Research Letter

To Members and Friends of CGPA,

The bibliography you will find  here  provides a listing of recent empirical work demonstrating the efficacy or effectiveness of various group treatments for specific disorders. For more detail, the reader is encouraged to delve into the review chapter prepared by Burlingame, Strauss, a nd MacKenzie (2004) in the latest edition of the Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change.

The research literature regarding group treatments is continuing to mature, placing what we do on an increasingly solid empirical footing. However, more work is required to demonstrate the efficacy and effectiveness of group therapy for other specific diagnostic groupings, for the prototypic open-ended group treatment for diagnostically heterogeneous patients, and for clarifying the action and interrelationship of the curative mechanisms that operate in group. This activity is occurring on many fronts; the annual meetings of the Canadian and American Group Psychotherapy Associations and the International Journal of Group Psychotherapy are excellent resources for keeping up to date. More importantly, the field has a great need for young clinicians to commit to engaging in the research process and contributing to the empirical literature. Opportunities for consultations with experienced researchers can be sought through the offices of the CGPA and AGPA, and at the annual meetings, to facilitate this development.

The literature is informative regarding a number of considerations regarding group therapy. First, group treatments have been demonstrated to be efficacious and to provide benefits to patients that are equivalent to treatments implemented in the individual (dyadic) format. Second, the evidence is fairly strong for the effectiveness of group therapy as a primary treatment for a number of specific patient disorders or problems: mood disorders, agoraphobia/panic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, bulimic disorders, and problems faced by the elderly. The bulk of this literature, however, concerns the benefits afforded by behavioural or cognitive-behavioural approaches; the efficacy and effectiveness of interpersonal and dynamically- oriented group therapy needs to be buttressed by more empirical evidence. Third, there is also strong evidence in support of group therapy as an adjunct or augment to the treatments provided for more serious psychiatric conditions, such as trauma disorders, schizophrenia, and personality disorder, or those provided for substance abuse problems or medical illness. Fourth, the literature offers compelling findings regarding certain critical dimensions of group therapy process. Included here would be studies of the developmental stages of a group, the importance of certain process dimensions (e.g., cohesion) at particular points in a group’s development, therapeutic factors, interactions of patient characteristics (e.g., attachment style) with therapeutic strategies in group, and so on.

This information and more is available for study in the literature; the reader is encouraged to become immersed in this often fascinating material. Reading the literature may stimulate you to attempt different things in your groups, or to apply familiar skills in different ways with different patients. Exploring the literature may also prompt you to ask questions that can best be answered by empirical study-don’t hesitate if this occurs, but instead seek out advice on the “how to” and plunge right in!

Anthony S. Joyce, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Psychiatry

University of Alberta