Groups: we are born into them, and then we go to school in them for 15 – 21 years, sometimes longer. We marry into groups, and we often work in groups as adults. People live in groups, some do it better, some do it worse, by relying on what was learned in the very first group we were ever a part of: our “family of origin”.
Group therapy is yet another way for a person to change and grow and heal but in a different way than working alone with a therapist. Although there is only one professional, every other member of a group offers an opportunity for you to learn about yourself. Each member, because they are unique, brings a different perspective, a different set of eyes to see with, and different ears to listen with. In my groups, you get to practice interacting with other people who are struggling with similar issues to yours.
Some therapy groups do not have a central theme. They are meant for group members to interact with each other and exchange feedback thus illuminating styles of interpersonal interaction. In the 1970s and 1980s these groups were often called “Encounter Groups.” The feedback from a therapy group can be very helpful because it allows each participant to understand how they affect others and how they are perceived. The hope is that the self-knowledge learned in a group will translate out into the real world each person lives in. This new understanding can enhance important relationships and interpersonal styles in their day-to-day lives. This helps group members deal with conflict, anger, intimacy, and criticism.
Support Groups, on the other hand, meet around a common theme such as divorce, grieving, parenting, dating, infidelity, and other topics that people struggle with. By listening to others describe their journey, one feels they are not alone and may gain new insight into their problems. This type of group needs a leader to keep the group focused and also to act as mediator and facilitator. As a group leader, I stay focused on relationship conflicts that inevitably arise and I am constantly watching for alliances amongst members and patterns of behavior.
To attain what one really wants from life requires changing. Both therapy and support groups are structured for you to experience self-knowledge and growth. Group participants need to be interviewed in a short, individual session before it is agreed that the group model is the right modality for you.