When I decided that I was going to try to set up a therapy group on my own and run it from my home, I received a few raised eyebrows from my colleagues. There appears to be a general consensus among therapists that groups are difficult to recruit for and take a lot of energy to manage.
During my training I did a placement at a private eating disorder clinic and I needed to get some group experience. The clinic approved my idea for an 8 week overeating support group and, despite high visibility and paid for marketing platforms, there was very little interest. The group ended up with three participants but I absolutely loved that little group. The way they supported and challenged one another felt like a privilege to be a part of. I came away each week feeling energised by the work and really looked forward to the next one. This was my first taste of running a group and I loved it!
Today I run therapy groups for binge eating from my home. I did my own marketing and this time the interest was there. I had always suspected there was a demand for it and through trying various different means, I managed to spread the word and the people came.
Group therapy is something else. I would go as far as saying that I think group therapy is often more effective than one to one, at least when it comes to a shared problem, such as compulsive eating.
The power of groups cannot be overestimated in my opinion and here are some of the reasons why I believe we need more therapists willing to set up groups.
1. “Money doesn’t bring happiness but it does bring options.” Anthony Bright
Let’s get really practical for a moment. Group therapy is so much more affordable than one-to-one therapy. Group therapy can be an opportunity for someone to access therapy who might ordinarily be unable to due to limited means. With many therapeutic services having their funding cut, group therapy is a way of getting more help to more people.
2. “Shame dies when stories are told in safe places.” - Anonymous
In every session, at some point, someone will share a story or difficulty they are having and be met with a “me too” response. It’s so common to feel guilty and ashamed about the things we are struggling with. There is often a compassion for others that isn’t always extended to ourselves, so when we hear someone talking about their experience and it’s a similar thing we see in ourselves, it can be like looking into a mirror but the self-judgment subsides. This starts to change the way we feel about our problems, which makes it easier to make changes. No-one changes from a place of shame.
3. “The transference phenomenon is an inevitable feature.” – Carl Jung
Groups offer so many opportunities to work through old relational hurts. What are the members projecting onto each other? With individual work, there is only the therapist as a transferential object. This could mean that a male therapist might never evoke transferential feelings about mother so that stuff doesn’t get worked through. We are born into family groups, so our sense of our place in the group is a powerful way to gain self-awareness and challenge self-beliefs or even identity.
4. “Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.” – Anton Chekhov
The group provides an opportunity to practice something new. If the struggle is conflict avoidance, the group can provide the opportunity to practice managing conflict in a contained environment. If the client finds it hard to ask for what she needs, she could start by asking for something from the group.
5. “There is an indefinable mysterious power that pervades everything.” – Gandhi
There’s just something else that happens in a group, something I struggle to find the words for. When people gather with a shared intention, things shift and morph and create something new. Each group has it’s own identity and shared personality. Is it love? We don’t talk about love much in therapy but I have seen moments of deep connection in groups. People care for one another and sometimes that means challenging someone and dealing with difficult feelings that arise towards each other. I welcome the difficult situations because they are the biggest opportunity for growth.
Fear and uncertainty often prevent clients from considering group therapy as an option. If group therapy becomes more popular, the idea will seem less daunting and people might be more willing to give it a go.
This includes therapists too. Yes, I appreciate it’s not for everyone but I know a few counsellors who like the idea but don’t know where to start. Next week I’ll be posting my “Top Tips For Getting a Therapy Group Up and Running.” If it’s something you’ve thought about doing, hopefully it will give you a some ideas about how to make your group a reality.