Group Therapy Revisited (May 2018) (Part Two)

What can a prospective group member anticipate as part of a group experience? Here are some of the typical themes that emerge:

  • Relationships—romantic, family, friends, work
  • Trauma and brokenheartedness
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Addictive, compulsive behaviors
  • Career and money
  • Shame and loneliness
  • Sex and sexuality

When I meet a client for the first time, I’m already assessing their eventual appropriateness for group. Once a client has identified and started to explore the issues that brought them into therapy, it may be time to introduce the possibility of joining a group. There’s no cookie-cutter approach to the timing of a client considering group therapy, but I always hold this possibility for the client if my instincts tell me that they would benefit from a group experience.

Because most of my individual clients know that I lead groups, they may initiate interest, or I may plant a seed about future group membership. Although I may be eager to transition a client into group, I always need to check in with myself to make sure that the client wants group more than I want it for them. In other words, joining a group is always about timing.

Here are a few questions that may reveal whether a client is ready to participate effectively in a group:

  • Is the client able to offer empathy and attunement?
  • Is the client able to receive empathy and attunement?
  • Does the client appear enthusiastic about a group experience?
  • Is the client interested in developing more honest, satisfying relationships with others?
  • How does the client respond to conflict and anger?
  • Is the client willing to comply with group guidelines?

In order to foster longevity in therapy groups, the following ingredients will promote greater trust and safety:

  • Cultivating honesty and trust with the members of the group and the group therapist.
  • Giving and receiving clear, honest feedback.
  • Understanding one’s impact on others.
  • Accessing and articulating one’s internal world.
  • Exploring deeper longings and desires.
  • Assessing sexuality and sexual expression.
  • Expressing anger safely and productively.
  • Acknowledging and processing shame.

Bringing together a therapy group requires perseverance from the group therapist, but it can also be one of the richest clinical experiences. Clients learn how to be more fully themselves with one another—a rare transformation that far transcends the challenges group formation requires. Having led therapy groups since 1992, I remain deeply grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow alongside my clients. As my dad shared with me many years ago, “group helped me reclaim my life.”

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