You are not alone - finding support and resolution in group psychotherapy

Do you often feel alone, like you’re the only one who seems to be struggling with relationships and emotions? Do you grapple with having a clear sense of who you are, and with fitting in? Have you suffered loss, trauma, abandonment or isolation and now find it difficult to move on?

The most helpful experience, my patients have told me, has often been the opportunity to speak to someone else who is going through or has been through similar experiences of distress. There is something incredibly comforting in the support comes from that sharing and mutual understanding that cannot be articulated in any tangible way. This is one of the many reasons why group therapy is an effective space for working through emotional distress and relationship difficulties, and to enable personal growth

Group analysis as a form of group therapy

'A therapy of the group, by the group'

The form of group psychotherapy that I practice is group analysis, where six to eight people meet once a week to discuss their difficulties. The process is very much about empowering each group member to be open and find their confidence in relating to others with the support of the other members and the therapist. Each group member would have met the therapist for a few individual sessions before the group starts to prepare them for the experience in the group as well as to help them think about how they can get the most out of their group therapy.

Group analysis is based on the psychoanalytic understanding that our current difficulties and symptoms have underlying meaning and significance that can be traced back to our past as well as linked to our current experiences. These experiences are almost always in the context of our relationships. This is why working through these difficulties with others in a group is a powerful way of finding acceptance, resolution and change.

Difficulties that group analysis can be particularly helpful for:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • relationship difficulties (personal and within the workplace)
  • adjustment difficulties
  • feelings of isolation and a sense of 'not fitting in'
  • feeling that life has lost its sense of meaning and purpose

It can be daunting to consider joining a therapy group.

It is not unusual, especially if you are struggling in relationships and in communicating with others, to feel that you might not be able to speak up or be heard in a group. You may also worry about discussing personal matters with others.

However, once you become part of the group and begin to listen and speak to others, your doubts can often be put to rest. You may discover that you aren’t alone in how you feel, and when there are differences between group members, there is an opportunity to open your mind to other perspectives.

Deeply distressing life experiences, once shared, become part of the fabric of the group. As relationships between group members become closer, the sense of isolation evolves to a greater sense of safety and trust in which it becomes possible to find ways of understanding longstanding difficulties and discovering different solutions for them.

A group is the best place in which unhelpful patterns in relationships in everyday life can be identified and explored. The safe space of the group provides the ideal opportunity to experiment with being different with others in a way that is more authentic and empowering.

Groups are places of belonging

As a group analyst, I believe that we are primarily social beings and that our inner worlds are permeated and significantly defined by social, historical and cultural factors. Psychotherapy groups are places where feelings of otherness and difference, difficulties with belonging and relating can be explored in depth. Over time, as the sense of safety develops, people can express themselves more freely, developing their awareness of oneself and a confidence to be more 'real' in their relationships with others in the group. The group becomes a secure base from which they can work towards developing the sense of their identity and belonging in the wider groups that they are part of.

Ensuring group safety and confidentiality in group psychotherapy:

Analytic groups are 'stranger groups', which means that the therapist makes every effort to ensure that the group members do not know one another before the start of the group.

She/he would have met each potential member at least a few times before they join the group and will bear in mind how they might potentially 'fit' together in the therapy group.

All group members are actively discouraged from having contact outside the group in order to protect the confidentiality and also to ensure that the group is able to work together free of any issues that may occur from outside contact.

Should group members run into one another by chance, they are encouraged to keep their interaction to a minimum and to bring any contact they might have had back to the group. In addition, if group members wish to meet up after they have completed their therapy in the group, it is advisable that they wait for a few months after they have left the group. This is because the process of change and resolution continues after the therapy is completed and it is important that members give themselves every opportunity to make the most of their experience.

Contact a group analyst

Group analysts undertake a rigorous training over several years before qualifying. If you think joining an analytic group might be a helpful experience for you, the register of the Institute of Group Analysis is a useful resource to find group analysts who run psychotherapy groups where you are.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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