When Samantha left group therapy after her first session she realized she had had no idea what she was in for when she made the commitment to begin a closed process group just the week prior. Although she had deliberated for weeks, even months with questions like, will I know anyone, will the other members spread my story around town, am I ready to reveal myself, with some cajoling by her therapist she finally bit the bullet.
Walking into a relatively mature group, albeit small with only 5 members, it produced for her intense anxiety and a retreat into her inner world. As she sat there she could only think. . . what will they think of me? But what came out, relatively quickly, in fact, was what did she think of them? Reacting to Sam with contempt (mildly as it was just her first group) and to Mona with empathy. As it turned out, it helped her see how she felt about her own parents was also how she responded to the older members of the group. How quick she was able to notice something about herself. She knew that she had not really had the opportunity for the kind of healing she had in the group. Over time with through the relationships she set up, she learned more about herself which allowed her to open the space to see others for who they really are and not who she thought they were. This gave her the space to heal, as well as accept herself for who she was. Pretty powerful for her first group session. While the reactions came out initially, the work took some time to reveal itself and transfer into powerful changes.
#1 – Group Therapy Breaks the Isolation
Most of us have had the mindset that we can do it alone, or reaching for help signifies weakness or no one else can really understand what is going on in their head. With this justification, we will stay away until we realize healing trumps perceived issues.
#2 – Group Therapy is Up-front and Personal
Esther Perel says, “the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives.” Group psychotherapy poses as a real-life microcosm in which we can see ourselves within the context of our relationships. And while we have all been part of groups before (our family group for starters, maybe the girl scouts, a club, a group of students or teachers, our work-group) they are not typically how we show up. You can’t hide in group therapy.
#3 – Group Offers a More Cost-Effective Approach
While support groups (mentioned below) are typically no-charge, psychotherapy groups, run by a qualified and competent leader, typically have a charge. Short-term symptom/problem focused groups are typically one fee for the 8-10 weeks. Process groups, that meet weekly, are paid at the time of the visit; fees for this type of group may vary from $75-125/visit depending on what type of group it is, who offers it and what part of the country you are in (compared to individual therapy that might start at $80-$300/session, also depending upon who and where it is offered.
#4 – When Your Individual Therapy is at an Impasse
Sometimes we can only get so far in individual psychotherapy; and sometimes we are just stuck either due to our resistance to proceed or the failure of the therapist to help move you on. Either way, sometimes a change can be helpful to open you up to other options, which in turn, can get your individual therapy reinvigorated as well. In some cases, group therapy is more powerful and effective than 1:1 work.
#5 – You Want/Need More Time to Examine Yourself
Sometimes your therapist does not have the availability to provide more time/sessions to work with you. In these cases, group therapy works as a great adjunct. In other instances, you want something different to offset the work you are doing with your individual therapist.
What Kind of Group Therapy is Right for Me?
There are various types of groups available, primarily support groups, symptom-focused short-term groups and, the type I refer to above, ongoing psychotherapy process groups.
Support groups and program groups (AA, NA, SLAA, SAA etc.) offer support. They may be facilitated by a professional by typically one of the members guides the groups, particularly in program groups. In some, there is no ‘cross-talk’ but in others there are. These are typically open groups; that is, as there is typically no commitment, the membership varies with each group. These groups are typically free of charge although with some there may be a minimal donation.
Focused groups are typically groups for people starting out or who have just experienced a specific trauma (i.e.-grief and loss group, betrayed partner group) and are looking to work through those kinds of issues. They are also looking for others who are struggling with similar issues. These are typically time-limited (8-10 weeks) closed groups. They are structured and have particular tasks to discuss and/or accomplish each week, and there may be homework. These groups sometimes morph into a longer-term process group.
Process groups, like the one in which Samantha participated, are for those who are struggling but not necessary needing to be with others with exactly the same symptom. In the end, we are all struggling with similar issues which may show up differently. It is because we reveal ourselves and see how we show up that makes process groups so powerful. Please check out my page on group therapy here for more information.
What to Expect in Group Therapy
Group therapy sessions, that is ‘closed’ groups, typically run for 1.5 hours. Some are shorter and some are longer in duration. There are typically 6-8 members in a psychotherapy group. In order to participate one has to abide by and sign a contract, covering things like confidentiality, privacy, substance-use, and extra-group activity.
To be a candidate for group therapy, you would have done work on yourself and are ready for another modality. It can also function as an adjunct to what you are currently doing in individual and/or couples therapy. If you want to do some powerful work and group therapy is not new to you, please reach out with any questions or comments.
For more information on groups run by Dr. Winter please check here.