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Group Therapy has a long, rich history in the field of mental health. An early development in group therapy was the T-group or training group also known as sensitivity-training group, human relations training group or encounter group), a form of group psychotherapy where participants (typically, between eight and fifteen people) learn about themselves (and about small group processes in general) through their interaction with each other.

They use feedback, problem solving, and role play to gain insights into themselves, others and groups. It was pioneered in the mid-1940s by Kurt Lewin and Carl Rogers and his colleagues as a method of learning about human behaviour in what became the National Training Laboratories, which was also known as NTL Institute that was created by the Office of Naval Research and the National Education Association in Bethel, Maine, in 1947.

Group Psychotherapy

Group psychotherapy or group therapy is a form of psychotherapy in which one or more therapists treat a small group of clients together as a group. During Group Therapy the group context and group process is explicitly utilised as a mechanism of change by developing, exploring and examining interpersonal relationships within the group.

Therapeutic Principles

Irvin Yalom proposed a number of therapeutic factors (5th edition of The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy).

  • Universality – The recognition of shared experiences and feelings among group members and that these may be widespread or universal human concerns, serves to remove a group member’s sense of isolation, validate their experiences, and raise self-esteem.

  • Altruism – The group is a place where members can help each other, and the experience of being able to give something to another person can enhance a member’s self- esteem. Furthermore, it helps them to develop more adaptive coping styles and interpersonal skills.
  • Instillation of hope – In a mixed group that has members at various stages of development or recovery, a member can be inspired and encouraged by other members who have overcome the difficulties with which she/he is struggling.
  • Groups provide a sounding board, for group members can see the situation a particular member is in, from a different perspective. So, members of the group enjoy the blessing of hearing from the other group participants about how they come across; this can be a very powerful experience.
  • Groups can propel you forward. Hearing how other members successfully overcame their difficulties/resolved their problems such as, for example, their fear of flying or how they confronted a family member over drug abuse can be very encouraging.
  • Corrective recapitulation of the primary family experience – Members often unconsciously identify the group therapist and other group members with their own parents and siblings in a process that is a form of transference specific to group psychotherapy. The therapist’s interpretations can help group members gain understanding of the impact of childhood experiences on their personality, and they may learn to avoid unconsciously repeating unhelpful past interactive patterns in present-day relationships.

  • Development of Socialising Techniques – The group setting provides a safe and supportive environment for members to take risks by enhancing their repertoire of interpersonal behaviour and improving their social skills as well as acquiring new ones.

  • Imitative Behaviour – One way in which group members can develop social skills is through a modelling process, observing and imitating the therapist and other group members.
  • Cohesiveness – It has been suggested that this is the primary therapeutic factor from which all others flow. Humans are social animals and they carry the instinctive need to belong to groups which means that personal development can only take place in an interpersonal context. A cohesive group is one in which all members feel a sense of belonging, acceptance and validation.
  • Existential Factors – Accepting and learning that one has to take responsibility for one’s own life and the consequences of one’s decisions.
  • Catharsis – Catharsis is the experience of relief from emotional distress through the free and uninhibited expression of emotion. When members tell their story to a supportive audience, they can experience relief, for example, from chronic feelings of shame and guilt.
  • Interpersonal Learning – Group members achieve a greater level of self-awareness through the process of interacting with others in the group, who give feedback on the member’s behaviour and impact on others.
  • Self-understanding – This factor overlaps with interpersonal learning but refers to the achievement of greater levels of insight into the birth of one’s problems and the unconscious motivations that underlie one’s behaviour.
  • Imparting Information – While this is not strictly speaking a psychotherapeutic process, members often report that it has been very helpful to learn factual information from other members in the group.

Procedure to Enter the Group

As a therapist, I screen all interested parties in individual sessions for appropriateness to fit and to prepare each member to use the group.

Session Duration

Groups generally meet once or twice a week for 1.5 to 2.00 hours. How much people want to reveal about themselves is very individual, but there’s security in knowing that what is said in the group, stays in the group.

A Glimpse in Group Sessions

Group members are requested to check in with themselves moment by moment and take note of their feelings, thoughts, and associations in reaction to what is happening in group or toward other group members. There is usually a focus on the “here and now” as well as issues each group member is facing in his/her life.

As a therapist and group facilitator, I rarely introduce topics, but assist the group to form trust and share openly. As group members gain trust and interact more freely with each other, they use and recreate the same relational patterns and styles that have hindered them in their lives. In a healthy group, members can receive feedback on how they come across and the impact they have on others, which gives them valuable information about how they relate and are perceived. Then, group members can choose to work on their relational style in the group and practice to do it with people in their lives.

How To Get The Most From Group Therapy

In order to maximise the benefits that members reap from their group participation, they are asked to take a pledge. Therefore, participants are asked to sign a contract that spells out what is expected of them. Having this in mind, enables them to overcome any fears about participating. Furthermore, they are explained that, if there are occasions that they do not feel like talking/sharing, it is perfectly fine. However, at the same time, they are aware that the more active their participation is, the more benefits they will enjoy as their experience will be more healing.

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