Most of us, at one time or another, have avoided groups. Whether it was not attending a party, preferring to stay at home and watch TV after a long week or finding a reason not to go to that meeting at work because it always makes us feel uncomfortable.
When I suggest to a client that group psychotherapy might be helpful, the impression I am often initially left with is it raises anxieties for them. These are usually based on concerns about talking to strangers about personal and intimate aspects of our lives.
Worries about confidentiality, sharing space with others and getting needs met with others competing for attention can also dominate. All of these are perfectly reasonable objections and reassuring people that they will not encounter such experiences is not the purpose of the work before joining a group.
What can group psychotherapy offer?
A group offers the opportunity to tackle competitiveness, dealing with rivalry and finding a voice in a group. What you will be gaining is a sense of your self through the eyes of the group, giving you a perspective on yourself from each member. A mirror for reflection, through the process of sharing with others and learning from them. The relationships in the group offer a place to play out fears in a safe and contained space.
What can you expect if you want to join a group?
The type of group I have described above is called “A Slow Open Group”. It consists of a Group Analyst or Conductor, from 5-8 members, meets weekly for 1.5 hours for 42 weeks a year. You will join the group for a minimum period of 6 to 12 months.
This seems like a big commitment, are you a member of a gym with 12 months membership, which is usually rolled over; this is like a gym workout for the mind with the added advantage of a team of players to work with.
If you are joining a new group you will have seen your group conductor sometime before the group starts, he or she will have spent time with you getting to know you, finding out whether there are any boundary issues with other members. This is a “stranger group” knowing someone beforehand, a friend, family member, however distant, is not conducive to developing a safe and confidential space for open and free discussions.
The group provides a relational field or matrix for exploring and understanding our emotional lives. Your needs may be in your relationships within the family /partnerships/ friends or at work managing others, handling team rivalries or even in the area of sport where managing morale is essential. Isn’t it in every aspect of our communal lives?
Dorothea Beech is a UKCP-registered Group Analyst, full member of the Institute of Group Analysis and a Training Group Analyst. She will be starting a slow open group in October running weekly from our Hove practice.