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Susan Raeburn on Group Psychotherapy

On the future of mental health

Eric Maisel
Source: Eric Maisel

The following interview is part of a “future of mental health” interview series that will be running for 100+ days. This series presents different points of view about what helps a person in distress. I’ve aimed to be ecumenical and included many points of view different from my own. I hope you enjoy it. As with every service and resource in the mental health field, please do your due diligence. If you’d like to learn more about these philosophies, services, and organizations mentioned, follow the links provided.


Interview with Susan Raeburn

Everyone can picture “group psychotherapy” from the countless depictions of groups (therapy groups, encounter groups, 12-step groups, support groups, etc.) in movies and on television shows. Yet a person in emotional or mental distress is rather less likely to think about the availability of group help rather than the availability of individual help, as individual help is the dominant model and the norm. Here is Susan Raeburn on group psychotherapy—on who it’s for and who it’s not for.

EM: How would you describe the intentions and methods of group psychotherapy?

SR: These vary depending upon the type of group. At its best, ongoing group psychotherapy provides the healthy family experience you wished you’d had growing up in the first place. Patterns of interpersonal dynamics—both positive and negative—are explored and become clearer, so change becomes possible. Group members learn to identify, understand, and express their feelings and allow others to do the same. Connection, validation and authenticity become one’s lived experience rather than distant concepts. From this new vantage point, group members are equipped to forge improved relationships in their real lives outside of therapy.

EM: What sorts of group do you run?

SR: I’ve lead different types of groups over the years: time limited cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for eating disorders as part of research studies, CBT and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for chemical dependency recovery, and ongoing psychodynamic “process” groups for addiction and codependency recovery as described above.

In general, types of groups include self-help, support, psycho-educational, process oriented psychotherapy, and expressive arts. As you see, therapy groups can serve various functions—from time-limited skill building around specific problems (e.g. anxiety, depression, emotion regulation and distress tolerance, relapse prevention) to promoting ongoing interpersonal growth through a focus on the “here and now.” Whatever the type, effective groups have shared purposes and commonalities in which the personal becomes the Universal.

EM: Who is a “good candidate” for group psychotherapy?

SR: Generally people are referred to group therapy by their individual therapist who has seen that broadening the work is timely regarding interpersonal patterns and relationship skills and/or when the person feels significantly isolated in their lives.

We might also ask, “Who is not a good group therapy candidate?” If a person is in crisis, if they have impulse control problems that threaten others, if they are not willing to honor the group norms/boundaries, and if their character defenses compromise their capacity for empathy and interpersonal relatedness, they are not a good fit for group therapy.

EM: How might one find a group to join?

SR: The American Group Psychotherapy Association is an excellent resource ( Additionally, local therapists often list their groups through their State or County professional associations.

EM: If you had a loved one in emotional or mental distress, what would you suggest that he or she try in addition to or different from group therapy?

SR: First I would encourage them to get connected with trustworthy people in their lives. Connection comes in many forms and what a person needs changes over time. Sometimes just starting to find the trust and humility to recognize our vulnerability and talk about that with close friends is enough to feel better.

When that is not enough, or when the emotional distress runs deep and involves destructive patterns from early learning, I would encourage my loved one to find an experienced therapist who has seen many people with similar issues. I would let them know that they are not alone and that help is available.


Susan Raeburn, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist in Oakland, California with over twenty-five years of experience doing individual and group psychotherapy. She has been a staff psychologist at Stanford University Medical Center (1985-1992) and Kaiser Permanente (1992-2015). She is the co-author with Eric Maisel of Creative Recovery: A Complete Addiction Treatment Program That Uses Your Natural Creativity (Shambhala, 2008). She is on the Editorial Board of Medical Problems of Performing Artists, the journal of the Performing Arts Medical Association. You can contact Dr. Raeburn at


Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is the author of 40+ books, among them The Future of Mental Health, Rethinking Depression, Mastering Creative Anxiety, Life Purpose Boot Camp and The Van Gogh Blues. Write Dr. Maisel at, visit him at and learn more about the future of mental health movement at

To learn more about and/or to purchase The Future of Mental Health visit here.

To see the complete roster of 100 interview guests, please visit here:

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