December 22, 2017

Power of the Group

The group therapeutic experience is different than individual for a number of reasons. Let’s start with sheer numbers. More people are present, obviously, which offers different points of view, multiple layers of support and a chance to learn by watching and listening. I hear from clients regularly that they don’t like group therapy for various reasons. I’m shy/not social: All the more reason to push yourself out of your comfort zone. You came to therapy because what you’ve been doing isn’t working, correct? Nothing changes if nothing changes. I don’t want to hear other people’s problems, I have enough of my own: Group work isn’t a get together bitch session, unless it’s being run poorly by an unskilled facilitator. Yes, you may have to listen more, and not every moment will be stimulating or life changing, but getting out of yourself is an essential element towards growing in a different direction. I don’t want to share my personal information/embarrassed: This I understand, but keep in mind that the people you’ll be with have similar issues and will understand. If something is SO BIG that you can’t even give it voice, it has a lot of power over you. Part of letting go and letting things out is being willing to share them in situations that will normalize whatever you’re going through. In a 1:1 setting the therapist can only reflect so much. They have the job of supporting you and trying to get you to try a new approach, but they are only one person (If your therapist is more than one person or claims to be different people at different times we should talk ) In a group the work is shared. You don’t have to reveal anything you don’t choose to (no one takes over your brain and forces you to be vulnerable).

I remember a young woman struggling with her addiction who acted out in many areas of her life. She came to treatment to address several of them. In a group Music Therapy playing experience where everyone chose which instrument represented something they needed to work on, she picked a loud drum and asked for a mallet (instead of using her hands) so she could make a bigger splash. She felt like nobody heard her in her life. As the group began playing different rounds of improvisation, where anything goes and everything counts, discussions began about what was heard. She listened and she played loudly, for a while. As the group went on she instinctually put the mallets down and began swishing the drum around (it was an Ocean Drum with small beads inside of it). She played in a rocking motion as if she was soothing herself. When we processed the experience she cried and shared that for the first time she heard herself, and it didn’t have to be loud, in fact, quite the opposite. This was a young woman who did not have a connection to herself, but was so busy trying to stand out in a crowd to compensate she was repeating the same pattern over and over again. Because the group allowed her the option to exorcise her demons therapeutically, in this case with a drum, she heard herself in a new way. I, as the facilitator didn’t have to tell her anything. The group made it clear. There is great power in learning from peers. If hearing the answer from a professional made everything clear and easy therapy would be a quick experience. We all know it is not that simple.

I can’t count the number of times someone in a group setting has shared their trauma, their wounding, their truth—and inspired someone else to do the same. Similarly, someone becomes willing to try and play an instrument or experiment with improvisation because of a group influence. “I never knew I had any rhythm, who would have thought I could write a song, be creative, be a risk taker?” When we have the experience of doing something we didn’t think was possible, other such things also seem more possible outside the treatment room.

Finally, the element of working together in a connection of other seeking souls cannot be dismissed. No one ever came into therapy because they felt they were just like everyone else and things were coming along swimmingly (can you believe that’s even a word?) Most people choose to enter the therapeutic process because something is out of sorts and usually that something is affecting many areas of their life, including the people they love and interact with. Isn’t it fitting then, that in a group we practice interacting in a new and healthier way? Yep, that’s actually what goes on in groups. Remember that how we behave in any group, regardless of size or purpose, will mimic the roles we played in our family of origin. This happens unconsciously and partly because we are all still working out whatever residue is left over from our childhoods. The only child demands attention, the people pleaser goes about trying to be all things to all people, the introvert stares at the floor and watches the clock. Thank God for the class clown, we all need a moment of levity. Of course these are just a few of the roles people can play, and most of us shift around in character. We choose partners that will do this sort of dance with us in relationships (romantic and otherwise) and in a group, other people understudy their roles. That one guy, the one who has rubbed you the wrong way from the first minute you met? He’s the one you want to pay the most attention to because he’s got the most to teach you. In the group we find the person who mirrors us, the one who seems to have it all together that we’d like to be, and maybe other versions of ourselves from times gone by. In a group, the connections are vast and on many levels.
Groups exist to support, nurture and teach in every society, we simply label them differently. Aren’t you pleased to tell your neighbor about your successful charity? Do you look forward to attending a religious service weekly to get fed on a higher level? Pleased to see a familiar face at the Zumba class you take every Wednesday, or the friendly competition in your softball league. In college there is the Greek system, the armed forces for some, Rotary clubs and choir rehearsals. It’s the groups we’re not as proud to belong to that seem to carry the shame connotation. The 12-Step, Weight Loss meetings, Adult Education to complete High School…. Groups are about bettering ourselves, in every which way. Not all recovery groups are depressing, in fact, most are uplifting.

At H.O.P.E. we will be offering wellness empowerment groups of all kinds so that people can come together to get and remain the best versions of themselves. We will be combining disciplines and offering topic specific workshops that address stress, communication, self-care, self-expression and self-awareness. If you have an idea for a group you’d like to see come to life or are interested in presenting something as a collaborative effort please contact me. I personally have witnessed amazing transformations in folks that were willing to do both group and individual work, which is why we are offering both.

If disease and disorder are wrought with disconnection, the solution has to be in the antithesis, connection. It is my sincerely hope that new offerings in the community will promote healthy, interesting and vibrant connections that heal.