Group Therapy Revisited (May 2018) (Part One)

“Since I joined group, I don’t feel so alone anymore—now I know there are others who are in my corner.” I hear this sentiment over and over again from clients who commit to weekly group therapy—a place to both learn about oneself while helping others learn about themselves. Clients typically come to group because they have longings for deeper contact, and group is where they get to take risks, be vulnerable, and as a result, experience deeper connection.

In the early ‘80s, my dad was part of a men’s therapy group in Philadelphia. I was in high school at the time and didn’t really understand why he attended these mysterious meetings. Because we lived in a somewhat sheltered suburb in South Jersey, it seemed quite revolutionary that he would travel into the city every Tuesday night to meet with a diverse group of men. All I knew is that he was devoted to his weekly ritual, and he returned home with a more optimistic outlook. After five years of going to his men’s group, my father built up the courage to separate from my mother and start a new life for himself. Discovering his true voice allowed him to make a bold decision after thirty years of marriage, and this was a formative event in the history of my family and my life.

In the late ‘80s I started graduate school at UCLA to study clinical social work, and in 1992 I became an associate in a busy private practice in West Los Angeles where I was asked to lead a men’s psychotherapy group. How ironic—I was now leading a men’s group after my dad’s influential experience as a men’s group member just a few years earlier. Although I felt as if I was treading water at times, I slowly built-up clinical muscle and returned every Wednesday night for eight more years—and this turned out to be one of my most significant growth experiences both personally and professionally.

Through the course of my career, I’ve led several long-term therapy groups, and today, I call them interpersonal process groups with an emphasis on here-and-now relationships in the room. As a former group leader of many types of groups, I firmly believe in the therapeutic nature of the group experience, but nowadays, I view the groups in my practice through a process group lens.

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