Group therapy is an effective treatment method due in part to the high levels of social support that exist between the group members. “Recently, researchers have argued that the provision of support is as important for the provider as it is for the receiver, because providing support to another increases one’s personal meaning,” said Yoni Harel of the Department of Education, Counseling and Human development at Haifa University in Israel. “Group members seek support for their stressful events and provide support to each other.”
However, negative attachment styles can impair the development of supportive relationships. “Because individuals with high attachment avoidance see others negatively, they tend to devalue the importance of others and try to avoid relying on them,” said Harel, who recently led a study examining the link between attachment style and social support. “In group settings, those with high attachment avoidance tend to misperceive others, self-disclose less, and experience less empathy and intimacy than those with low scores. In turn, because individuals with high attachment anxiety perceive others positively, they wind up overemphasizing their distress to try to elicit help from others and have a high need for reassurance from others.”
Harel evaluated 178 college students who were involved in group therapy using the Social Support Behavior Code. The results revealed that the participants with the highest attachment avoidance styles received the least amount of emotional support from the therapists. “They also indicated positive correlations between attachment anxiety and received support from group members and the therapist,” said Harel. “The association between positive support and attachment anxiety can be attributed to the unique characteristics of persons with such an attachment style. They have a strong desire for closeness and safety, worry intensely about others’ availability and responsiveness, and therefore made a concerted effort to elicit positive reactions from others by being nice to them and providing support, and in turn get support back.” The study also revealed that attachment avoidance predicted less group support. Harel added, “In sum, attachment anxiety appears as the best predictor of group behavior. This indicates the importance of individual rather than group variables as affecting outcomes.”
Harel, Yoni, Zipora Schectman, and Carolyn Cutrona. “Individual and Group Process Variables That Affect Social Support in Counseling Groups.” Group Dynamics: Theory, Research and Practice 15.4 (2011): 297-310. Print.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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