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What is Group Therapy

Guest Bio: Rachel LaGesse, MSW, LCSW
Rachel LaGesse, MSW, LCSW, is the Pathways Mental Health Outpatient Manager at Riverside. Rachel has 18 years of experience in social work, program development, and leadership. Prior to joining Riverside, she managed residential programs for youth that experienced significant trauma and mental health issues. She is invested in team development and growth opportunities for staff as well as programming.
    What is Group Therapy
    Rachel LaGesse MSW, LCSW explains what group therapy is and the benefits it has.

    Liz Healey:  Hello, listeners and thanks for tuning into Well Within Reach podcast brought to you by Riverside Healthcare. I'm your house, Liz Healey. And joining me today is Rachel LaGesse, who is the Pathways Mental Health outpatient manager for Riverside Behavioral Medicine. Thank you for joining us today, Rachel.

    Rachel LaGesse: Thanks for having me.

    Liz Healey: So what brought you to work at Riverside's Outpatient Unit?

    Rachel LaGesse: Sure. So I have a long history in social services. I'm an LCSW. I previously worked at a residential working with youth that experienced significant trauma and so working in that setting to provide treatment and stabilization.

    Liz Healey: Okay. So today, we're going to talk a little bit about group therapy and that's what goes on at Pathways, correct?

    Rachel LaGesse: Yes.

    Liz Healey: Okay. What are some of the benefits of going to a group therapy setting?

    Rachel LaGesse: So the group therapy setting can provide a supportive environment for clients that are participating. It's helpful for them to feel that they aren't in it alone and so that they can see that some other peers in the group too, maybe struggling with the same mental health symptoms or relationship difficulties, et cetera. It can be beneficial in a group setting to allow clients to have a different perspective as well from other group members. Group therapy can really help individuals develop communication skills, social skills in that environment. It allows individuals to develop their own self-awareness by listening to other group members. And it's very beneficial to be able to share their own personal experiences. That in itself can be a therapeutic process.

    Liz Healey: Okay. So how does group therapy differ from individual therapy? Does that also happen in group therapy setting?

    Rachel LaGesse: There are some similarities, big differences. Obviously, individual therapy, that therapist is working one-on-one with the client. So you can really hone in on and individualize the treatment approach. There are some topics or areas in group therapy that wouldn't be clinically appropriate necessarily to discuss in a group setting depending on the treatment issue. So it may be better served in an individual setting, for example, significant trauma and addressing that in an individual basis.

    Also individual therapy, a benefit of it is there is more flexibility. You're not working around 10 other participant's group schedules and clinicians. And so that's what can make sometimes individual therapy more appealing for clients versus group.

    Liz Healey: Okay. So at Pathways, which is the Riverside Mental Health Outpatient Unit, what type of services are offered?

    Rachel LaGesse: At Pathways, we offer PHP and IOP services. PHP is partial hospitalization program. IOP is the intensive outpatient program. We offer those services to adolescents and adults, so starting at the age of 12 and above right now.

    Liz Healey: Okay. So can you tell us a little bit more about what intensive outpatient programming is?

    Rachel LaGesse: So intensive outpatient programming, it's a less restrictive group programming that focuses on mental health. The goal of IOP is really to stabilize the individual stressors and day-to-day life functioning. We do the medication monitoring component as well, and really stressing for clients to identify and implement coping skills to be able to manage their mental health symptoms.

    Liz Healey: Okay. So on the other side of that, there's the partial hospitalization program, so how is that different and what is that exactly?

    Rachel LaGesse: Yep. So partial hospitalization, again, very similar. The biggest difference, a lot of times when clients are hospitalized, they'll transition then into a PHP as they're being discharged from the hospital. PHP is a more severe program. It has to do with the acuity level of a client, presenting treatment needs, and then also the hours of services.

    So an IOP program, the minimum that you would receive a week is nine hours of group therapy. For PHP, the minimum is 20 hours a week. And then for Riverside in our adult PHP program, it serves a dual population. So adults that have mental health diagnosis, but are also struggling with the substance abuse piece, too.

    Liz Healey: Okay. So you kind of touched on the difference between the two. Is there anything more to add? Is there one that's better for certain types of situations?

    Rachel LaGesse: It just really varies on what the treatment need is, like how acute and what safety issues may be presenting at the time for that client.

    Liz Healey: Okay. And then how can group therapy be beneficial during uncertain times of someone's life. So we just touched that there's the two different types of group therapy and different outpatient facilities, but why would it be beneficial for someone to go to a group therapy setting?

    Rachel LaGesse: I think even more so now with the pandemic and everything that we've experienced over the last year, group has definitely been helpful in so many ways to again provide that support and clients really understanding that, "I'm not the only one dealing with this" and really normalizing some of the mental health.

    So I still think there's such a stigma with mental health and that there's still room for growth. And because of that, people don't really talk about like, "I'm really struggling with depression, anxiety, et cetera," but creating that setting where it's a non-judgment, you know, judgment-free zone, clients are more comfortable to share that they can see, "All right. Well, Johnny who's also in the group with me is struggling with some of the same things I am." And so just really feeling supportive and then normalizing that.

    Liz Healey: Okay. So, while it's beneficial for some, are there times where maybe seeing a psychiatrist in conjunction with group therapy is also beneficial?

    Rachel LaGesse: So at Riverside and our program, whether you're an IOP or PHP, you do see a psychiatrist weekly there. And the psychiatrist will handle more of the medication component. The psychiatrist works with the treatment team as well. And so really getting that multi-disciplinary approach while you're in treatment.

    Liz Healey: Okay. So you kind of touched on it, who would make up your treatment team?

    Rachel LaGesse: So we have clinicians at Pathways. We have a nurse at Pathways as well, and then the psychiatrist.

    Liz Healey: Okay. So you're working with a variety of different people. How would you talk to somebody about possibly going into group therapy and normalizing it? Like you said, there's always that stigma attached to mental health. So how would we go about normalizing this?

    Rachel LaGesse: Yep. And also concerns or apprehension about, "I'm going to be in a group. And I have to talk about my own issues with strangers. I don't know these people," so really helping them understand the purpose of group therapy and the purpose of our programming.

    I always encourage clients. You can tell that when they start, they pretty nervous about it. So doing what we can to support and ease that anxiety. Also letting them know sometimes we have participants in group sessions that tend to be quiet, but they're still benefiting from the group therapy process, what they're hearing from other peers. And everybody's different. So allowing themselves, you know, "Give yourself a few days, ease into it and let's reevaluate and see how you are at that time."

    Liz Healey: Okay. How would someone go about accessing the outpatient unit at Riverside?

    Rachel LaGesse: They can call the pathways program directly at (815) 936-7373 or they can also reach out to our Central Intake Department located in the emergency room.

    Liz Healey: Well, thank you for all of that great information today, Rachel. And thank you for tuning into the Well Within Reach podcast with Rachel LaGesse who is the Pathways Mental Health outpatient manager for Riverside Behavioral Medicine and your host, Liz Healey.

    To learn more about the services provided by Riverside's Behavioral Medicine Department, visit our website at riversidehealthcare.org or call the Central Intake Department at (844) 442-2551.