Group psychotherapy can add an exciting component to your professional life and to the treatments that you offer. Having lead and supervised group work for more than 40 years and still loving it, I’d like to share a bit about how I got into it, and the benefits of group psychotherapy for the therapist, as well as for group members.
My first experience as a group leader – totally uninformed and unsupervised – was during my senior year at UCLA, leading what I called “socialization groups” for chronic patients in the back wards of Camarillo State Hospital. (I’d have to say I gave the experience mixed reviews.)
Then, as an intern at McLean Hospital, I joined an ongoing psychotherapy group as a co-leader, supervised by a very picky, but truly masterful, group therapist. All I can say is that despite my considerable anxiety, the sense of “magic” was alive from the very beginning – an excitement that is still with me as I continue leading this therapy group these many years later. (Though none of the original members are still in it, many have stayed for a good number of years.)
What I love about groups is watching human interaction unfold, and figuring out how best to intervene when there is so much going on. Where even silences, in an individual or the whole group, are communications to be understood and to be dealt with by effective interventions.
For me, after each group session, I am always eager to see what the next episode will bring. While my arousal level was unquestionably greater watching every last episode of 24, for enduring subtle intrigue, my groups still win.
And for the patient, in a setting made safe by explicit group ground rules there is an opportunity to be in a live learning lab with others – where instead of simply telling a therapist about his issues, the most salient aspects of how he relates to others come alive in the group and can be addressed. By giving and receiving feedback from one another, members learn more about themselves 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.
A group, unlike one-on-one work with a therapist, provides the client with an opportunity for ongoing peer support, and unique opportunities to break through feelings of isolation, by helping group members feel that they are not so alone and different, and are capable of caring and being cared about. It also provides a forum for learning skills for managing intense feelings, as well as ways of recognizing and more effectively communicating feelings.
In addition to these therapeutic benefits, group modalities are also a cost effective way of delivering meaningful support and interpersonal learning.
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© 2021 Marsha Vannicelli