This is the last installment of a 3-part series, click here to start from the beginning: “Introducing Group Therapy I: Educational and Skills Therapy Groups”
Sitting in group therapy over the hours I did, the question of why I had been so nervous in the beginning crystalized in a new way. I’d been nervous because some part of me had recognized the transformative potential of what I was beginning. Conscious fears at the time, of what I might say and how others might hear it and know or judge me, of what unknown parts of myself might act out beyond my control, were ancillary to the less conscious but more significant feelings associated with the risk, as well as the longing, that comes with getting close to others.
In the beginning, I had sat down with a group of strangers. The only thing I had in common with them was a desire to be in the group and pursue the personal development that group had to offer. Through the process of unveiling myself, sharing my thoughts, showing my emotions, the process of witnessing and relating to others, I came to know those around me and they came to know me. They weren’t strangers any more. The realness of those relationships, liberated by the structure of progress group therapy from the constraints of politeness, custom, social roles/context, obligation, is part of the unique risk and rewards offered in group therapy.
Process Group Introduction
The group I was in that I have described in the introductions to each of the articles of this series was a process group. Process groups are defined by their malleability. While most process groups will have a basic structure, an agreement between all who participate on what participating looks like (usually guidelines such as putting thoughts and feelings into words, showing up and staying present throughout the group, respecting confidentiality, etc.), there is typically no formal structure or set agenda. Process groups are what unfold as group members themselves decide what to talk about, how to participate, and explore how members are relating to one another in the present moment.
If therapy in general is a sort of practice ground for life, group therapy is the scrimmage match with multiple players. Group members explore their own behaviors and their response to others’ behaviors (and witness and get feedback on how others respond to them). It is a place to practice with other people who have their own practice (i.e. reactions, challenges, thoughts, and feelings) going on at the same time. Other group members are freer than a therapist may be to respond in real time, and participants have the assurance that other group members are reacting not in the role of therapist but as their truer, personal selves.
Process groups tend to work best when people take risks of being honest about the thoughts and reactions that arise for them.
The benefits of process group therapy are many:
- Members have an opportunity to see how their behavior impacts others and can explore their own responses without the usual social rules or conventions that may limit how honest people are with one another.
- Members can practice different behaviors, learn about how they show up to support others, how they communicate their feelings and thoughts, and work out various issues they may find challenging in their personal lives such as frustrations, attraction, jealousy, competitiveness, and longing for closeness with others.
- Members can reflect for one another what their patterns of behavior are, and can confront one another, and support one another in making changes. By observing others as they navigate and explore their own patterns or behaviors, members may identify aspects of themselves that they have not previously explored.
- Members can lend support to one another, and use the group as an opportunity to receive or learn how to receive support.
I am aware first hand of both the nerves and the immense growth that can come from participating in group therapy. In sharing about what group therapy is, my hope is that you will continue to explore if this may be a modality that would be helpful to you. Often, before committing to join a process group, you may request an individual consultation session prior to doing so.
Finding a process group that works on interpersonal, here and now, relational dynamics between members usually involves becoming familiar with group therapists or mental health agencies in your area that may offer process groups. At Soul Centric Collective, we have done the legwork for you. Now, click over to our directory to continue your search.
The three articles in this series served to introduce some core concepts about groups, highlight key benefits, and explore three broad types of group therapy. With this series complete, future articles will explore other topics related to group therapy, such as more detailed information on making contact with group practitioners, how to get the most out of group therapy, and information for care providers related to learning more about group therapy for themselves and those they serve.