Group psychotherapy provides a special way of learning about yourself — in particular about the ways that you relate to others and communicate your feelings that may interfere, at times, with getting your needs met.
The group provides a safe, supportive place to share problems and concerns, and to learn from and with others. Many individuals enter therapy with the disquieting feeling that they are very different from other people and that if others really knew them that they would not be accepted. A therapy group presents an opportunity to be truly known, understood, and accepted for who you are.
Under the leadership of a professionally trained therapist, the group provides a unique ‘learning laboratory’ in which members interact with others, openly sharing their feelings and experiences. The behaviors that members bring to the group mirror, in important ways, their reactions to people and situations more generally. By paying attention to what is alive in the group and giving and receiving feedback, members learn more about themselves and one another, how to trust and how to connect in more satisfying ways. Members learn about the art of knowing and being known — the cornerstone of authentic relationships within the group and in life outside, as well.
Common Questions about Group Psychotherapy
Does it matter who else is in the group or what their issues are?
Yes. Group composition is an important aspect of effective group therapy. A skilled group therapist will meet with you individually at least a few times to be in the best position to help select the right group for you.
Will a group therapist let me know what to expect if I join one of his or her groups?
Generally group therapists have written group ground rules that they will carefully review with you before entering the group. In addition, they will generally also describe in some detail either verbally or in writing what to expect as a group member.
How will a group of strangers who have problems of their own be able to help me?
The opportunity to watch other members in action who are struggling with conflicts can be useful in giving a clear view of the ways that people can get in their own way. There is thus an opportunity to learn about non-adaptive behaviors and miscommunications by watching them being played out in the group – not just “to see the same old stuff happening again here” – but to have it happen in a contained setting where there is an opportunity to learn new ways of behaving.
Many of my issues have to do with ways I learned to cope in my family of origin. Can a therapy group help with that?
Members come to group therapy with histories of complicated and often unsatisfactory experiences in their first and most important group – the family of origin. As past conflicts are recreated in the present, the group provides an opportunity for old non-adaptive behavior patterns to be challenged and new behaviors to be tested out. It is also possible to come to see your family in greater perspective, as well as your role in it; and through feedback from the therapy group, to discover (and undo) some of the destructive myths about yourself that you carry from the past.
How do I choose between individual and group psychotherapy?
Sometimes group therapy is the best choice for you, sometimes working with a therapist individually, and often a combination of the two is the most helpful. At times, when your individual therapy seems to be stalled or at a plateau it can be helpful to enter a group to bring your work to a new level. A consultation with an experienced group therapist focusing on the problems that you currently wish to work on can help guide your decision.
Will a therapist learn different things about me in individual and group therapy – even if the same therapist is doing both?
Yes. In individual therapy the therapist knows only what you are able to report of your experience. In contrast, the leader has an opportunity to see, firsthand, in group therapy how your issues are played out with other people.
What specific information about a group therapist will demonstrate expertise?
Look for a seasoned leader who has led groups around issues that are relevant to what you hope to work on in therapy and who is a certified group therapist. Particularly high levels of expertise may be indicated by the leader’s having authored books about group therapy, written articles about groups, and given lectures about therapy groups, as well as having experience training and supervising clinicians in this modality.