November 5, 2020
Group therapy is one of the most unique and arguably powerful methods for therapeutic healing and growth. While intriguing and exciting, it may also be intimidating or anxiety-provoking. A process therapy group challenges social norms around politeness, isolation, and intimacy, and so it is natural to feel hesitation or ambivalence. In a process group, the focus is on the process, both interpersonal (between yourself and others) and intrapersonal (within yourself), and there are no predetermined agendas for each session.
One common worry then for new group members is what to do when there is no agenda. Below are five tips to help you get the most out of your group therapy experience.
Why is it so important to “feel our feelings”? Emotions are important motivating forces in our lives. They can propel us to get our needs met and give us a profound sense of meaning and connection with the world. If we are unaware of our feelings and/or try to push them away, they will manifest in other ways, such as road rage, running late all the time, outbursts, depression, substance use, under or over-performing, and many other ways. Group therapy offers an emotionally rich environment for you to begin noticing your reactions, exploring them, and learning ways to work effectively with them instead of against them.
Naturally, we can be inclined to shy away from or avoid pain and difficulty. While once helpful, these self-protective strategies can often be over-utilized. This keeps us stuck and not getting what we need from our lives. Not to mention, aversion often keeps us blocked from the most powerful and effective parts of ourselves. One strategy is to mindfully notice not what you are talking about, but what you’re not talking about. Another strategy that I recommend is showing up to group therapy especially when you don’t want to be there.
Often times, we keep ourselves in states of discomfort and isolation through mind-reading and projecting onto others. Try to bring awareness to the assumptions and projections you make in group therapy, and check in with other group members as a way to reality test. This can be hard because projections happen automatically and we take them as truth. If, for example, you notice a particular closeness or interest with another group member, try bringing that up. You might share what you know about them and how you perceive them. You could also speak to the fantasy that you’ve made up about them. These are low-stakes ways to begin reality testing and addressing your mind-reading patterns.
Group therapy is a dynamic environment, prompting many reactions from group members. Often times, the internal reactions we have to group interactions can seem impolite, new, or vulnerable, making it difficult to verbalize with the group. However, you don’t have to know what is coming up for you or why it is coming up in order to benefit from sharing with the group. Be spontaneous, and share your process as it unfolds. The group and group facilitator can join you and help bring about greater insight. For example, you might notice a tightness in your body as the facilitator interrupts another group member. You can begin to explore this reaction (and its causes and implications) by starting to notice it aloud.
Taking ownership of our part is critical to undoing the patterns in our lives. Many people struggle with owning their truth and desires, and in doing so continue to feel dissatisfaction, frustration, hopelessness, and/or anger with how life is going. Group therapy challenges the passive roles we find ourselves in. This is your group and you get to shape it. Do you dislike how the group always focuses a whole session on just one person? Do you want to hear more from the quietest group member? Are you irritated when people show up late? If so, I encourage you to challenge yourself by speaking up and owning what’s true for you.
My hope for any group participant, whether in my group or another group, is that you have the freedom to roll up your sleeves, take up some space, and take risks. If you are interested in learning more about group therapy or joining one of my ongoing adult process groups, please get in touch.