The Role of Family and Group Therapy in Treating Depression


Counseling services

There are 350 million people around the world who are affected by depression. In the U.S., nearly 7% of the adult population has had at least one major depressive episode. And yet half of all those individuals will never seek therapy services.

Depression, like many other mood disorders, can wreak havoc on an individual’s life and relationships. Stigmas associated with mental illness often prevent sufferers from getting the help they need. As a friend or family member of a depressed individual, it may fall to you to help encourage your loved one to get the help they deserve.

One of the most important things friends and families can do is encourage your loved one to seek counseling, be it on an individual basis or as part of family or group therapy. A major challenge for depressed individuals can be taking these first steps towards recovery. Attending family and group therapy sessions can be a great way to help a depressed individual begin to open up and for everyone involved to learn more about how they can better help your loved one cope.

The foundations of family and group therapy

Family and group therapy can come in a number of forms. Family therapy is founded on the belief that each family is its own social system. Within each family are a unique structure and patterns of communication that define the family dynamics. As such, a change in one member of the family will affect the overall structure and lives of each individual member.

Family therapy also acknowledges the possibility that illness in one member of the family is actually a symptom of a larger problem within the family as a whole. The goal of family and group therapy is to uncover the root cause within the family that may be triggering an illness in one individual. If treatment focuses on only one member of the family, there is a chance that the root cause will never be addressed. The result then could be a family caught in a vicious cycle wherein one member recovers from his or her illness only to have another fall victim to a similar ailment.

What to expect from family and group therapy

With family therapy, a therapist can meet with you in the depressed individual’s home or you could all meet together in the therapist’s office. A family therapist works to ensure all family members have the necessary information about their loved one’s diagnosis. They can answer any questions people have and help you learn more about the causes, symptoms and recovery process.

In family and group therapy, open dialogues are key. One of biggest advantages of family and group therapy for a depressed individual is realizing he or she is not alone. By participating in family and group therapy, you can show your loved one not only that you support him or her in their recovery, but also that you recognize mental illness can be a symptom of a much larger problem that stretches beyond the ill individual alone. In family and group therapy, all members step up to take responsibility for their own problems.

Family therapy can help teach family members how to communicate and function better. It can help the family develop healthier strategies for coping with conflict or other challenges. A therapist will leverage the family’s strengths to help them address any problems within their family dynamics.

In family and group therapy, it’s not uncommon for the therapist to give member assignments to work on. For instance, family members may be asked to commit to a scheduled time when they can eat dinner together. The therapist will set goals for the family and help determine a reasonable length of time to complete them in.

The number of sessions needed will vary from family to family, but in general, psychotherapy treatments for depression last 10 to 20 weeks. How long family and group therapy lasts depends on the severity of the problem and the willingness of family members to participate in therapy. The important thing is to focus not on the timeline to recovery, but on taking the next steps towards helping your loved one recover.

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