Is Group Therapy Effective for Depression or Anxiety?

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Individual psychotherapy, including mindfulness-based therapy, can be effective. But one-on-one counseling is expensive and may not be available to many people suffering from depression or anxiety. Can group therapy deliver the same results?

To find out, researchers from the Center for Primary Health Care Research in Sweden conducted an eight-week randomized controlled trial with 215 subjects, ranging in age from 20 to 64, who had sought help for various psychiatric complaints, including depression and anxiety. The study involved only patients with mild or moderate symptoms.

The participants, who were recruited from 16 primary care centers in Sweden, were randomly assigned to mindfulness-based group therapy (MBGT) or to a control group that employed conventional treatment, which was typically individual cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

The results of the study, which were reported last year in European Psychiatry, were encouraging. At the end of the trial, both groups showed significant and similar improvements in symptoms, suggesting that mindfulness-based group therapy might deliver the same benefits as individual therapy. That said, the study had limitations, such as the fact that the follow-up time for evaluating symptoms was short-only eight weeks.

The possibility that group therapy could be as effective as one-on-one therapy merits further investigation, particularly because it may be less expensive and thus make therapy affordable for more people.