Fall always seems to be a good time for reflection. As I prepare to start my new Men's Group in Menlo Park, as well as continuing to meet individuals for participation in existing groups, I am pleased to share this month's theme: the six main surprises for group therapy participants. Since these are broad based, not every client has all of these experiences, but the potential is certainly there.
1) A greater sense of connection than anticipated. Group members are looking for connection, validation, understanding and acceptance, as well as progress with their issues and goals. What surprises many is the degree of profound connection that develops in group over time.
2) A more compelling sense of community. Group regularity, consistency and commitment can evoke a powerful sense of community. It is not unusual for participants to feel other group members are the people in their lives who know them best. Feelings of warmth, closeness, humor, intimacy and sadness (amongst many others) are shared. A sense of being in this together is a hallmark of a well functioning group.
3) I see myself in this other group member, but I resist and don't like it. Strong reactions, judgments and harshness can lead to distancing oneself from another group member. When clients allow themselves to "join" the person they feel conflicted with through acknowledging the similarities, there is room to heal those parts while also connecting more deeply with the group member/s.
4) Strong feelings and intensity can actually be okay, if not functional. Anger, conflict, judgment, competition, jealousy, embarrassment and the like can be dealt with in a healthy manner. A healthy group experience can both "repair" and surprise members by modeling acceptance and processing these issues. The alternative is to feel alienated, silent, reprimanded and thus play out the elephant in the room.
5) Others have also struggled in significant ways, not just me. Issues that are long standing or have festered for years, when discussed in group, can suddenly feel intimate and connected. It can also bring great relief. Often a disclosure that is intimate and difficult is followed by disclosures from other members of a similar nature. Because many intimate struggles on a core level are often hidden or downplayed, the experience of seeing others' struggles can be immensely helpful and reparative.
6) I wish I had joined a group sooner! Clients familiar with individual therapy who are referred to group, and sometimes reluctantly enter group, can be in for a big, positive surprise. I have had several clients comment that the "fit" for group was really what they were looking for, but they didn't know that until they experienced it.
* * *
Thanks all for your thoughts and time in reading this newsletter. Below you'll find my ongoing group schedule and what to expect at November's free workshop on groups: Common Countertransference Issues for the Group Leader.
Jamie Moran, LCSW, CGP