Group counseling provides individuals with the opportunity to learn about themselves and how they relate to others. It is a form of experiential learning where members learn effective communication, interpersonal skills, and problem-solving strategies in an effort to gain more satisfaction in their lives. A therapy group is a special microcosm of the everyday world in which interpersonal exploration and sharing of feelings and thoughts vis-à-vis other members is encouraged. As members interact within the group, they can begin to transfer their new knowledge and behaviors to relations and interactions outside the group.
Group therapy attempts to utilize a format in order to increase human intimacy and to facilitate an increase in meaningful interactions, sharing, cooperation, learning, and feelings of belonging.
In everyday life it is difficult to get useful and accurate information about how we present ourselves and what impressions others form of us. People rarely take time to carefully observe others, and there seems to be a social taboo against giving others honest feedback. Groups allow individuals to observe and share impression in honest, genuine and caring ways. Such feedback helps group members to increase their self-knowledge.
Groups also help reduce feelings of alienation and loneliness. Members quickly discover that others have similar problems and concerns, One’s own motivation for growth and improvement is enhanced by seeing others struggle with and solve their problems. The many strengths of each individual group member serve as models for other group members.
The group leader(s) is responsible for using his/her knowledge of individual and group dynamics to promote and facilitate individual and group growth. His/her activities include: helping the group understand what is happening in the group, making sure each members has the right and opportunity to be heard, protecting members from attack, establishing ground rules and norms, facilitating expression of honest feelings and thoughts, and clarifying communications within the group.
The group leader is also responsible for creating an atmosphere of trust, support, and challenge within the group. Another important role of the group leader is that of a catalyst, providing input or suggesting activities to encourage group movement or allowing members to determine where the group goes.
The way to gain the maximum benefit from the group experiences and to help yourself is to be honest and direct about your immediate feelings, thoughts, and opinions, especially towards the other members and the leader(s). As the group develops trust, hopefully you will feel more confident about revealing personal aspects of yourself. The group is not a confessional. You will not be forced to reveal until you are ready and willing. Groups do, however, provide a setting and the opportunity for risk-taking and experimenting with new behaviors. Members are also encouraged and expected to practice new behaviors in their everyday lives in order to facilitate at maximum transfer and generalization of these behaviors in the outside world.
When entering a group, members are typically asked to identify specific changes they would like to work on during the group experiences. Sharing of these goals with other group members will help them provide feedback on your progress and actively support tour efforts to change.
Much like the group leader(s), members are expected to support, challenge, and encourage each other, to accept and develop respect for each other’s uniqueness, to listen empathetically, provide honest feedback, and in general create safe atmosphere for growth and positive changing the group.
In summary, the amount of benefit you receive from this experience will depend on the extent to which you actively participate.
It is not uncommon to experience confusion or anxiety early in the group because you don’t know anyone, you don’t know what know what to expect, or what will happen. If you have never experienced group therapy before, you may also feel discouraged because you can’t see how the group can help you.
You may also find it difficult to reveal personal aspects of yourself for fear of how others will feel about you. You may withdraw emotionally, hide your feelings, keep silent, form alliances with others, or let other group members do the talking for you. You may experience conflict with other members of the group.
All these feelings are natural and inevitable phenomena in groups-a natural response to getting personally involved in a risk-taking experience. However, as the trust level deepens within the group and cohesiveness, you will become more open to acknowledging these feelings and working through any barriers to effective interactions. The honest and direct exploration of these feelings and behaviors will benefit you in the group.
Goals for Group Counseling
1. Increased skills in individual and group communication, such as assertiveness, sharing honest and accurate feelings and thoughts, and empathic listening.
2. Increased in skills in interpersonal observation such as noting tension in the group, sensing thoughts and feelings, noting avoidance of topics or individuals, and appraising interest levels.
3. Increased problem solving skills, such as identifying, clarifying, and evaluating problems and/or goals, asking for feedback and opinions, and sharing ideas.
4. Increased emotional expressiveness, such as sharing both positive and negative feelings, disagreeing openly, and expressing anger, sadness, or other strong emotions.
5. Increased ability to deal effectively with competition, conflict, anger, tension, disappointment, silence, trust, cooperation, intimacy, and affection.
6. Increased individual insight and understanding, accurate self-assessment, risk-taking, and behaving spontaneously and expressively.
7. Decreased interpersonal distance, withdrawal, withholding of thoughts and feelings, and discounting one’s own or others’ feelings.
WHAT YOU CAN GET FROM YOUR GROUP EXPERIENCE
The group you are in has been set up so you will have opportunities to learn the following things:
Most of the time we live in the past or the future. Or our thoughts are “somewhere else”-perhaps tied up with some problem or worry. In the group, there’s an opportunity to focus our awareness on what’s going on RIGHT THIS INSTANT, so that we may regain the kind of contact we once had with ourselves and our environment.
This includes such feelings as boredom, guilt, anger, joy, sexuality, playfulness, affection, resentment, sorrow, love and excitement. As children, many of us have learned to insulate ourselves from this feeling world.
Most of the time, if people talk about us at all, they give us polite flattery or thoughtless condemnation. In the group, it’s possible to get honest feedback about how we’re coming across-find out what impressions others have of us-see ourselves as others see us-discover our unknown mannerisms, habits, and styles of relating and communicating-and become aware of the unconscious messages we are transmitting.
To the extent that the leaders refrains from imposing structure on the group, group members have an opportunity to learn how to get things going in their own, without depending on someone else to do it for them. Each person, with the help of the leader, can learn to express her or his own wishes to act on her or his own impulses instead of continually being tuned into the expectations and pressures coming from others.
Most of our life is spent playing social games and past times, being polite, not hurting others’ feelings. In the group there’s an opportunity to “come on straight.” To be yourself, to let submerged parts of yourself come to the surface, to discard the masks and shields of everyday life.
People generally communicate much more than the bare intellectual content of what they say. In the group it’s possible to listen to the “music” instead of just the “words”-and to become aware of the subtle but powerful messages being transmitted by facial expressions, posture, tone of voice, gestures, etc.
What often blocks people from being close is the fear of being pushed around by other people’s feelings, demands, and expectations. When they begin to get close, they get tangles up on the feeling level. In the group, there’s a chance to learn how to disentangle the problems that arise in relationships so that people can be close and still retain their freedom, autonomy, and self-assertiveness.
Most of us rely on only one or two fixed relationship types when encountering others. The group is kind of laboratory, where all kinds of experiments can be tried out, where new ways of relating and communicating can be risk, where a certain percentage of failures can be accepted, as with any experimental situation.
This list of opportunities is not meant to be complete. As the group progresses, you may see new possibilities and new learning goals which you may set for yourself. Your group leader can offer more specific suggestions upon request.
The Group As a Laboratory
|If you relate to people by:||You might experiment with:|
In trying these experiments, the important thing is to do something that feels difficult. Old, familiar ways of behaving will probably not result in productive experiments. Moreover, a new behavior may seem difficult at first, but with practice, it gets easier. Then the new behavior may be added to your repertoire-your total range of options and it’s available whenever you need it.