Group Therapy for Adults Abused as Children

Group therapy can be the most nurturing and also the most challenging form of therapy. It is highly effective. While it doesn’t replace individual therapy, it can be a great adjunct and a final step in the healing process.

Group therapy is very relevant for survivors of childhood abuse and in fact for any traumatized individual. Isolation and separation from communal support is a primary characteristic of trauma, and that is exactly what group therapy provides. Enduring recovery cannot occur in isolation, it can only take place within the context of relationships. The group serves as a symbolic societal witness to each victim’s experience, as it is retold and relived in the group process. Fundamental societal functions – being made to feel safe and seen, sharing emotional distress, validating one’s experience, minimizing shame, recognizing and encouraging strengths and taking personal responsibility are now played out within the group interaction. The successful group environment provides a corrective emotional experience in which past dynamics of self-blame, lack of trust, and silencing of the victim will be evoked and then worked through. These groups offer a quality of support and understanding that is simply not available in the survivor’s regular social environment.

Learning that one is not alone or hopelessly defective is of prime importance in the recovery process, and it is facilitated by a high degree of similarity between group participants. There are two kinds of groups for trauma victims – the homogenous group and the heterogeneous group.  The former provides the most similar types of participants (i.e. female rape victims); the latter provides a strong connection of shared emotional experience among different types of individuals and different types of trauma. I lead a heterogeneous group.  It is composed of both females and males, young and old, who have experienced any type of childhood abuse (sexual, physical, emotional).

Judith Herman, in her seminal book, Trauma and Recovery, proposes a three-stage model of recovery from trauma – first safety, then remembrance/mourning, and finally reconnection. She recommends individual therapy for the first stage, homogeneous group therapy for the second stage and heterogeneous group therapy for the third stage. It is my belief that you can accomplish the first two stages in individual therapy and then move on to a heterogeneous group for the third stage.

Over the years we have had group members with various personality disorders, personality types and different operational defense systems. By personality disorders I am referring to diagnoses such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Dissociative Personality Disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder, etc. By personality types and operational defense system I mean the way in which people interact, communicate and react to others – outgoing, shy, aggressive, pleaser, perpetual victim, passive- aggressive, splitting, projective identification, etc.  What is important about these differences is that the outside world is also composed of these types of people and behaviors – and more. The group allows for “trying out” different approaches to being effective and finding one’s voice in the world. Group therapy affords members the opportunity to see how they affect others and how others perceive them without the fear of negative consequences. While group members are supporting each other in the healing process, they are also helping each other become the people they want to be. That is the empowerment of the survivor.

“The restoration of a sense of connection to others that comes with increased trust and communication with self and others is the greatest gift therapy can bring to someone in despair.”
-Herman, 1992

Group therapy offers that gift.

© Copyright 2011 by Roni Weisberg-Ross, LMFT - West L.A. Psychotherapy Group. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Rick

    June 23rd, 2011 at 3:13 PM

    When I first started therapy I went to a couple of group sessions and got a lot more out of them than I thought I would. I thought that I would be embarassed but strangely enough it was comforting to be with a group of people that I felt like I could relate to and who knew exactly what I was going through. I was probably a little more hesitant to speak when it was just me and my therapist one on one than I ever was in my group sessions. And it also helped me create a support network that I did not have before, and that has benefitted me more than almost anything else, knowing that I had people who understood me and would stand by me.

  • TP

    June 24th, 2011 at 4:55 PM

    You know,when I was in school,I would obviously fear getting into trouble.But the fear factor would greatly decrease if there were others in trouble with me.The more the number of kids in trouble,the less fear I would feel.

    I think it’s inherently human to feel this way.And especially for something like being abused in childhood,it does make you a little comfortable to know that there are others just like you.It may not solve the problem but certainly gives courage to face the situation.

  • Micah

    June 24th, 2011 at 6:22 PM

    While there are may who thrive in this environment I thin k that I am too private to be able to openly share in a situation like this. And what good is therapy when you do not feel open to sharing and getting thos emotions out? I better stick with something a little more private. I would feel weird attending a session like this and then not having anything to contribute.

  • lester

    June 24th, 2011 at 11:48 PM

    another advantage of group therapy is that a person can speak about his problems in front of others and whom to accept the problems.this is very significant because some people can hold the problems within themselves for so long that they are harming themselves..

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