For many, the idea of group therapy sounds horrifying. How are you supposed to sit in a room full of strangers and expose the your struggles and pain? What will they think and how on earth is it supposed to help?
In this post I will address some of the most commonly held beliefs and concerns about group therapy. Some of them are myths that need to be dispelled and others may hold a grain of truth.
#1. I don’t know what to expect.
Whilst the group is made up of unique individuals, every group also develops a group personality, which looks very different from group to group. In our first session together, we discuss how we want to use the group and develop a group agreement. This is where we establish what it is we are hoping to achieve and what to we need to feel able and safe in the group to do this. This often includes a commit to respect each other’s experience, giving each other space to speak and a discussion about how the group feels about members being in touch with each other outside of the sessions.
#2. People will judge me.
Yes. Yes they will. Every opinion or choice we make is a judgment. When we listen to others speak, we are trying to put what they are saying into some kind of context that makes sense to use. This means drawing on our own beliefs and experience to discern what is being communicated. Sometimes what we say won’t make sense to others, it might jar with something inside of them and their interpretation of our situation will differ from our own. This is not something to be fearful of, this difference can be embraced and used to bring about change. When we continue to view our problem in the same way over and over, that’s when we get stuck. Hearing other people’s response to our situation, when done respectfully, can be exactly what facilitates the change we desperately want.
#3. My problem/struggle/situation is so unique, no-one will understand.
Nope. Your struggle is not unique. There are no new problems out there. When we are circling the drain it may feel as though you are utterly alone and no-one else has ever felt the way you do now.
I think this is one of the biggest misconceptions, which prevents people from reaching out for help. Often this idea has been reinforced by many past experiences of being misunderstood by others.
One of my favourite moments when facilitating groups is when someone is sharing and I see the recognition on the faces of other members. Heads start nodding around the room and the sharer feels heard in a way they may never have experienced before. This chases away feelings of shame and isolation.
While your situation may not be unique, you certainly are.
#4. Isn’t individual therapy more effective?
Not necessarily. Group therapy can offer support in ways not achievable through sitting one on one with a therapist.
Group members often connect with each other in a way not possible to replicate with a therapist. They connect through mutual experience. One of the most powerful tools of recovery in 12-step programmes for addictions is the idea of reaching out for help and offering help. When we help others, we help ourselves. If you suffer from depression yourself and you give some supportive understanding to another who is also suffering from depression, you both benefit. If you are able to use your own suffering to help another’s then you bring meaning to your own experience and have managed to draw something positive out of your pain. You get to help and be helped at the same time.
This mutual reciprocity is not possible with a therapist, they are not (hopefully!) going to tell you what a difficult time they are having, to give you an opportunity to help them. It just wouldn’t be right. Individual therapy is great for talking about some of the things you wouldn’t feel comfortable bringing into a group.
So while group therapy can be a nerve wracking experience, the potential benefits are huge. If you are struggling with binge eating or compulsive overeating, my next therapy group starts on Friday 6th April 2018, 6.30-8pm for 8 weeks, Wigmore Street W1U, £30 per session.
For more information, click here.