Group counselling takes many forms and groups are variously referred to (often interchangeably) as counselling groups, support groups, mutual support groups, peer support groups, self help groups, stress coping groups, workshops and mental health groups. They are moderated by a professional psychotherapist and deal with a wide range of issues.
It can be easy to slide into isolation when we’re feeling down, especially for those suffering from an invisible illness or problem, but this is the exact opposite of the action that is most likely to help us climb out of that pit. Loneliness and isolation tend to breed more loneliness and isolation, but making the (often difficult or exhausting) effort to connect with others is just the thing we may need to start feeling better.
As uncomfortable as it may sound, sometimes sharing difficult thoughts and feelings in a group setting can be extremely effective in facilitating healing.
Groups generally have a common theme, such as Men's Issues, Women's Issues, Drug & Alcohol Dependance, Separation, etc.
Our groups are professionally operated and members provide each other with various types of help for a particular shared issue. The help takes the form of relating personal experiences and listening to and accepting others' experiences. Group members may also provide a sympathetic understanding and a social network.
A professional psychotherapist facilitates the group to ensure that unfiltered feedback and confrontation between group members is safely moderated.
Group counselling practice focuses on the problems encountered in day to day life by the group members using the therapeutic practices developed by Dr Irvin Yalom (emeritus professor of psychiatry at Stanford University) in his ground-breaking publication The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy (Yalom. I., 1970), including:
The recognition of shared experiences and feelings among group members and that these may be widespread or universal human concerns, serves to remove a group member's sense of isolation, validate their experiences, and raise self-esteem.
The group is a place where members can help each other, and the experience of being able to give something to another person can lift the member's self esteem and help develop more adaptive coping styles and interpersonal skills.
Instillation of Hope
In a mixed group that has members at various stages of development or recovery, a member can be inspired and encouraged by another member who has overcome the problems with which they are still struggling.
While this is not strictly speaking a psychotherapeutic process, members often report that it has been very helpful to learn factual information from other members in the group. For example, about their treatment or about access to services.
Corrective Recapitulation of the Primary Family Experience
Members often unconsciously identify the group therapist and other group members with their own parents and siblings in a process that is a form of transference specific to group psychotherapy. The therapist's interpretations can help group members gain understanding of the impact of childhood experiences on their personality, and they may learn to avoid unconsciously repeating unhelpful past interactive patterns in present-day relationships.
Development of Socialising Techniques
The group setting provides a safe and supportive environment for members to take risks by extending their repertoire of interpersonal behaviour and improving their social skills
One way in which group members can develop social skills is through a modelling process process, observing and imitating the therapist and other group members. For example, sharing personal feelings, showing concern, and supporting others.
It has been suggested that this is the primary therapeutic factor from which all others flow. Humans are herd animals with an instinctive need to belong to groups, and personal development can only take place in an interpersonal context. A cohesive group is one in which all members feel a sense of belonging, acceptance, and validation.
Learning that one has to take responsibility for one's own life and the consequences of one's decisions.
Catharsis is the experience of relief from emotional distress through the free and uninhibited expression of emotion. When members tell their story to a supportive audience, they can obtain relief from chronic feelings of shame and guilt.
Group members achieve a greater level of self-awareness through the process of interacting with others in the group, who give feedback on the member's behaviour and impact on others.
This factor overlaps with interpersonal learning but refers to the achievement of greater levels of insight into the genesis of one's problems and the unconscious motivations that underlie one's behaviour.
Guidelines and Rules for Group Therapy
Whatever type of group therapy you attend, the general rules will likely be the same. These are the rules must be followed for the safety of the group and the effectiveness of the treatment. Certain types of groups may have additional rules, but there is a core set of five rules that are essential for successful group therapy.
These five rules are:
Maintain Confidentiality. It is essential that everything said in group therapy is kept private by all group members and leaders. Failing to adhere to this rule can undermine trust within the group and hinder members’ attempts to heal.
Commitment to Attendance. This is another essential rule for nearly any group – it is vital that each member attend every session, arrive on time, and stay for the entire session. In addition to the absent member missing valuable information and practice, absence or late arrival/early leaving can interrupt the whole group.
No Socializing with Group Members. Group therapy is not a social activity, it is (hopefully!) a therapeutic one. Forming close friendships or other bonds with group members can interfere with group success, especially if members become hesitant to share personal information because of another group member. Friendships should be saved for after the group has disbanded.
Communicate with Words, Not Actions. This rule could be considered the exact opposite of the standard advice storytellers receive: “Show, don’t tell!” People have different reactions to physical contact, so expressing yourself through words instead of physical actions is an important rule to follow.
Participate. Group therapy doesn’t have much of a therapeutic effect if the members do not participate! The potential for healing and growth rests on how much group members are able to connect, share, and learn from one another. It is essential for all group members to truly participate for this treatment to be effective.