Why you could get a lot out of group therapy
Making a big impact on your life
‘It’s a real adventure. You’re constantly discovering new things about yourself and other people. You get the energy for change, for development. There’s something really fascinating about the process. You’re totally interested in it’. Those are the words of a woman after she had finished group therapy.
When you think about it, emotional problems often occur when things go wrong in group settings that we call families. So what better place to tackle them than in another group setting – but this time one where the causes can be explored and healing found.
That’s what group therapy (group analysis) aims for. Providing a friendly, safe, non-judgemental and confidential environment, a group can be a very powerful way of helping people.
What, me in a group?
People sometimes find the prospect of joining a group intimidating. The thought of talking about personal issues in front of strangers can be disconcerting. But fears usually vanish quickly as the discovery is made that everybody else is in the same boat and that group analysis can be enjoyable and fulfilling. Of course, as with one-to-one therapy there’ll be times when it’s painful but the strong bonds between and support from group members tend to pull people through those periods.
Group analysis has the same goals as individual therapy: inner healing, growth and change. It can be effective over a similarly broad spectrum of problems. But in addition it has particular strengths where people have difficulties in relationships, where they’re lonely or isolated, where they struggle to express their feelings, where they’re not achieving their full potential or where they grew up without brothers and sisters.
What does group therapy look like?
Up to eight people plus a psychotherapist (the ‘group conductor’) meet weekly for an hour and a half. The group members sit in a circle round a small table. There’s usually a mix of women and men and a mix of emotional or relational problems. There’s no agenda for discussion and people talk spontaneously about whatever comes to mind. They’re asked not to meet outside the group and they don’t know the other members’ surnames or addresses but they get to know one another very deeply indeed – in some ways probably more than anywhere else in their lives.
The unique quality of group analysis is that it combines the presence of a therapist with the often amazing skill and perception of the other group members. They quickly become experts on each other. Eight pairs of eyes can see a lot – often more than a solitary psychotherapist can. And people can take advantage of those eyes to see themselves as others do and to get invaluable feedback.
A paradox is that, although individual group members may be wrestling with their own difficulties, the group as a whole works healthily. Group analyst Dennis Brown writes that the group can help a person ‘discover how their behaviour or attitudes may be self-defeating, and how they lend themselves to be misunderstood and to misunderstand others’.
A laboratory of life
I always say that a group is a laboratory of life where things that happen in the outside world may also happen. The difference is that the pause button can be pressed and unhelpful thoughts, feelings and reactions can be looked at and modified. Put another way, what went wrong in a person’s family of origin tends to repeat but this time healthier ways of being can be found. In a good way, you come full circle.
With time, then, a deeper understanding may emerge of oneself and of how one relates to others, all while actually practising new ways of relating.
Lots of other processes are also going on in group analysis – too many to list here. But just a few of them are: the discovery that you’re not alone with what you thought was a problem unique to you; the experience of being accepted for who you are; the feeling of belonging that the group creates; and the transforming power of expressing in words things that were previously out of conscious awareness.
All these elements of group analysis may in time create immense relief and significant and lasting change.
What if I’m interested?
If you would like to explore the possibility of joining a therapy group and live in Surrey, please get in touch: https://www.guildfordtherapy.co.uk/contact/
I am one of very few trained and qualified group analysts working in private practice in Surrey.
If you live elsewhere, please go to 'Find a Therapist' on the website of the Institute of Group Analysis: https://www.groupanalysis.org/FindaTherapist.aspx
© Brian Shand 2018