I am highly motivated to really change my behavior, but I actually haven't made any changes recently and I've been in group awhile.
There are various explanations about how we understand behavior changes. Once in therapy, most people expect to make changes and feel they will be supported by the group. Change involves risk, vulnerability and a complex understanding of behavior. Some people downplay the significance of their current behavior and may miss an opportunity to explore the "payoffs" involved. Most likely this keeps them in a stuck yet familiar place. At times, a group member may feel disappointed and sometimes blame the group for not helping them mobilize change. Sharing these sentiments in group may make clearer what this group member wants. With group support, being clear about expectations, asking for support and accountability, and requesting frank feedback about progress, as well as periodic reviews, a group member is most likely to make significant strides. Asking a group member to reflect on whether they have gone through these steps in group would be a helpful framework for this particular misconception.
I didn't know group would be such hard work!
Progress in group is often accompanied by challenges, and as we all know, there is no magic bullet in life! Successful group members roll up their sleeves and welcome the opportunities group affords. Clients at times will underestimate and misunderstand the complexity of working in group. Some of the following feelings are pretty much expected at some point:
a) I'm tired of being here.
b) I didn't want to come tonight.
c) I don't think I'm progressing.
d) I like you fellow group members, but that isn't enough to stay here.
e) I'm tired of dredging up the past and blaming my parents.
All of these sentiments may lead to invaluable explorations and at times, epiphanies, if the client is able to talk about what lies underneath these powerful statements. The hard work begins with each client's motivation and can be positively reinforced by encouragement, hands on support and joining from the other members. Obstacles include avoiding vulnerability and shame and focusing too much on factors outside of the group, as important as they may be.
I'm not understood/accepted.
Expect to be misunderstood! The concept of empathic failure underscores this commonality rather than suggesting it is the exception. In exploring a misunderstanding, group members have an opportunity to be understood through a group "repair" as well as an important exploration of possible reasons why the misunderstanding occurred. Some members give up too soon on being understood, with the reality being this exploration can be vulnerable and fraught with challenges. Although all of us want to be accepted for who we are, in our world understanding and acceptance are commonly in flux. Group members may have to repeat periodically their observation about not being understood. Group members should also be on the lookout for what is evoked in the experience of not being understood or accepted. Very often an earlier wound, whether it be family or relationship, is evoked, and bringing those past experiences into the discussion can lead to greater empathy, understanding and healing.
The group leader doesn't have a clue! What are we paying all this money for!
It is a great opportunity when a group member says to the leader, you don't have a clue! Rather than expect the leader to always have a clue (perhaps mostly having a clue is appropriate) this interaction provides honest feedback and often galvanizes an important group discussion. This does require openness in the leader and welcoming of feedback earnestly, without (hopefully) moderate defensiveness. The group leader can model a "healthy family" dynamic, which means in this case, everyone gets feedback, including the leader and that normalizing critique often moves the whole group forward.
There's a part of me that is struggling with being fully honest and I thought that was my goal.
Group members can be conflict avoidant. Growing close to other group members may clearly evoke connection and fondness; for some, this challenges their ability to be honest. Perhaps it also reflects growing up with messages that honesty equates to hurtfulness. Group is always working towards a greater intimacy (in fits and starts), which encourages honesty and authenticity and works with the aftermath, which can include members feeling hurt, disappointment or joy. The here and now concept encourages members to see parallels both in and outside the group, so that a group member's struggle with honesty outside of the group may clearly be helped by focusing on that in the group.