Group Therapy

After assessment, if therapy with our service is appropriate, service users are placed (with their agreement) on a waiting list to start group therapy.

Why groups?

This is because current evidence points to interventions involving groups being most effective in personality disorder.

Many of the people referred to Complex Needs Service have received individual therapy, sometimes over several years, without substantial effect.

If you do not want to engage in group therapy, you should talk to your GP and/or any professional involved in your care about the available alternatives.

Emotional Skills Group (ESG) for 18 to 25 Year Olds

The Emotional Skills Group (ESG) for 18-25 year olds is designed to support young adults with their often overwhelming and distressing emotions and behaviours.

This service is currently only available for those living in Oxfordshire.

Whilst attending the ESG, group members can expect to:

  • Gain insight and understanding of unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaviours that cause difficulties in your life and relationships.
  • Work on developing alternative patterns of thinking.
  • Gain support and insight from others who may be experiencing similar difficulties to you.
  • Participate in a therapeutic group where issues such as trust, responsibility, and inter-personal boundaries can be safely explored.

You can attend the Emotional Skills Group for up to 6 months.

Some members of the group find this is a sufficient amount of therapy for them to make the necessary changes to move forward in life (without further need of therapy).

Other members might finish their time in the Emotional Skills Group and wish to move on to a more intensive therapeutic treatment. We are currently developing a pathway into more intensive, longer term treatment for 18-25 year olds.

The Emotional Skills Group meets every Tuesday morning for 2 hours and breaks for one or two weeks over the Easter, Summer and Christmas periods.

Should you have any enquiries related to the 18-25 pathway within the Complex Needs Service please email All referrals should follow the standard process and be sent directly to


Mentalisation Based Therapy (MBT) Group

Mentalisation is the ability to think about our own thoughts, emotions, physical feelings, and behaviours as well as thinking about other people’s thoughts, emotions, physical feelings and behaviours.

These are groups for those who would benefit from learning about and developing skills to improve their mentalisation.

Mentalisation is linked to empathy: people who struggle with mentalisation might misinterpret other people’s behaviours and intentions, which can in turn lead to strong emotions and impulsive or withdrawn behaviours.

The main aim of the group is to improve our ability to manage intense distressing emotions which can feel overwhelming at times.

MBT Groups consist of 11 sessions for 2 hours per week and they are structured closed groups (having clear tasks and agendas for each stage of the group).

Members of these groups are given an MBT workbook which provides an overview of the course content and is designed to be used as a guide for each week, as well as a place to make notes and record how they are implementing MBT outside of the group sessions.

Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT) Group

The Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT) Group is designed for people who feel ‘stuck’ in their life and who are struggling to move forward in therapy.

The CAT Group takes place over 16 weeks for 2 ½ hours each week. The group focuses on making connections between the experiences those attending have had in their past, and the problematic feelings, thoughts, and actions they experience in the present. By the end of the 16 weeks, members of the group should have a clearer idea of what causes them to feel stuck (both in therapy as well as in other areas of their lives) and they should also have a straight-forward plan of how to work at overcoming their experience of being stuck.

CAT places a particular emphasis on how past difficulties have influenced the way we understand and relate to others. It aims to help us explore new ways of understanding both ourselves and other people, which in turn contributes to improved ways of relating to others.

CAT utilises a number of different techniques, including the possibility of written work and the creation of a diagram which ‘maps’ out individual patterns of thinking and behaviour in a procedural format (including mapping out the new patterns of thinking and behaviour which members of the group develop over the course of the programme).

If you would like to explore CAT further, a good starting point is:

Transactional Analysis (TA) Group

The TA Group is designed for people who are struggling to move forward and make positive changes to their lives.

By the end of the group, members of the group will have a clearer idea of the different factors which cause them to feel stuck within their relationships and other areas of their lives.

Before leaving, group members are invited to make a plan of how to continue working on the issues they have identified in the group, which will give them the opportunity to make positive changes to their lives.

The group runs for 2 ½ hours a week and is for 16 weeks.

Skills for Change (SFC) Group

Skills for Change (SFC) Groups take place over 24 weeks and aim to help people learn the skills they need to make positive changes in their lives.  The groups meet once a week for 2.5 hours in various locations across Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.

The groups cover 4 modules:

  • Communication
  • Wellbeing and Self-Care
  • Relationships
  • Moving Forward

SFC Groups focus on building skills to manage strong emotions, improve self-esteem and confidence, change unhelpful or destructive behaviours, and develop healthier relationships with others.  The groups draw on ideas and skills from a range of evidence-based psychotherapeutic approaches to create an integrative model of treatment.

At the core of SFC Groups is the belief that, given the right environment and encouragement, we all have the capacity to change our lives for the better.  As such, the SFC groups aim to empower members to take control of their lives.  Group members are encouraged, with the support of the group, to take responsibility for changing the aspects of their lives that they find difficult or challenging.

The groups take a stance of non-judgemental curiosity, encouraging members to be curious about why they or others might think, act, or feel in a particular way.  This curiosity allows for a greater understanding of ourselves and others, paving the way for an increased sense of choice and control in the decisions we make and actions we take.

By the end of the 24 week programme, those attending should have a better understanding of how they relate to themselves and others, be able to use a range of strategies and tools that can help in their recovery going forward, and feel empowered to make positive changes in their lives.

Therapeutic Community (TC) Visiting Group

Joining a Therapeutic Community (TC) is a big commitment, and this means that those joining these groups need to be sure that joining a TC it is right for them and that they are ready to do the work required.

The TC Visiting Group is designed to help those attending (and our therapists) to get a clearer idea of whether a TC is going to be the right group for them.  The Visiting Group, which is 8 weeks long, consists of one 90 minute group every week, as well as a number of visits to the TC during this same period.  The purpose of this group is to give those attending an understanding of how a Therapeutic Community works, what it is like to be in one and what someone can expect if they go on to become a TC member.

It is important to acknowledge that this way of working will not suit everyone and if during the 8 weeks the person attending the group and/or the clinicians decide this is not suitable, we will discuss other options.

Therapeutic Community (TC)

Therapeutic Communities (TCs) are the most intensive and long term of the treatments we provide. This programme can last for up to 18 months.

There are 5 Therapeutic Communities (TCs) operating in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire as part of Complex Needs Service:

  • Adderbury (outside Banbury), High Wycombe and Abingdon TC meet once a week for up to 7 hours in total.
  • Aylesbury and Oxford TC meet 2 and 3 days a week for up to 15 hours in total.

What is a Therapeutic Community?

The primary aim of a Therapeutic Community (TC) is to help people with their emotional and interpersonal problems. This help is guided by a set of values and beliefs about the way people should treat each other and be treated, based on self-awareness, healthy dependence on one another, mutual respect, and the taking of personal responsibility.

Much of the treatment which takes place within a Therapeutic Community is based upon the different interactions which occur between community members, and these interactions are explored and revised as a means of bringing about therapeutic change It is by belonging to a group in an atmosphere of trust and security that an individual can become more self-aware, find different ways of relating to others, feel valued, supported, and take responsibility for themselves, others, and their environment.

TCs have a daily structure for maintaining and developing the community, as well as a varied programme of formal and informal therapeutic activity.  These may include group therapies, creative therapies, social or cultural activities, and support to find/continue work or meaningful activity when not in TC.  All members of a TC are involved in the daily programme that contributes to both the individual’s needs as well as those of the community as a whole.

A strong sense of community membership and belongingness are critical to the process; in order to benefit from participation in a TC, the member must be positively motivated to change and to work within the TC’s rules.

Moving On Group (MOG)

Moving On Groups meet fortnightly in Oxford and Aylesbury and are for those who have completed treatment in one of the Therapeutic Communities. The groups support transition to life beyond therapy.

Each member attends for a set number of sessions, usually overlapping with the end of therapy by two months.

The groups provide guidance and advice on employment, education, and training, and serves as an introduction to STARS, which is the organisation for people who have previously completed an intensive psychotherapeutic treatment for personality disorder.

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Page last reviewed: 4 June, 2024