We are social creatures. We grew up in a group, we live in groups, we identify ourselves by the groups we belong to. Most importantly we learned how to be in our first group, the family, and developed patterns of relating that we maintain to this day. These patterns are so second nature they are largely unconscious.
The problem is that these unconscious patterns gets transferred to and acted out in all the other groups we occupy – in work, socially and in our new family. The past is then played out in the present making the future a repetition of the past.
When these patterns are destructive enough to cut us off from the group, leading to isolation and loneliness, or give a wholly unsatisfying experience of a group then we can feel stuck.
In group therapy, we look for and look at these patterns ‘live’ in a group, helping to bring them to conscious awareness. This opens a window of choice where we can repeat the pattern or try something new. Trying something new can make us feel anxious. But with the support of the group, we can achieve it and this helps us open a new dimension in our life. Risking doing something new changes us, the new feedback also informs and changes us and our life changes.
The key to group therapy is that we can’t achieve this process alone. For each individual to change the group as a whole must negotiate two vital issues: trust and conflict. In looking to establish trust, we explore our anxieties and fears. We also learn to be empathic and respectful of other group members to encourage that process in each other. By extension, we explore conflict. Group members experiment with expressing difference. As the group feels safe to do so, it further cements trust and leads to a deepening in the relationship of the group.
The group develops cohesiveness from their shared experience. This creates the environment for deeper exploration and change. It is assisted by the growing experiential understanding of the commonality of our experience, that our problems are the same. The group establishes an intimacy, the learning of which transfers into the other groups in our lives; whether family, friends or work colleagues.
Advantages of a group
Group therapy and individual counselling both offer self-development. Group therapy also offers the development of relational skills and the practice of assertiveness in a safe space. Group feedback further assists self-learning as we see how we are perceived in the eyes of others. This gives us a more rounded view of ourselves. As we also provide feedback, we learn how to read and understand people. Finally, the understanding of the universality of our problems assists us in our acceptance of ourselves and the world.
In a paragraph…
We develop our awareness in group by presenting ourselves, receive feedback, we learn who we are and it’s reciprocal. The process is the exploration of trust, relating styles, conflict or expressing difference, and assertiveness. In negotiating these, a group cohesion develops based on an understanding of the universality of our problems. This group learning helps us relate in new and better ways to the groups in our lives; whether family, friends or work colleagues.