Groups: Frequently Asked Questions
Many of the personal problems we face stem from our past and present relationships with others and how we feel about those relationships. When our relationships aren’t what we would like them to be, we may experience feelings of depression, anxiety, and self-doubt. Group Therapy gives us an opportunity to sort out questions and concerns we have about our relationships and ourselves.
In a Therapy group, approximately six to ten students meet with one or more group leaders, typically once a week for seventy-five minutes. Group members talk about a variety of issues and concerns. The primary task of members is to learn as much as possible about the way they relate to each of the other members in the group. This learning occurs through sharing perceptions/thoughts/feelings, trying out new behaviors, giving and receiving feedback, and observing how other members and the group leaders deal with specific interactions and situations. Thus, groups have an interpersonal focus and are especially appropriate for individuals who are interested in working on interpersonal concerns and relationship skills.
Why Join a Group Instead of Individual Therapy?
Your therapist may refer you to group Therapy if he/she feels that your needs would be best served in a group atmosphere. Sometimes this results from matching a specific concern (e.g., stress, body image concerns, sexual assault) with a topic-oriented group designed specifically to address this problem. Group Therapy may also help individuals deal with a relationship or family concern, communicate more effectively, express feelings, adjust to college life, overcome shyness, develop assertiveness, or make friends. Group therapy is often the most direct way to provide the type of contact needed to work on these issues.
How Would a Group Benefit Me?
The group is able to offer support or alternatives in such a way that the difficulty becomes resolved and new interpersonal skills are learned. A group allows a person to gain self-awareness and develop new ways of relating to people. Group members often find comfort in realizing they are not alone in the problems they are experiencing. It is encouraging to find out that others have similar struggles and have worked through similar concerns. If you can understand and work out your relationships in the group, there can also be enormous carry-over to your outside relationships.
What Do I Talk About in the Group?
Letting the group members know why you initially came to therapy and sharing what you hope to get from the group is a good place to start. It is important to tell the group what you want from them, whether it is support, gentle confrontation, or to just be heard and understood. The first few sessions of a group usually focus on the establishment of trust. During this time, members work to establish a level of safety that allows them to talk personally and honestly with one another.
You will most likely benefit and feel most satisfied if you talk about your feelings. Unexpressed emotions are a major reason why people experience difficulties, and the group can become a safe place to express them. Group leaders and other group members can help you be more honest with yourself and others as you explore your emotions. How much you choose to disclose and participate in the group is ultimately your decision, but the more you share and interact, the more likely you are to feel better. People who benefit most from group are usually those who accept a sense of responsibility for making the group work by sharing their concerns and speaking up when they have reactions to issues as well as to other members in the group.
How Do I Know What Type of Group Format to Choose?
Group therapy is usually made up of 6-10 people with one or more trained professional(s) serving as the leader(s). There are various formats that groups can have and may vary by semester. Groups can vary by formats such as the following:
- Groups are either classified as support or therapy focused. Support groups are usually focused on giving members support and encouragement through a shared group concern or issue. Therapy groups focus more on self-exploration and awareness of interpersonal dynamics (thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and reactions) to change an interpersonal concern.
- Groups can be themed or non-themed. This means that either a group focuses on several interpersonal issues and dynamics, or may be focused on a specific theme or issue.
- Groups can be structured or non-structured or both. Structured groups follow a set protocol and have interactive exercises that may start discussions. Non-structured or process-oriented groups focus on group issues that emerge as members disclose personal information. Members focus on giving and receiving feedback, and becoming more aware of their own interpersonal dynamics.
- Lastly, Groups are either open or closed. Open groups are usually on-going groups that let members join the group at anytime during the semester. Closed groups only stay open until a certain time during the semester, or when the group has reached the quota of membership for that particular group.
What If I’m Too Uncomfortable to Discuss My Problems?
When you meet people for the first time, it is hard to know what to say and how much to trust them. Trusting is a process that develops as group members take risks and increasingly share more of themselves. It helps to remember that groups are usually small and that other group members are usually struggling with similar concerns. Letting the group know that you are uncomfortable can be a first step, and often promotes a useful group discussion about the issue of trust among members.
Is What I Say Kept Confidential?
All group members are expected to respect the confidentiality of the group. Group members are asked to make a commitment to protect each other’s confidentiality by agreeing not to divulge information that would violate the identity of others outside the group. While the group leaders cannot guarantee absolute confidentiality (since we cannot control the behavior of group members), we find that members are usually very respectful of each other’s privacy.
What Will Be Expected of Me as a Group Member?
Each group may establish its own ground rules, but here are some general guidelines that are important:
- Regular attendance is essential for establishing group cohesion and commitment.
- If you must miss a session, please inform the group as far in advance as possible.
- Share the talk time with others.
- Talk about what is bothering you as openly and honestly as you can.
- Let others know how you are perceiving them; ask others how they are experiencing you.
- Give the group a fair chance by attending at least three sessions before deciding to discontinue in the group.
- If you decide to leave the group, attend a final session to say goodbye to others.
What is the Role of the Group Leaders?
The role of the leaders is to facilitate productive functioning within the group. To accomplish this, they will encourage group members to interact with each other. They will also assist members in sharing their feelings and in giving and receiving feedback. Group leaders may point out common themes, comment on the dynamics of an individual or the group as a whole, or offer support or gentle confrontation as needed. They attempt to provide enough structure so the group doesn’t flounder, but enough freedom so the group accepts responsibility for its own direction. Group leaders make every effort to create and facilitate a safe and supportive group atmosphere.
Some Common Misconceptions About Group Therapy:
- “I will be forced to disclose all of my deepest thoughts and feelings to the group.”
You control what, how much, and when you share with the group. Most people find that when they feel safe enough to share what is troubling them, a group can be very helpful and affirming. We encourage you not to share what you are not yet ready to disclose. However, you can also gain awareness by listening to others and thinking about how their experiences may apply to your life.
- “Group therapy will take longer than individual therapy to work because I will have to share the time with others.”
Actually, group therapy is often more efficient than individual therapy. You can benefit from the group even during sessions when you say very little but listen carefully to others. You will find that you have much in common with other group members, and as they work on a concern, you can learn more about yourself. Also, group members will often bring up issues that strike a chord with you, that you either weren’t aware of, or may not have brought up yourself.
- “I will be verbally attacked by the leaders or by the other group members.”
Group leaders are present to help develop a safe environment. Feedback is often difficult to hear. As group members come to trust and accept one another, they generally experience feedback and gentle confrontation as positive and useful, as if it was coming from a caring friend. One of the benefits of group is the opportunity to receive input from others in a supportive environment. It is rare to find friends who will point out how your actions may affect yourself or others, but this is precisely what group can offer.
- “I have trouble talking to people; I won’t be able to share in a group.”
Most people are anxious about being able to talk in a group. Almost without exception, within a few sessions people find that they do begin to talk in the group. You will most likely get a lot of support when you begin to talk in the group.
- “Group therapy is second-best to individual therapy.”
Group therapy is often recommended because it offers several important advantages over individual therapy. In a group, an individual may learn how they relate to others, get feedback from others, obtain support, experience a sense of acceptance and belonging, and discover that they are not alone in the difficulties they are experiencing.
How to Join a Group
If you are interested in joining a particular group, a counselor or our receptionist will schedule a pre-group screening appointment for you with the group counselors. This appointment gives you a chance to meet the counselors, ask questions, discuss your concerns and goals, and determine whether the group is a good fit for your needs.