Q. American therapists often recommend group therapy to people. It seems strange for me to join a group of people I don’t know at all and discuss my private issues with them. Besides, isn’t it more discouraging and even depressing to listen to other people’s struggles and stories each week?
A.You are right, group work is a significant component of therapy in the United States.
Psychologists, social workers and psychotherapists lead groups to tackle relationship challenges, shyness, anxiety and depression, addiction (alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex and more) and more. I don’t believe that group work can necessarily replace individual or couples therapy. Individual inner work, augmented by group work from time to time can be very beneficial.
There is great value in opening up our troubles, feelings and personalities to other people in a safe, thoughtful and facilitated setting. Most people are afraid and even feel shame in disclosing their issues to others, especially to a group. Being vulnerable in a group plays an important role in helping us heal our psychological ailments. Most of us were raised in families and belonged to various groups as children. We were shaped by and identified with groups and various types of collectives. Our ancestors lived and traveled in groups of fifty to two-hundred. We are social creatures by inheritance.
In group therapy we listen to peers who have similar stories, feelings and struggles. This reduces our isolation, shame and self-judgment about our own shortcomings and troubles.
We realize that to be human is to have issues and to need help and support. There is a certain kind of intimacy that is meaningful in interpersonal groups because group members reveal their authentic struggles, needs and questions quickly.
The group therapist also facilitates self reflection and helps point out interpersonal dynamics. These include feelings of isolation, judgment, rejection, belonging, popularity and value. A group can mimic a member’s experience of being in his or her family of origin. This is powerful, as most of us have struggled within our families and almost never have had a therapeutic opportunity to discuss and resolve those dynamics.
With increased technology and focus on the individual in this culture people are often isolated and less able to be authentic and open about their inner lives and interpersonal needs. Groups can be a great platform for personal resolution.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com