The Psychological Process
Almost everyone who seeks psychotherapy has a common desire to establish and maintain close relationships with others. Group psychotherapy is a unique and supportive place for people to work towards actualizing this desire. Group psychotherapy provides an environment where people can be honest and direct about both positive and negative feelings towards others and get honest feedback in return. This type of direct interpersonal exchange is not only permitted in group, it is encouraged and facilitated. By creating an atmosphere that encourages such interpersonal exploration, group therapy provides an opportunity for one to learn about oneself and one’s relationships with others. In taking emotional risks with other people, one’s own defenses and fears of rejection are confronted. Emotional openness with others is necessary if one is to experience emotional openness with oneself. Learning to trust other people and to allow oneself to feel cared about by other people are important aspects of personal growth, and develop out of working on relationships with others. In learning how to share personal thoughts and feelings with other group members, one will learn how to do this with people outside of group. Establishing genuine and mutually-caring relationships with others will become easier, as participation in group therapy benefits one’s relationships with people outside of group.
People have different rates of building trust and revealing themselves. The therapy group should be seen as a forum for risk-taking and for trying out new behaviors. As one develops trust in group members and the group process, one may share intimate aspects of oneself. It is not easy to share intimate feelings because one thus becomes vulnerable to others. In order for trust to develop, each person in the group needs the security of knowing that other group members will be present to listen and share. Frequently missing group meetings has a detrimental effect on the building of group trust and group safety. The wish to miss group therapy meetings is not uncommon and often arises out of personal defenses and fears. These defenses and fears need to be confronted and dealt with in order for personal growth to occur. It is therefore important to talk about these feelings in the group. Because it is difficult to assess the usefulness of group while one is new to the group therapy process and to the other group members, all new group members are asked to make an initial 3 month commitment to the group.
The group milieu functions as a microcosm of the outside world. Group members, therefore, need to be observant about repeating patterns of behavior that mimic, and actually originate in, outside relationships. Group members need to be careful to avoid the tendency to withdraw emotionally, to form concealing alliances with other group members, and/or to allow other group members to speak in their stead. As the group addresses issues and interpersonal difficulties that arise among the members, group members will often find that the individual problems that brought them into therapy in the first place are now being triggered, and perhaps acted out, in the group. Although this is an uncomfortable and difficult realization, and the tendency is to withdraw from or flee the group, this is also where the power of group therapy is most evident. In staying with the group process– working with the other group members and the group therapist, one is presented with a unique opportunity to work through these unresolved psychological issues and improve their quality of life.
Each person comes to group with individual personal goals. These goals need to be examined within the context of the goals of group psychotherapy, which are as follows: (1) to assist in working with an individual’s personal issues; (2) to focus on improving relationships and communication with other people; and (3) to understand the dynamics of the group so that each person can take responsibility for her or his role in the group and how she or he is benefitting personally from group and contributing to the experience of other members.
The group therapy experience should help change behavior and attitudes so that each person enhances their ability to establish and maintain meaningful relationships in their lives. Progression toward these goals is not linear; rather, it is slow and often involves feelings of slipping backwards. At times there will be feelings of frustration or annoyance about what one is personally getting from the group or what the group as a whole is accomplishing. Group members are encouraged to express these feelings to the group as they arise. In order to best utilize the group therapy process, it is important for group members to be as open as possible and to communicate feelings as they are occurring. Such feelings may be about one’s own life experience, other group members, the group therapist, and/or the group process.