He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic , rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In!
– Edwin Markham
I offer several groups throughout the year to address various needs. Sometimes people are a bit put off thinking about group therapy. It’s understandably a bit intimidating to think about putting yourself and your struggles out in front of not just one person – the counselor – but also others.
There are many types of group therapy so thinking of it as one single thing isn’t particularly helpful. Groups may focus on group relationships and interaction between members, which allows participants the opportunity to develop and grow interpersonal skills. A group may also be psychoeducational wherein members learn specific skills like anger management or dialectical behavior therapy. Groups can also be hybrid in form where both group relationships and outside life events are discussed.
Groups offer some special benefits that you might consider when deciding whether or not to participate in one with me or elsewhere.
Here are 5 ways that group therapy is especially powerful:
- Group work helps you realize you aren’t alone. Many people enter counseling with the unsettling thought that they are unique in their feelings or experiences, that they alone have certain upsetting or unacceptable problems, thoughts, impulses, or fantasies, according to group expert and researcher Irvin Yalom. Yalom’s research including asking participants in group therapy about secrets they held back from the group. The answers provided by his participants were very similar. People commonly felt alienated; worried they couldn’t care for or love another person, or had some sexual secret. Group therapy reduces alienation and isolation. Our sense of being in the fight together is increased.
- Group environments facilitate giving and receiving support. An idea that many have about group therapy is that each person takes a turn sharing while other members of the group observe. This isn’t the case! Members are encouraged to turn to each other for support, feedback, connection, and clarification. Interpersonal skills are supported in this way. Members get a mental positive “boost” by helping one another. Hearing how others have shared your experience or coped can be very helpful in approaching your own issues.
- Group therapy can help you find your own voice. Becoming aware of your feelings and expressing them is important in wellness. Identifying emotions and learning to communicate them with a diverse group is a powerful interpersonal skill. Examining how you’re feeling while interacting with others helps people learn to stay connected to themselves while connecting with others.
- You can learn to relate to others and yourself in a healthier way. It’s difficult to tell why a relationship isn’t working or why a relationship issue seems hard to tackle from inside the relationship. It’s especially tough to take feedback from someone we’re angry at or invested with. In group therapy constructive feedback can be sought and given by people who care, but have no stake in your choices (so there’s less emotional or upsetting feedback given). Inside the group you can examine your roles in communication, examine the patterns you and others have within relationships and communication. During discussion you can connect with feelings in the moment and unlock knowledge of your motivations in a nonjudgmental environment. This can significantly improve how you relate to yourself and others.
- Groups provide ongoing support and confidence. As group members begin to support and empathize with each other, members become comfortable and more confident in exploring themselves, their feelings, thoughts, and patterns in relationships. Even between sessions the experiences of support in group session travels with you providing help between sessions. As your confidence grows in using skills outside the group you will increasingly test out new and positive behaviors in your life, knowing the group is there to support you and provide constructive feedback if you slip or need reassurance.