Group therapy is an evidence-based modality of therapy that is used to treat a range of problems including relationship difficulties, personality issues, grief, trauma, substance abuse, anxiety, and depression.
Groups have been shown to be a powerful way for individuals to learn about themselves and their intimate relationships. Developing intimate relationships with complete strangers can seem daunting, but when group members are able to develop deeply personal relationships, experiences can be profoundly healing and transformative.
12 Tips for Participating in Group Therapy
1. Set an intention to be open.
Enter the group with an intention to develop relationships with other group members. Equip yourself with the courage to be transparent, curious, and self-reflective. Articulate your personal thoughts, feelings, and judgments as they emerge during the group. You will become more connected to yourself and others as you claim time to speak and become engaged in the task of group therapy.
2. Respect and guard group boundaries.
Maintain confidentiality of content in the group and the anonymity of group members. Arrive on time. Stay for the duration of the group. Attend each group session and if you have to be absent, let the group know in advance. Keep all interactions between group members to the group room, and if that boundary is breached, bring the interaction back to the group. Protect the boundaries by speaking to your behaviors around boundaries. Let others know how you feel about their behaviors. The group will feel safer when you respect and attend to boundaries.
3. Practice authentic connection.
Share your inner subjective experience — how others affect you, and how you connect (or don’t connect) to what is being shared. Look for commonalities with others in the group. Notice how you connect with other’s stories, feelings, goals, etc. Share your inner subjective experience — how others affect you, and how you connect (or don’t connect) to what is being shared. Notice when you feel closer to someone and when you pull away. Allow yourself to dislike someone or a behavior. At first, you may feel that you do not fit in with other group members — you may see yourself as superior, inferior, or just incompatible based on any number of demographic or other dimensions. Letting others know of how your perception of these differences is getting in the way of your trusting the group can be the first step to building authentic connection.
4. Take up your fair share of group time.
Notice when you choose to be silent instead of saying what is on your mind. Add your log to the fire. Notice what you choose to edit. Be curious when you are chronically taking up more air time than others. You will get out of group only as much as you risk expressing verbally.
5. Take a risk: Avoid social niceties.
Early in the group, it may be hard to avoid wanting to be liked or trying not to offend. However, you will need to take risks to learn about yourself in relationships and your impact on others. Your willingness to look unvarnished, illogical, vulnerable, and unresolved will evolve as the group matures. Don’t be helpful. Your authentic feelings about a topic or person are more useful to the individual (and the group as a whole) than your approval and/or solving their problem.
6. Be curious about yourself and others.
Ask questions about others and invite others’ curiosity about you. If you find yourself curious about someone in the group, ask questions. The person can always decline to answer. Above all, bring your curiosity about yourself. Ask for feedback. Ask if something you do is off-putting or generates closeness. Welcome and invite others’ to provide you with their unfiltered experience of you.
7. Bring any topic.
Share your suffering, your pain, your dilemmas, your worries, your failures with group members and ask them to confront and hold you until you find the courage and clarity to make changes. Also bring your joys and successes. Explore your love and your hate. Evoke God and spirituality. Actively bring what you need to talk about when you need to talk about it regardless of what others might be going through.
8. Examine your choices.
Bring up life decisions with the group early on in your decision-making process — including thoughts about possibly leaving the group. Ask the group for help in identifying the problem, looking at your motivations, identifying your options, and evaluating how they might work out for you. What are you trying to fix and how? The process will highlight some of your issues around identifying your needs, identifying your intentions, and how your choices undermine your own thriving.
9. Trust the process.
By sharing whatever arises inside of you, at a given moment you are giving over to the process, contributing your share of the human story, giving others a chance to get you, and facilitating a process through which you will learn to trust. But don’t wait for the process to take you to where you need to go. What you are willing to share will evolve over time. You will have to initiate self-disclosure, correct mis-representations of yourself, and divulge secrets to present yourself more authentically.
10. Take care of your relationships in the group first.
Keep in mind that while an outside issue may be a useful starting point in the group, the greatest learning will happen when thoughts, feelings, and judgments come up about group and during group. We call this being in the “here and now” or “being in the room.” Stay in the room, as much as possible. Ask yourself what you can or can’t connect with, whom you identify with, and whom you have written off. At first, it may feel difficult to bring up feelings in the heat of the moment. So as in any long-term relationship, come back to leftover feelings with the intention of getting closer.
11. Make a better family for yourself.
You have to get stuck in group so you can learn to get unstuck.The group is designed to bring up unconscious issues so that you can learn to notice and let go of old ways of treating yourself and others. Most likely, some of these ways of being will come up early in the group. You have to get stuck in group so you can learn to get unstuck. Be curious about the intensity of your reaction. Remember the ‘7-minute rule,’ i.e. if your emotions are very intense and last more than 7 minutes, you are in transference . While it may feel overwhelming to feel yourself so exposed, remind yourself that this is when you will learn the most about the unconscious patterns you bring to relationships. You have the opportunity over the next few months to create corrective experiences with this group.
12. In short, make it your group.
Don’t wait to get what you need from members of the group or the therapists. Let people know when you feel discontent. If you want to add your voice, interject or interrupt. If the group does not feel as alive as you want, say so. If you want more, be real and vulnerable with someone in the room. If you don’t trust someone, address your feelings with some urgency. If something is going unacknowledged, point it out. If the therapist said something you don’t like, speak up. This is your group — regardless of how long you have been a member.
Many mental health professionals offer group therapy. You can search for a therapist near you, here.
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