Common misconceptions of mental health skills groups

June 15, 2023
7 min read

When it comes to improving your mental health, most people still fall into the trap of assuming that individual therapy is their best option. In doing so, they overlook mental health skills groups which are typically more affordable, more consistent (due to a focus on curriculum), and often just as effective. Considering the cost of individual therapy and the fact that the quality of care can vary greatly from therapist to therapist, for many it’s worth exploring group interventions first. In this article, we’ll dispel some of the misconceptions about skills groups.


Don’t get us wrong. We are not suggesting that individual therapy is ineffective—if your therapist is following proven protocols, it can be highly effective. But navigating the world of mental health can be overwhelming, and by considering all your options and understanding when to choose what, you can find the right path to healing and growth. 

Research has shown that group interventions can be just as effective as individual therapy in treating certain mental health concerns, while also being more cost-effective and accessible for many people. In fact, a systematic review and meta-analysis of 25 randomized controlled trials found that group interventions were not only effective in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety among other mental health concerns, but were also more effective than individual therapy in reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Another study found that group interventions were associated with significantly greater improvements in symptoms of social anxiety disorder (SAD) than individual therapy.

So, what exactly are mental health skills groups? 

Think of them as collaborative group learning programs where trained coaches teach practical skills to individuals dealing with a range of mental health issues, such as stress, anxiety, anger management, and borderline personality disorder (BPD). Not only do these sessions provide a sense of community and camaraderie that you can't get from individual therapy, but they also offer the opportunity to share your own experiences and learn from others. This can be a powerful way to build resilience and coping skills. 

At TheraHive, our groups combine live online learning, as described above, with highly engaging content that students consume at their own pace. This helps our students get the absolute most value from live sessions. Learn more about our approach to blended learning.

Unfortunately, there are still many myths and misconceptions surrounding mental health skills groups that prevent people from seeking them out. So, let’s bust some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding mental health skills groups. By debunking these myths, we hope more people will consider skills groups as a valuable option in their mental health journey. 

Myth #1: Mental Health Skills Groups are support groups.

False—support groups, or “process groups” play an important role for some in maintaining their mental health, but they are not the same as mental health skills groups. Mental health skills groups are led by a trained coach who teaches specific mental health skills in a  goal-oriented context. Support groups are typically peer-led and aim to share experiences and provide emotional support.

Myth #2: Mental health skills groups are only for people with severe mental health issues.

False—this couldn't be further from the truth. Skills groups can benefit everyone. Whether you’re struggling with an acute mental health issue or trying to further elevate your mental health, skills will help. In most cases, the skills being taught are life skills that will help you reduce anxiety, lower stress, effectively manage relationships, and improve your focus. At TheraHive, our admissions team reviews every application carefully and conducts an interview with all applicants so that we can assemble classes (what we call a Hive) of people with complementary goals.

Myth #3: Mental health skills groups are less effective than individual therapy.

False— Research has shown that mental health skills groups can be just as effective, and in some cases even more effective, than individual therapy. In fact, a study found that group interventions resulted in greater improvements in symptoms of social anxiety disorder (SAD) compared to individual therapy. Part of what makes skills groups so effective is that you learn skills in a social setting which, unlike individual therapy, is more like the real-world situations in which you’ll actually use the skills. It also provides opportunities to learn from the experience of your peers and to gain confidence by doing some teaching of your own.

Myth #4: Mental health skills groups are too confrontational.

False—Skills groups are led by trained coaches who know just how to handle a potential conflict before it arises. Even better, they teach Interpersonal Effectiveness, and model how to use it, so that you can do this for yourself outside of the group. One of the most compelling parts of what makes a skills group engaging for students is the connection they form with their peers. The goal of mental health skills groups is to provide a safe and supportive environment for individuals to learn and practice new skills.

Myth #5: Mental health skills groups are not confidential.

Not Exactly-Therapists are required to maintain confidentiality unless otherwise stipulated—though they are also “mandated reporters” meaning that they must legally report clients that are threatening to self-harm. Skills groups generally require participants to commit to respecting the confidentiality of their peers in order to participate. In online settings, like TheraHive, we also allow students to hide their full names and even use filters to hide their identity if they so choose. All that said, skills groups and other kinds of groups have been operating for a long time, and confidentiality issues rarely arise. 

Now that we've addressed these misconceptions, let's explore the many benefits of group therapy.

Benefit #1: You’ll acquire mental health skills and get results 

Mental health skills groups provide individuals with the skills and tools they need to manage their mental health symptoms and live a fulfilling life. At TheraHive, our students report improvements in their mental health while taking the course. Participants learn skills such as relaxation techniques, communication skills, and mindfulness practices, among others. By learning and practicing these skills in a supportive environment, individuals build confidence and mastery of skills that ultimately lead to improved mental health.

Benefit #2: You’ll get the support and validation you need to pursue your goals


Mental health skills groups are a great way to connect with others who are going through similar challenges. Sharing your story and hearing others can make you feel less alone, and it can help improve your self-esteem. It's not just about learning from a coach but also learning from the feedback of others and even teaching others. It's like that saying, by Phil Collins, ‘In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.’. In mental health skills groups, you get that opportunity to learn, apply and grow alongside others who understand what you're going through. It's a supportive and collaborative environment where you can both receive and give help.

Benefit #3: You’’ll get feedback and perspective that will help you stay on course

Another significant benefit of mental health skills groups is the feedback and perspective that individuals can receive from their peers. By listening to and discussing the experiences of others, individuals can gain insight into their own thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. We often learn best not just from coaches and teachers, but from each other. In mental health skills groups, students have the opportunity to both receive and give feedback, teaching and learning from one another. The exchange of ideas and experiences can create a richer and more meaningful learning environment, leading to deeper personal growth and transformation.

Benefit #4: You’ll improve your mental health without breaking the bank

Mental health skills group therapy is more affordable than individual therapy because the coach's time is divided among participants, reducing the overall cost of treatment. At TheraHive, we take a  blended learning approach that allows participants to access online content ahead of time and then meet with the group and coach to discuss and apply those skills, further lowering costs. With group interventions such as these, individuals can receive the support they need without the added financial burden of one-on-one sessions. As an aside, as a mission-driven company, we believe that making mental healthcare more affordable and accessible is the only way to combat a global mental health crisis. 

Benefit #5: You’ll finish what you started


Mental health skills groups provide a sense of accountability to participants as they work towards their goals. At TheraHive, group members sign a "commitment letter" before joining the group, in which they state that they'll hold themselves and their peers accountable for showing up and completing the course. 

That might feel a little intimidating, but a little social pressure goes a long way to keep us focused and engaged. Improving our mental health is hard work, and having cheerleaders, and peers on the journey with us helps a lot. In fact, studies have shown that completion rates for online courses can be as low as 5 to 15 percent, and in some cases as low as 3 to 6 percent for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Cohort-based courses (CBCs), on the other hand, promote active learning and result in up to 85% completion rates. At TheraHive, we have seen this firsthand. By fostering collaboration, communication, and social support, group-based learning can help learners stay motivated and engaged, leading to higher completion rates and better learning outcomes than individual learning. As the saying goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. And when it comes to improving our mental health, it's a marathon, not a sprint!

Benefit #6: You'll gain diverse perspectives in an inclusive group

Mental health skills group therapy can be a great way to meet and connect with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences. This diversity can offer a more inclusive and enriching therapeutic experience for everyone involved. Moreover, the diverse perspectives of group members can offer new insights and alternative solutions to problems, helping individuals develop new coping strategies and problem-solving skills.  

Benefit #7: You’ll practice skills and master them in a supportive group

Skills groups are a great way to practice the skills you learn in a safe and supportive environment. As you apply your new skills to your daily life, you'll continue to receive feedback and support from the group, which can improve your chances of long-term success.

Think of it like playing a sport or learning a musical instrument. You wouldn't expect to be great at tennis or guitar after just one lesson, right? The same goes for mental health skills. By practicing these skills with others who are also working on their mental health, you'll be able to get real-life feedback and learn how to apply them in different situations.

Plus, learning skills in a social setting is better because we use skills in a social setting in real life. With the support of your group, you can try out new coping strategies, problem-solving techniques, and communication skills in a safe and understanding environment. This practice can help you feel more confident and better equipped to handle challenges in your daily life.

Bottom line, mental health skills groups are highly effective treatment options for a wide range of mental health issues, offering numerous benefits that may not be available in individual one-on-one therapy. While it may not be the best fit for everyone, individuals who are on the fence can discuss their treatment options with a licensed counselor, coach, or therapist to determine the best course of action for their unique needs.

Don't let misconceptions or fear hold you back from taking the steps toward a happier, healthier life. With the right support and resources, you can achieve your mental health goals and live your best life.

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‍References

  1. McRoberts, C., Burlingame, G. M., & Hoag, M. J. (1998). Comparative efficacy of individual and group psychotherapy: A meta-analytic perspective. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 2(2), 101–117. https://doi.org/10.1037/1089-2699.2.2.101
  2. Burlingame, G. M., McClendon, D. T., & Alonso, J. (2011). Cohesion in group therapy. Psychotherapy, 48(1), 34–42. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0022064
  3. Yalom, I. D., & Leszcz, M. (2005). The theory and practice of group psychotherapy (5th ed.). Basic Books.
  4. American Psychological Association. (2021). Group therapy. https://www.apa.org/topics/group-therapy

McMain, S., Newman, M. G., Segal, Z. V., DeRubeis, R. J., & Buis, T. (2011). Cognitive behavioral analysis system of psychotherapy versus brief supportive psychotherapy for augmentation of antidepressant nonresponse in chronic depression: The REVAMP trial. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 72(5), 699–705. https://doi.org/10.4088/JCP.09m05776blu

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