"The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind."- William James
Combined group and weekly or monthly individual therapy significantly expands the context of individual treatment. However, a person must be ready to enter a group. While I may raise the question of entering a group with a person I have been seeing in individual therapy to consider, I will never pressure a person to enter a group. At first, often an individual is opposed or ambivalent about entering a group so time is needed to explore these feelings towards group participation and bring them into clear focus.
Group therapy is widely used and has been a standard part of treatment for the last 50 years. Sometimes group is the sole form of treatment but more often I recommend group treatment combined with individual treatment. Some of the individuals I see have group and individual therapy concurrently on a weekly basis. Sometimes a person is referred to me for group therapy by their individual therapist. If this is the case, I need to have the client’s permission to collaborate with their individual therapist should a need arise. In such a case, the client will be fully informed about the nature of the conversation between me and their individual therapist.
Now I’d like to discuss when engaging in group therapy is a good choice. Groups offer an opportunity to learn more about one’s "interpersonal" patterns in relationships with others within the safety of a group that is confidential and where treatment goals are kept in focus. When group therapy goes well, members focus on the interpersonal interactions within the group and discuss these observable interactions. The group has a “here and now” focus so that everyone in the group attends to the content and how members interact in the moment. In this way you will form a picture of others and they will form a picture of you. Both positive and negative feelings about interactions are shared. When these pictures are shared everyone involved in the group often benefits. It gives everyone something to reflect on, to consider and discuss with a goal of more deeply understanding one’s self and others. Such discussions often highlight “blind spots” we all have and which benefit us when we learn about them. Once we identify our misguided interactive style, you probably will decide to interact with others in the group in a different way that holds their attention and brings them closer.
It’s good to view the group as a "living laboratory" of relationships. I encourage individuals to try out new ways of talking to people, to take some risks by sharing more intimately about personal matters and getting responses and seeing what you experience from the various ways in which group members respond to you. This can help you learn what you do that pushes others away and what brings them closer to you and how you can interact with others more effectively. Discovering this is very important. It helps us to learn how to interact with others in a way that is likely to meet our needs.
Our past shape us in what we learn within our families about relating to others. Within a group our repertoire of how to relate to others is broadened by the ability to observe many styles of interaction. From this we can learn to relate more positively and creatively with others. Such learning and personal change generalizes to our relationships outside the group and enhances our relationships.
The quality of our relationships is really the bottom line in life. It is through our relationships that we stretch ourselves and can learn to find a more creative path at work and in love.
In my groups people are asked to only use their first names. I also check carefully before inviting a member to join a group to make certain that they do not know anyone in the group. This is to foster the confidentiality of the group. It is vitally important that you disguise identities and focus on your own reactions to what occurred in relation to yourself in group. Fellow group members rely on your integrity to keep all information re: you and others confidential.