Note: This is Part I of a 6-part series of blog articles. Here I introduce the first 2 reasons for reluctance to join a therapy group. In the next article, entitled “Misconceptions about Group Therapy, Part II”, I present 2 more reasons for this reluctance.
Incorrect Beliefs about Process Therapy Groups
As around the globe, in the psychology world, “alternative facts” exist, too. For example, there are countless misconceptions and erroneous jokes about psychotherapy, therapists and clients. Group therapy is a frequent topic of confusion. It is often satirized and misrepresented in our popular culture.
Process vs Psycho-Educational Therapy Groups
In this 6-part series of blog articles, I will address misconceptions about “process therapy groups” only. In process groups, clients are responsible to bring in topics to discuss and to respond to other members. Process groups are interactional and interpersonal in nature as individuals are encouraged to speak out and openly share their thoughts, feelings and reactions to one another. It is a more open format of discussion and the leader is not responsible to present topics to discuss. Process groups are usually ongoing or open-ended without an end date or set number of sessions.
There are also “psycho-educational therapy groups” in which there is a focus topic to discuss and learn about. The leader is responsible to address the main topic and educate the members about certain related issues. The leader will usually encourage the members to talk about the topic and facilitate the discussion. Members of these groups are in a more receptive or educational mode and not responsible to bring into the group their personal topics to discuss. During psycho-educational groups, leaders will also provide exercises for participants to engage in and to share their personal experiences related to the exercise. And, at times, the psycho-educational therapy group may also devote time to openly sharing personal experiences related to the topics and interacting among one another. In addition, psycho-educational therapy groups are usually time-limited with a set end date or number of sessions.
All of the “misconceptions” addressed below apply mainly to “process therapy groups” although some of these issues also apply to “psycho-educational groups”. There is some overlap between these two different types of therapy groups.
Misconceptions Hold People Back from Joining Groups
Unfortunately, these faulty notions create doubt and anxiety which translates into hesitation and avoidance in potentially good group therapy candidates who then miss out on a proven method of healing. If your expectations and assumptions about something are negative, then you and others will not venture into a questionable experience.
A number of people never try group therapy because of their ambivalence and resistance stimulated by misconceptions.
Misconceptions can rapidly gain traction. As Winston Churchill once said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”
16 Misconceptions about Group Therapy
Below, I will debunk and attempt to dispel many of the distorted and unrealistic myths about process therapy groups. Here I will present the first 2 misconceptions:
Therapy groups always start out with a number of strangers but within a reasonable number of sessions you will feel connected to, supported by and more trusting of the leader and members. The interactions among members and the unfamiliar group discussions will become more comfortable.
In group therapy, you have control over how much you choose to share. You are in charge of how much you want to reveal, when to start and when to stop sharing. As the group bond develops and you feel more attached to certain members, you will personally begin to feel validated by their listening and feedback. As you listen to them, provide comments and receive feedback, you will begin to learn, grow and feel more comfortable.
In process groups, members are not forced to share or disclose secrets. Group leaders may encourage members to speak out more but they do not coerce members to speak about shameful events or painful feelings and memories. Although we learn and grow from taking risks by revealing our shame and secrets, each member decides when they are ready to disclose sensitive information to the others.
2. I will lose my privacy because the group members will repeat what I disclose in group to others outside the group.
Often, potential group participants and existing group members fear that the other members will leak information about them to other non-members in their local community. They fear that their privacy and confidentiality will be broken, exposing their identity and the content of what they have shared about themselves to others outside the group.
In actuality, this breach of confidentiality very seldom happens among group members. They have a common agreement about keeping confidentiality as does the leader. In most process groups, before being admitted into the group by the leader, all members agree to a set of rules pertaining to the group. Agreeing not to talk about the others outside of group meetings is a common requirement and potential members will not be admitted into the group by the leader unless they commit to this ground rule.
This basic agreement is a verbal commitment, like a contract, and some agreements are written and signed by each member before joining. Through this commitment, the members feel protected and safe to reveal sensitive personal memories, feelings, experiences and thoughts. Without this type of direct commitment by all members, the individual members may never feel safe enough to reveal private, shameful or embarrassing information about themselves.
Wouldn’t a Therapy Group Feel Somewhat Familiar to You?
Human beings experience most of their learning and growth in group settings. Groups are natural and familiar to all children and adults. From early childhood, we develop psychologically within different types of groups, such as families, classrooms, friends, clubs, teams, workplaces and social networks. Part of you will feel at ease and may crave the group support and belonging.
The good news is that many of our fears and concerns about group therapy are exaggerated or distorted. The track record speaks for itself. Group therapy can be very effective for some people. Participating in therapy groups is not as frightening or anxiety-producing as most people believe they are.
If you’re interested in joining a therapy group, call me and ask what groups I currently offer and whether I have openings for new members. If I have an opening, I will invite you to meet with me alone for more information. If there are no current openings or groups that match your needs, I can put you on my “Wait List.”
To read the next blog article in this 6-part series, “Misconceptions about Group Therapy, Part II”, click the link below: http://www.drrevelmiller.com/2019/12/misconceptions-about-group-therapy-part-ii/