I'm about to depart for the American Group Psychotherapy Association National Conference in New York City. I've been chosen to be Colorado's representative to the national body and I'm very excited. I'm excited to get a chance to meet some of the world's greatest group psychotherapists and have a say about the future of the organization that provides cutting-edge education and opportunities for group treatment. This conference is different in that we, as members, actually participate in the groups. We are encouraged to see what it is like from the other side of the chair. I love this! To me, it's the best way to learn.
Group Psychotherapy is an underrated and often misunderstood form of treatment. Many clinicians run their groups like classes and use them as a way to see more clients at a lower rate. Many of them lose their clinical skills when they are put in front of a group of people and default to becoming a teacher instead of being a guide. Although education is very important, many of these groups actively work against what truly heals, a compassionate community.
To me, group psychotherapy can actually be more effective than individual sessions. In group not only are members's experiences validated by others but they are presented with more opportunities for growth through their interactions. Instead of just working off of the therapist, you are presented with the entirety of the group. Group can be a place to study how you interact with others and then actually try out new strategies.
In group therapy we get the opportunity to have conversations that would seem weird in everyday life. For example, members are encouraged to speak about how they effect each other. They are encouraged to speak about any triggers they may feel or if they feel induced to produce a certain response. This type of feedback highlights group dynamics that would often just be glossed over. Members can talk about feeling silenced or developing resentments or making assumptions. It's actually pretty cool.
Group therapy opens the door to meaningful feedback and compassionate action. I've seen so much empathy in the group that I've run. It's wild, in a group of only 8-12 people it seems like everyone can find at least one person to relate to. All of a sudden a person's hidden shame is validated and accepted. Members realize that thing that they thought were uniquely theirs are actually quite common, they just never had the place to talk about them before.
For many people group becomes a reliable community for them to feel safe and explore their worries, fears, and dreams with other people. It's a place to learn about themselves through their interactions with others. Group can be a laboratory in which members are encouraged to try out new ways of relating and to take risks in a supportive environment. After feeling validated and held in group the members can take the skills, and innate knowledge they gained out into their world.
So often we forget that we are not alone. We think that no one cares or that no one understands us. We fall into a swamp of shame as we try desperately to keep our secrets hidden. Group presents us with a place to let it all out and let it all go. To practice sharing our innermost worlds and helping others to share theirs. As we work together to build compassionate curiosity towards each other, the world heals.
Next week I'll write about how group leaders can work to build a healing community.