A little theory about groups

I thought I’d explain a bit about the idea of group. In a psycho dynamic group, the main idea is not to provide a supportive space for healing. That idea is appealing, but that’s not what this type of group is for. The theory is that a lot of our troubles are caused by, or cause, disturbances with how we relate to other people. Just by being in a group, we will naturally recreate all the problems we have with people in our daily life. If we express that, and interact honestly and openly, group is supposed to offer a chance to ‘work on it’ – that is, slow it down, examine it, talk about it, and heal it.

It’s not about ‘good communication’ or any of a number of other really positive things. It’s about letting our problems be triggered and trying to work through them. Or about feeling all kinds of things, being free to express that and seeing what the consequences are.

That’s what I think anyway. In my group, this didn’t seem to be clear, so people tended to think problems were a problem. That is, someone expressing something negative was perhaps being unkind or unsupportive, and so that person would be (mildly) attacked, and they would then withdraw.

Not good. That’s how I saw what was happening.

I’m never sure that I’m seeing clearly though, so I had a hard time figuring out what was going on, even though Ron was there to discuss it with. Ron always encouraged me to express anything negative in group. However, it seemed to me that he then didn’t provide much support to whoever was trying to do this. Like, ahem, myself.

However, I easily feel attacked and in danger. So maybe I needed a thicker skin and more determination to keep going. I just didn’t have it.

I don’t think most people in the group had this idea about it, so their responses make sense. It all depends what you think the group is for. If it’s for sensitive sharing and growing in a safe space, then confronting other people or complaining is in fact wrong, or at least unhelpful. I always thought Ron was trying to do everything at once, so things got confused. Plus he didn’t really lay out his vision of group.

I wish he’d said how he sees the group failing much earlier, when there would still have been a proper chance for us to take stock, ask questions, and maybe change direction. But on the other hand, he seems to think it’s the ‘spirit’ of the group that’s the problem. In which case, trying harder wouldn’t help.

It makes sense that if a majority (or all) of the people are too inhibited, maybe for the best of reasons, to honestly share how they feel, the group cannot work. There’s nothing for people to rub up against or react to. In our group gloom sets in and everyone sits there in silence. Or, in my case, I sit and get more and more panicky, until I leave.

I’ve always thought of it as too much ‘niceness’. We’re so nice, nothing can be dealt with or discussed.

I wish I could experience a group that was ‘working’ so I could see what it’s like. For me it’s all theoretical right now.

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15 comments
  1. I haven’t had much success in groups either. Many years ago, I was in a nice, supportive, where issues could get discussed in a safe space and healed. But I felt like I just played the same roles I played out in the real world rather than making any real headway with my own issues.

    • Ellen said:

      Hi Ashana – Was it a support group? I think they have value. My group is not supposed to be a support group – you’re actually supposed to be able to get angry with people etc., and express yourself fully – quite different from a real world social setting. I’m not sure ‘nice’ helps much with real change. I do feel I have learned some things here. Cheers.

      • I suppose it probably was. I think it would have helped if my issues had been different. I found myself expressing the anger and indignation that others in the group were too afraid to voice, when what I really needed was to be sad. But I think in most groups that is what happens–you keep doing whatever you usually do in real life that isn’t serving you. I saw a need and I filled it, but I didn’t attend to my own needs. I wasn’t sure what I did need. I just noticed I kept doing the same thing. It’s a little like your walking away. You keep doing it–you might even know why you do it–and you know better, but you can’t seem to stop. I think support groups can help. Sometimes what we need basically are better snacks for the long hike–you are doing something hard, and you need something to keep you going, some psychological buffering and nourishment along the way to give you strength to keep at it. But I needed more clarity about my own problems to use it to its full potential.

        • Ellen said:

          I agree support groups can be very helpful.

          Doing the same thing that doesn’t work is a problem. My leaving is a result of panic – not something I usually do, but I’d love to know why it’s happening. I have done things differently in group than outside, for example, allowed parts to speak, and also made some efforts to address issues with people, which I usually wouldn’t do. It wasn’t a waste at all for me.

  2. I was in a group kind of like that, but it to was not well defined. Sometimes we addressed the psychodynamic stuff, other times it was just a support group. I miss it though. Sorry your group did not go as intended.

    • Ellen said:

      Good to know you also have experienced group. Not many people seem to. My group was OK, but yeah, it has shortcomings. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Kashley said:

    I’ve been in two groups.. The first didn’t work, but the most recent one was good. Both were only ten sessions. The first one failed I think because everyone was too quiet and too afraid to share. The second was a much better mix of people.. We all kind of complimented each other’s personalities. The second group was more of a support group, though. The first wasn’t..Like your group, you were supposed to try to be honest and express yourself, whether that came in the form of anger or frustration for another member or not. I was so incredibly sensitive then, though, and was so hurt when someone said they found my excessive smiling annoying. Lol. But in general, it wasn’t good. I wasn’t ready for a group at that point, either.

    Anyway, sorry for rambling. I think the most important part of the group is the mix of people. If you don’t get that right, the group isn’t going to help.

    • Ellen said:

      Excellent to hear your experience with group Kashley. I know what you mean about being sensitive – it was really hard for me to hear some of the things people said about me too. You could be right about the mix of people. take care

  4. Ruth said:

    I was in a group early in my counseling. It was run by someone different than my counselor. The person running the group was a bit upset with my counselor for putting me in. My counselor hadn’t realized how much information I was withholding at the beginning. For me, it was one disaster after another. I might be able to be in a group now, I am not sure. Groups are complex. The larger the group the harder it is to monitor all the dynamics. Take care, Ruth

    • Ellen said:

      Yes, your story about your group made a big impression on me. Good to know I’m not the only one to struggle with one! Thanks

  5. laura said:

    > In our group gloom sets in and everyone sits there in silence. Or, in my case, I sit and get more and more panicky, until > I leave. I’ve always thought of it as too much ‘niceness’. We’re so nice, nothing can be dealt with or discussed.

    this sounds like the way you’ve described your family, doesn’t it?

  6. kp said:

    I can get the theory of group counseling but it sounds terrifying to me…but, I can see how it might be useful to work things out with others but you would have to have a very skilled therapist to make it safe. Kim

    • Ellen said:

      It is both those things. Thanks Kim

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