I am starting a new high-functioning psychotherapy process group on Wed. March 2nd, from 5pm to 7pm weekly. There are a few spaces left; let me know if you are interested! As all of you know by now, I am passionate about group psychotherapy. Here are some particular benefits of group therapy and some protocol examples that group members make with each other by consensus:
PARTICULAR BENEFITS OF GROUP PSYCHOTHERAPY
Psychotherapy groups have many significant advantages over individual psychotherapy (although they need not be mutually exclusive). People in therapy groups learn very quickly that they are not “alone” with their problems, issues, and fears. Just becoming aware of that can be surprising reassuring and relieving. Group members receive ongoing consensual validation from others who are not being paid to “be nice” at the cost of being helpful, which unfortunately can happen more than we think in individual therapy. Often, we can learn about aspects of ourselves we have not been conscious of by seeing ourselves in another member of the group. Poignantly, many folks in my prior groups come in to our once/week group saying that “this is the only place I feel I can be myself”.
We all develop behaviors in our early lives that are adaptive in the environments in which we are raised. These behaviors help us survive difficult home environments. We start to experience confusing problems when, in early adulthood, these same survival behaviors no longer seem to have their desired effect on others. In fact, it is these very behaviors that can cause continual problems in interpersonal relationships once we are in relatively healthier environments. Participating in group psychotherapy is one of the most efficient ways we know of to help us re-wire our brains to serve our survival in our adult environment, instead of holding on to what may be now dysfunctional behavior that USED to be functional.
Daniel Siegel, a prominent neurologist at UCLA, has written at length about how, if we’re trying to “re-wire” our brains in order to learn to react in healthier, situation-appropriate ways in our lives, the group setting speeds up the re-wiring process exponentially. This happens because when we take emotional risks in group, we absorb the positive reactions of all the group members, as opposed to a single therapist. It’s a form of multiple reinforcement. Similarly, when we take inappropriate emotional risks in groups, we absorb the reactions of caution from the other group members— in a form of multiple lack of reinforcement.
Each new therapy group establishes, by consensus, general protocol guidelines. These guidelines can be changed at any time by mutual consensus of everyone in the group. Some examples of typical guidelines of my past groups have been:
1) Everyone in the group commits to being fully honest (once they feel safe) about their own feelings and about their reactions to others’ feelings and behavior.
2) Everyone in the group agrees to abstain from any contact with each other outside the group. If inadvertent contact occurs (e.g., you run into each other at the supermarket), this gets brought back to the group at the next meeting. Similarly, if there is any discussion of the group after each group ends and folks head out to the parking lot to get in their cars, the details of these discussions be brought back to the next group. This significantly decreases the likelihood of sub-grouping, keeps everyone on the same page, and thus contributes to the safety that is felt in the group.
3) Each group member will let the other members (including the facilitator) know their preference should there be inadvertent contact between group meetings. For example, if both people are alone, both people are usually comfortable saying “hi” and moving on. But if one or both people are accompanied by others, some people may prefer not to say “hello” in order to avoid explaining to their friend(s) how they know each other.
4) Each group member makes a commitment to NEVER talk to a loved one or a friend about what transpires in the group. People generally feel OK if, when talking about the group, you limit your discussion to what you’re learning about yourself ONLY. No names are to be used; no quotes from others are to be used; no identifying information whatsoever can ever be shared about the other group members. Also, people are generally OK if group members talk to their individual therapists about what’s happening in the group, if it pertains to what they’re learning about themselves, given that that communication is protected by strict confidentiality.
5) Group members use first names only. If members wish to share information about what kind of work they do (which comes up frequently if there are problems at work), they don’t have to identify specifically where they work. This contributes to all overall feeling of safety in the group, as members can remain as anonymous as they choose. Along these lines, I will never knowingly invite people into a group if I have any concerns that they might know each other. This has never happened to me in my 30 years of practice, but should it happen that a member knows another member from outside the group, the group will process all aspects of this issue and come up with a consensual solution that everyone is comfortable with.
6) It is crucial that group members arrive on time for each group. The group will start exactly on time, and it is very disruptive if latecomers drift in and have to be filled in on what’s transpired so far. Everyone being on time, perhaps surprisingly, contributes significantly to the feelings of safety and cohesiveness of the group.
7) If a group member has a work trip or a vacation coming up, they will let the group know with at least two weeks advanced notice of their anticipated absence. The continuity of the group depends on minimal absences. If you have a job that will take you out of town on a frequent basis such that your attendance in group will be limited, please do not join the group.
8) The monthly fee for the two-hour weekly group is $350. Billing will occur at the end of each month. Payment will be expected the following week. If I need to be out of town for a professional meeting or vacation, I will let the group know a month ahead of time, and your bills will be pro-rated accordingly.
9) Some people love to bring their pets when they come to individual therapy. The issue of bringing pets into the group will be decided by consensus of the group.
10) If a group member is also seeing me for individual therapy, I urge them to let the group know this at the outset. This is the equivalent to having outside contact with each other outside the group. Anything that a group member brings up in individual therapy will remain confidential to the group unless I feel it would be useful for the individual patient to bring it up in group, in which I will encourage (but not force) them to do so.
11) Most therapy groups meet for an hour and one-half each week. I have specifically scheduled this group to meet for 2 hours, as, in my experience, the group will coalesce more quickly and intensively with this extra time together.