“People who are successful in group are successful in life.” - Louis Ormont, Ph.D.
Ever since Joseph Pratt, M.D., a Boston physician, discovered in the early 1900’s that his tuberculosis patients improved faster when they shared their experiences and progress of recovery with each other, group psychotherapy has grown to be an accepted method of treatment, often the treatment of choice for a wide variety of problems.
Why would I join a group?
Most people who consider group psychotherapy have been in individual psychotherapy first and have an established relationship with a therapist. When it becomes clear that you are looking for help with developing more satisfying relationships, be they spouses, romantic partners, children, co-workers, family or friends, group psychotherapy is an excellent way to accomplish this goal. As group members talk about their thoughts and feelings with each other, they begin to see patterns of behaviors and interactions emerge in the group much like the patterns in their lives outside group. With the contributions of each member’s perspectives, you can learn more about what gets in the way of developing satisfying relationships and learn new ways of relating more openly, honestly, and empathically.
In addition to talking about difficulties with significant people in their lives, group members find help for many other issues, such as stress in the workplace, chronic pain, loss, anxiety, depression, family history and how it impinges on the present, addictions, and many other topics. One of the most beneficial aspects of group therapy is the opportunity to learn from others who have similar struggles. In addition, group members find they have valuable talents and insights that contribute to each other’s growth. The group’s ability to work together on shared problems can be one of the most satisfying experiences of therapy.
What happens in a group?
Group psychotherapy is a form of treatment usually involving 5-10 members who meet weekly over an extended period of time, usually a year or more. Although group members may come from diverse backgrounds (single, divorced, married, with or without children, students, professionals, homemakers) with diverse needs, they have in common the desire to have healthier and more satisfying relationships with others.
Group members agree to arrive on time, take their fair share of the talking time, keep the content and names of the group members confidential, refrain from socializing outside the group, and pay their bill at the end of the month. With these basic agreements in place, the way members get the most out of group is to talk about their thoughts and feelings toward other group members and why they have them. Talking about issues outside the life of the group, such as work, relationships, family issues, etc., is necessary and valuable. However, the relationships that develop in the group, including with the leader, provide the richest source of learning and a unique opportunity to experiment with new ways of communicating and cultivating more satisfying relationships inside and outside of the group.
People typically feel some degree of anxiety about joining a group. Some worry about being judged, criticized, or rejected. Some worry about being the target of angry attacks. Others worry about having uncomfortable feelings toward other members. Some people worry that being in a room with other people with difficulties will make everyone worse, “the blind leading the blind.” All of these concerns are common, and are experienced by most group members at one time or another. It is helpful to put these fears into words, see what can be learned from them, and find ways to work past them. In practice, people find that the process of talking about their problems and identifying similarities with other members is very helpful. Many group members are surprised to find that they have something to offer other people. Difficult moments in group are often the best chance to learn about oneself and to grow and progress.
My experience leading groups
I have been involved in group work since 1977. From my early days as a graduate student working with groups of abusive parents, to my work with hospitalized and post-hospitalized adolescents, to my private practice groups for adults, I bring the teachings from all of my group members to my work. In addition to my group training at Northwestern University and The University of Texas at Austin, I trained with the Center for Group Studies in New York City from 1996-2005, and earned a Certificate in Modern Group Leadership in May, 2005. I am now a member of the faculty at the Center. I have led workshops and seminars on the practice of group psychotherapy around the world, including Hawaii, Nashville, San Francisco, Boston, and St. Petersburg, Russia. I also teach and supervise group therapists in Austin. In 2014 I became Board Certified in Group Psychology with the American Board of Professional Psychologists (ABPP). I am a Fellow of the American Group Psychotherapy Association.
For an articulate description of the benefits of group psychotherapy for one patient, follow this link: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/11/why-group-therapy-worked/?_r=0
For more information on group psychotherapy, visit the website of the American Group Psychotherapy Association at www.agpa.org.
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Copyright © 2020 Jan Morris, Ph.D., CGP