone you know is having a mental health crisis, call the 988 National Suicide and Crisis Lifelineopens 988 Lifeline.org and press “1”, or text 838255, or chatChat with a counselor for emotional support for the dedicated Veterans Crisis Line and Military Crisis Line. For Spanish, press “2”.]

Mental health is health, and evidence-based group therapy is one effective tool for service members to get treatment for a mental health challenge.

Group therapy involves a group of patients who meet to discuss their experiences under the supervision of a trained therapist. The American Psychological Association reports that group therapy can be as effective as one-on-one therapy to help individuals achieve their treatment goals.

“In the military, teamwork is essential, and group therapy aligns with that principle,” said Shira Max, a licensed clinical psychologist with a psychology doctorate who’s a senior mental health provider at the Naval Branch Health Clinic Naval Training Center, San Diegoopens NBHSSD page on TRICARE.mil.

“It can be common for service members to think no one understands what they’re going through, or that you should be able to handle it on your own,” said Ronda Renosky-Vittori, a doctorate in behavioral health, and program area manager for psychological disorders treatment research, Science and Technology Portfolio Management Branch at the Defense Health Agency Research and Engineering Directorateopens Health.mil, Silver Spring, Maryland.

“Group therapy provides a safe environment to practice building trust and opening up to other people who have had similar experiences. It can reduce the isolation that you can feel when you are going through a tough time,” said Renosky-Vittori, who has a background in leading group therapy. “The group provides support that comes from a sense of community, not obligation.”

In this type of therapy, “you can release pent-up emotions without feeling judged or having someone immediately try to ‘fix the problem’ for you,” Renosky-Vittori said. “You can hear how others handle similar situations, and they can support you through problem solving, resolving conflicts, or challenging conversations. Group therapy gives you the chance to support others in that same way, which improves your confidence, and can reduce your own symptoms.”

Stigma and Culture Change

Some behavioral health patients may be reluctant to share their feelings and experiences in group therapy or they may fear stigmaopens Health.mil News article attached to mental health in the military and civilian worlds.

However, stigma is less of a factor now, according to Renosky-Vittori. “We need to move away from talking about stigma as though it is an absolute reality that holds people back from seeking treatment,” she declared.

“Talking about mental health is mainstream now, not taboo. The reality is that we all experience suffering at some point or another in our lives—it is a universal experience we all have. There can be no stigma in a universal experience,” Renosky-Vittori said.

“Getting together with a group of people and talking about your problems is very challenging for some because there is a lot of cultural momentum to overcome,” said U.S. Army Maj. Daniel Good, a doctorate in clinical psychology, and installation deputy director of psychological health at the U.S. Army’s Fort Leonard Woodopens Army.mil garrison in Missouri. Because of the time constraints of active duty, “making time to attend a weekly therapy group is sometimes a challenge,” he noted.

“It’s completely normal to have reservations about group therapy, especially if you're new to the experience,” Max said.

“A common concern is related to the fear of speaking in front of others, but especially about sharing deeply personal experiences. It's natural to feel nervous about opening up in a group setting, but it's important to remember that everyone in the group is there for the same reason—to receive support and work through challenges together,” she explained.

[This story continues, addressing the benefits of virtual group therapy, in part 2.]

Additional Resources

May is the annual Mental Health Awareness Month, and this year’s DHA theme is “Defend Your Mental Health.” For anyone experiencing a mental health crisis, needing immediate assistance, or simply wanting to talk, confidential help is available 24/7/365.

 

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Last Updated: May 16, 2024
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