I want to write out how I’m understanding group therapy to work at this point. I started out in group because Ron felt I should go. I hadn’t read anything about it, and he didn’t say much. When I got there, I wasn’t sure what to do, and no one else was either. Oh such innocence!
I thought it was basically where you’d explain your issues, and people would give feedback. That’s what about half the group still thinks I’d say.
My first struggle was simply to stay, and I’ve continued to struggle with that aspect.
Then I finally started reading about group therapy, I believe in February perhaps (The Art and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, Irving Yalom). This book was eye-opening for me. For Yalom, group is about exploring our relationships to other people through relating to members of the group. He believes in ‘here and now’ interactions, rather than digging up the past and talking about that. Honesty about how you feel about other group members is paramount. These feelings would be worked on week after week, hopefully eventually shifting to something new. The idea being that our reactions to group members mirror our reactions to people in our life. Just with group members, we can honestly address those feelings, instead of suppressing or acting them out.
Ron had never indicated that this was what his group was about. In fact, he seemed to be encouraging people to dive into their personal issues on a one person per evening basis, with others trying to provide helpful comments. Once I started trying to figure out what his concept of group therapy was, and I asked him about this, he backed up this view by pointing out that moving from person to person sacrifices depth of insight.
In the last few months, things seem to have shifted in the group. For one thing, other people in the group began questioning Ron about what it is we were trying to do.
Ron seems to have modified his ideas about one person being central. Now he seems to be saying the main thing is to give an honest response, even if it is not ‘positive’. Then, we are to dig into why we might be feeling that particular way. That’s tricky to do, and even trickier if you don’t understand that’s what we’re trying to do.
I’d been taking his questions to me about my responses to people as criticism. I vividly remember when, wishing to be honest, and also quite irritated, I told E she was ‘being a martyr’. Ron then made a comment about how when one finger points at someone, three fingers point back at you. What did it mean to me to ‘be a martyr’? Now when I think back, I see that as a legit question to be explored. At the time, I was offended by this and saw it as evidence he was taking E’s side against me.
I think when I report on what happened in group, my actions can read as mean, or petty, or unsupportive behaviour. It really isn’t, or I hope not anyway. I’m actually trying to do what I’m told is what I should do – be honest, then explore that. I’ve fallen down on the exploring angle, not really getting that. I could see trying to work out my feelings to the other group members, and how honest responses all around could help us. I wasn’t seeing the part about exploring my reactions to see what’s underneath.
I feel that I’m learning quite a lot from group. It produces tremendous anxiety for me, but I’m feeling at the moment it’s worth it. It’s difficult to go against social training and say what I think. At the same time, I have an urge to do just that. But venturing out into honesty brings a backlash of guilt and anxiety.
I hope I’m not giving the impression that group is a bunch of people being mean to each other. Sometimes it can seem like that, but it’s not. It’s just not any kind of ‘tea party’, as commenter Laura has pointed out.