Ah, the beauty of counseling groups. When facilitated well, they have the potential to bring about tremendous insight and growth to those who are willing to join the circle of chairs.Yes, group counseling— which I personally like to refer to as group therapy—has a quality unique unto itself. It’s a quality that individual therapy, as beneficial as it is, simply cannot duplicate.
But! Therapy groups are not all cookie-cutter in respect to what they look like and the type of experience they offer. On the contrary, I’d liken them more to the “box of chocolates” analogy Forest Gump used when describing the variations of life: You never know what you’re going to get.
When joining a counseling group, are you going to get a group that more or less just evokes good feelings for the time that you are there, but doesn’t impact the remaining 160-something hours of your week?
Are you going to get a group that resembles more of a coffee club, where the conversation centers mainly around day-to-day affairs versus a group that delves beyond the superficial?
Are you going to get a group that capitalizes on the advantages of having an assemblage of people together as opposed to a group that mimics individual therapy with one person at a time?
What I’m really asking here is the following:
Are you going to get a group that is invested in evoking real transformation in its members from the inside out OR a group that primarily provides some support just to ‘get through the week’?
For those who are interested in the possibility of participating in group therapy or counseling for the purpose of real change, in this article I will share what I consider to be the beauty of group therapy, then I will share what I consider to be the type of group that is the most conducive to getting true results in the lives of its members.
The Pros of Group Therapy
There are, of course, those obvious ‘pros’ to group therapy such as having peers to relate to, as well as an exponential number of offered perspectives when grappling with an issue. To me, however, the number one beauty, by far, is that the therapy group essentially becomes a microcosm of the world at large. In other words, it becomes a little “mini community” or a little “mini family.”
You might be wondering, “Why is that so great?” It’s great because all the issues, flaws, and hang-ups, if you will, that aren’t working for a person out there in the world at large will eventually begin to surface and reveal themselves in the group. And, we want that to happen.
The reason we want that to happen is for the following: what isn’t necessarily socially acceptable or comfortable to call out and put under the microscope in society can finally be looked at, addressed, and modified in this contained, structured, and supposedly safe group environment.
In addition, it gives one the opportunity to practice new behaviors, communication skills, or even just begin getting comfortable in the presence of a group of people. All of these things are gold, because more often than not, you’re unable to safely do these things in other environments, such as your work setting, family, bowling league, or even the grocery store should one of your issues surface there. But! You can do so in the group. It’s designed specifically for that.
For instance, let’s say Sarah is constantly smacking her chewing gum during group and burping without saying excuse me. That may be a dramatic example, but for illustrative purposes, let’s go with it. Wouldn’t it be beneficial for Sarah to know if her behavior is off-putting to others, particularly if the reason she has joined the group is to discover why she has difficulty making friends?
Gentle confrontation by her peers can be extremely helpful in revealing Sarah’s blind spots to her; thus, making a way for her to increase her self-awareness and, consequently, begin to modify those behaviors that are impairing her social life.
For Cruz, the member who has social anxiety and fears engaging in conversation, the group can be a safe place to begin taking risks in speaking his thoughts out loud to others. Knowing that his peers won’t roll their eyes at him should he get all tongue-tied, allows for safe experimentation and, consequently, gradual change to occur.
This is in sharp contrast to past negative experiences he’s had, such as the time he allowed himself to be vulnerable with the pretty girl standing next to him in the Target check-out line. He stuttered when he spoke to her. She tried to hide her laughter. As a result, his social anxiety escalated in the weeks following.
Individual therapy is extremely valuable in promoting change and increasing a person’s self-awareness. But again, it cannot duplicate some of the benefits that group therapy offers.
A skilled and seasoned therapist will not let the benefits that only a group can bring slip by. She will facilitate the group in such a way that cross-talk with group members is welcomed and encouraged. She will assess the dynamics that are taking place in the group and assist the group members in addressing those dynamics.
She will intervene when someone is being disrespectful towards another group member, thereby constantly working to make it a safe environment for all members, as well as making a way for the “disrespecter” to reflect and learn from his interaction. Let’s face it. We don’t know what we don’t know. And being in a group can be very illuminating, helping us to take a step back as we receive candid and honest feedback from others.
No, not all therapy groups are equal. Some will be mainly concerned with offering support to its members. Some may focus primarily on problem-solving those things that happen during the week. Still, other groups may have dynamics that surface during the group, but rather than allowing them to be processed and used as ‘grist for the mill,’ the facilitator will shut it down.
If you really want a group that gets results, though, look for a process group that encourages the discussion of group dynamics. Don’t miss out on one of the true beauties of group therapy.
“Church”, Courtesy of Nicole Honeywill, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Change”, Courtesy of Ross Findon, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Balloon Face”, Courtesy of Bernard Hermant, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Renew”, Courtesy of Tim Mossholder, Unsplash.com, CC0 License