GROUP THERAPY FAQ
Group therapy and group workshops are forms of counseling in which a small number of people come together under the guidance of a professionally trained therapist to help themselves and one another. The approach has been widely used and has been a standard and effective treatment option for over 50 years. In the group setting, not only do students receive tremendous understanding, support, and encouragement from others facing similar issues, but they also gain different perspectives, ideas, and viewpoints on those issues. Group settings, like individual therapy, are powerful vehicles for growth and change, and are intended to help people who would like to gain support, increase self-awareness, and learn new ways to cope with personal or interpersonal challenges.
Individual and workshops/group therapy have different benefits and help people in different ways. Research studies have shown that group participants are equally if not more satisfied than people who participate in individual therapy. While neither form is inherently better than the other, there are some struggles that are better suited for group interaction, such as developing communication skills, getting interpersonal feedback, obtaining social support, and understanding relationship patterns.
No one in group is forced to disclose anything that they are not comfortable with, and in fact some thoughts, feelings, or emotions are so personal that keeping them to oneself may be more beneficial than disclosing them to a group. Group members learn to identify their personal boundaries and respectfully communicate those boundaries to one another. They disclose personal information over time and in a way that feels comfortable.
Groups and workshops operate in such a way that many people are working on their own concerns at the same time. When two or three (or even more) people interact, they are all often learning about themselves and their life experiences from the interaction. One function of a group or workshop is to help create a space where all of the individuals are safe and attempt to learn how to meet their own needs.
Some people fear that they won’t have anything to say, or won’t know how to respond to others in the group/workshop. This is a valid concern because so often group participation in other settings (e.g. classes, work, family life) is identified by verbal interaction or input. Therapy groups and workshops, however, do not hold that same assumption, and allow an individual to observe and reflect, which are powerful learning tools in and of themselves.
Participants are often encouraged by one another to share their observations, internal reactions and experiences of the group/workshop, but in a way that feels comfortable and supportive. Group/workshop members discuss at the outset of therapy how they tend to share information, when they might need some space within the group/workshop, and how they can best be supported by others in the group. If a member does not feel comfortable talking, they simply share this preference with the group and ask that the group trust them to speak when they are ready.
In reality most people are anxious about being in and sharing with a group. But even within a session or two, most people find that they want to talk in the group/workshop. Even the most private or shy people often find that the group/workshop is a place where they can trust others and share their concerns.
Coming into a group setting can understandably feel overwhelming, when one’s own life circumstances may seem unmanageable. Many participants, however, have described hearing about the experiences of other members as extremely helpful. Focusing on the life experiences of others helps them to feel less alone in their own struggles, as well as helps them to understand their own difficulties from a different perspective. Many find a sense of relief in knowing that others struggle with similar issues or emotions.
Although there are plenty of stereotypes from movies and television of a group member throwing something or getting angry and storming out of a room, this type of behavior rarely happens. Group/workshop members are encouraged ahead of time to put their feelings into words instead of actions, so that they can help others to understand what they are going through, and to help themselves learn effective ways of managing difficult or intense emotion.
Although the group/workshop leaders will help to define the structure of a group, provide guidance, and help establish a sense of safety, the bulk of the work is done by the participants. They support, challenge, and come to care for one another in a way that deepens over time, facilitating changes that come about for the participants in their personal lives as well as in the group/workshop.