What is group therapy?
A counseling group is usually comprised of 6-8 people who meet face to face with one or two trained facilitators and talk about what is concerning them most. Members listen to each other and openly provide each other feedback. These interactions give members an opportunity to increase understanding, try out new ways of being with others and learn more about the ways they interact. The content of group sessions are confidential; members agree not to identify other members or their concerns outside of group.
How does group therapy work?
When people learn to interact freely with other group members, they tend to recreate the same patterns of interactions that have proved troublesome to them outside of the group. The group therapy environment provides a safe confine to experiment with alternative ways of treating yourself and others that may be more satisfying. Many people feel they are somehow weird or strange because of their problems or the way they feel; it is encouraging to hear that other people have similar difficulties and can grow past them.
What do I talk about in group therapy?
Talk about what brought you to Counseling Services in the first place. Tell the group members what is most concerning you. If you need understanding, let the group know. If you think you need pointed feedback about something you say or do that seems to have a negative impact, let them know that also. It’s important to tell people what you expect of them. Unexpressed feelings are a major reason people experience difficulties. Revealing feelings (self-disclosure) is an important part of group and affects how much you will gain from the group experience.
The most useful disclosures are those that relate directly to your present concerns. How much you talk about yourself is your decision; it will depend in part on your own comfort level and how much you are committed to change in a given area. If you have questions about what might or might not be helpful, you can always ask the group.
What is the nature of group therapy?
- Participation in the group. You control, and are ultimately responsible for, what, how much, and when you tell the group about yourself. The more you become involved, the more you are likely to benefit. Most people find that when they feel safe enough to share personal issues, therapy groups can be very growthful and affirming. Many people are helped by listening to others and thinking about how what others are saying might apply to themselves.
- Advantages of group therapy. Group therapy is often more enriching for some than individual therapy. You can benefit from the group even during sessions when you say little but listen carefully to others. Most people find that they have important things in common with other group members, and as others work on concerns, you can learn much about yourself. In the group environment, others serve as “mirrors” that reflect aspects of yourself that you can recognize and explicitly choose if you want to modify or change. Group members may bring up issues that strike a chord with you, which you might not have been aware or of known now to bring up yourself. A natural process or enhanced acceptance of self and others occurs as one learns to relate more honestly and directly with others in the group. The group provides an opportunity for personal experimentation - it is a safe place to risk enough to learn more about yourself.
- Group atmosphere. The first group task is to establish an atmosphere of safety and respect; group leaders are trained to help the group develop an environment conducive to doing the work of personal growth. An important benefit of group therapy is the opportunity to receive feedback from others in a supportive environment. It is rare to find friends who will gently point out how you might be behaving in ways that hurt yourself or others; this is a unique benefit of the group. The leaders will help members to give feedback in a direct, yet respectful way so that you can understand and utilize new awareness and experiences.
- Group Therapy vs. Individual Therapy. Groups are often the most effective method to treat the types of concerns that university students are facing. A common myth is that groups are somehow second-rate treatment. Group therapy is recommended when your counselor believes that it is the best way to address your concerns. Your counselor can discuss the advantages or disadvantages of a group for your particular concerns and needs.
- Fears about beginning. It is common for people to experience some discomfort over the prospect of talking in group initially. This initial anxiety is quite normal as most people have never been exposed to a group therapy environment and don’t know what to expect. Within a few sessions members often get comfortable enough to interact in the group.
A portion of this information was adapted from text developed by Dr. Jack Corazinni, Virginia Commonwealth University.