A second year of intensive group therapy. One of the regrets, albeit not the grandest but still worth mentioning, is that I had not known about nor attended the two-day institute at the American Group Psychotherapy Association (AGPA) prior time 21019. Intensive it was as we walked through the stages of group development in two days! Something it might take weeks or months for a new group to achieve.

As both an observer, student, learner and participant simultaneously (or quickly switching gears), it was a unique learning experience, one which I would recommend to any psychotherapist whether they do group work or not.

Group is an intense (at least these are) way to learn about ourselves in ways that might neither show up (because the opportunity does not exist or no one notices calls us out on our behavior for us to become aware) nor have been identified.

And to add, this was a process group. While you may have been in a therapy group before there’s a good chance you were not in a process group, at least not here in South Florida. Unfortunately, the geography seems less conducive unless you are on a college campus!

Process therapy groups are not 12-step nor are they, structured groups, the latter of which are focused on an identified population like recovering drug-addicts, betrayed partners or a group on mindfulness. They might also be time-limited and carry both a psychoeducational piece and some light experiential work. They are also led by a group leader, certified or not, in group therapy.

Process groups differ in many ways one of which is, while there is still a leader, the goals is to get the group to do the work and become relatively independent with the group leader or “parent” on the sidelines, something akin to growing up of sorts.

Another difference is the lack of apparent structure. That is, while the conversation may seem like a free for all dialogue it’s the job of the group therapy leader to guide it through certain stages.

That said both groups were vastly different. 2019 saw 13 seasoned therapists with at least 9 or 10 playing therapist, including the leader himself. Personally I found it stifling and somewhat choking. I went to show up as me and while I consider myself somewhat compassionate and an empath, I wanted to do anything but play therapist. Supportive and understanding yes, curious and inquisitive too; therapist no. We had a very good therapist and didn’t need more. Besides this was a vacation for me.

2020 showed me a different group as well as a leader. The leader while equally excellent was more transparent and revealing and taught me the use of humor (at times through sarcasm, something of which I have not been extremely comfortable with). She was available and warm and seemed to intervene more by the seat of her pants than by a script; in other words, she was more connected.

We learn a lot about ourselves in a group, sometimes more than we might in an individual therapy session. There’s also the opportunity to give, to support, put out if you dare to take that risk.

Group is nevertheless all about risk. It’s about putting ourselves forth into the frame, about taking that risk of showing yourself and being seen and running the risk of being accepted, supported, intellectualized, criticized and more and even acknowledged as real.

In South Florida group therapy and group work of this type is almost completely absent. Recovery groups, support groups, and time-limited psychoeducational groups abound but this type of work is sparse. It’s too bad since the opportunity for growth is tremendous.

Understanding our dependencies, insecurities, trust issues, connections, and level of capacity and ability or inability to be intimate and more is critical to truly knowing ourselves.

There are many groups right now in the backdrop of the novel Coronavirus that have entered the world of online therapy, groups of all types. I am hoping that as part of our new normal, sometime in the near or distant future, you might consider a process group as an alternative and/or adjunct to traditional two people therapy.

To learn more about group therapy with Barbara Winter PhD PA go here.