Group therapy is supportive and safe. The therapist puts in place boundaries, such as confidentiality and time limits, which are agreed by the whole group. As well as providing stability, safe boundaries and a non-judgemental stance, the therapist comments on the group process and enables members to deal with feelings and issues raised.
The group can be a powerful source of strength and support, especially in times of difficulty or crisis. Over a period of time feedback to and from others can be a catalyst for understanding and change. Group therapy provides a space for reflection – we can notice and change unhelpful patterns that have developed over the years and which sometimes make life hard to cope with.
Why group therapy?
Many people feel that they have to manage difficult situations and problems all by themselves; that turning to others for help is a sign of weakness or failure.
Also, many people have a fear of groups. In groups people may feel awkward or ‘odd’, they might feel superior or inferior to others, or they could feel indifferent, distrustful; or have a sense of not ‘fitting in’.
All of us are born into a group, starting with one or more parents, and possibly other siblings. The nature and quality of our early attachment with the group has profound implications for childhood and adolescent development. When things go wrong during infancy and childhood (as they often do), normal attachment and developmental processes can be disrupted.
For example, a parent might be unwell for a long period of time, or parents might separate or get divorced; or there might be physical or emotional abuse at home or bullying at school.
The disruption in attachment may be unavoidable or it may be wilful: either way, difficulties are likely to surface in the child, and these are usually ‘acted out’ behaviourally and emotionally. Later on, memories of the originating trauma(s) may not even be present, but the ‘acting out’ may continue, possibly in more subtle or extreme forms, giving rise to various kinds of emotional distress and mental illness.
In group therapy traumatic events we have experienced in the past, but were too young, inexperienced or otherwise unable to deal with at the time can be made sense of and understood emotionally. The group can present a ‘here and now’ opportunity to ‘repair’ past emotional damage by learning to interact with others in progressively more healthy ways. As we gain confidence within the confidential setting of the therapy group, so our daily lives begin to become fuller and more enriched. We begin to feel more at home with ourselves and can take our rightful place in the world.