How I understand group

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.

  1. Laura said:

    I think we evolve, our concept evolves. Remember when, in cowboys and indians, the cowboys were always the good guys and the indians were the bad guys? black hats and white? In group, you're not being bad, and no one else is, either.If you're feeling open to exploring, that sounds to me as if you're feeling more secure.

  2. Amanda said:

    It was only after finding your blog, that I wanted to try out group therapy. It doesn't sound easy at all, it sounds like it would be good "practice" communicating and connecting with others. To be honest, I'm not sure how you push through some weeks with group and personal therapy!It doesn't seem at all as though you're mean in group – it just sounds like a challenge. You are doing great work, moving towards a fully healthy life. Keep at it.

  3. inamaze said:

    I haven't ever gotten the impression that you or anyone else in the group is being mean. Working out relationships is not an easy thing to do. I also find it interesting that you are able to hash some of the group process out with Ron. When I was in a short term group therapy the therapist always tried to get us to explore our reactions to other group members comments toward us. I found it quite the eye opener concerning myself. I think you are working hard in this and have been gaining insight into your inner self. Good work!

  4. Ellen said:

    @ Laura – thanks@ Amanda – It is good practice Amanda. Maybe you'll try it sometime if you're drawn to it. Pushing through is a challenge – this week I don't want to go at all actually.Good to hear I'm not coming across as mean. thanks for the encouragement!@ maze – Working out relationships is very tough for me. Especially with Ron involved. I think usually if I don't get along with someone I just stay away from them. Interesting your experience of group therapy….Thanks!

  5. Ellen said:

    @ OBD – Thanks Catherine. Helpful article. I think it does have to do with group in that we project critical feelings onto the group members…..cheers

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