Note: This is Part III of a 6-part series of blog articles. Here I introduce 2 more reasons for reluctance to join a therapy group. In the preceding article, entitled “Misconceptions about Group Therapy, Part II”, I presented 3 reasons for this reluctance.
16 Misconceptions about Group Therapy
Below, I will address 2 more of the distorted preconceptions about process therapy groups:
6. I am lonely and I can make friends in a group.
Many people join a group because they are struggling with some problems and they may feel isolated and lonely. They may be looking for a way out of their loneliness and desire to interact with others and make friendships. To have supportive friendships and receive social support from peers is a natural and positive urge.
However, in process therapy groups, becoming social friends with other members outside the group sessions is usually discouraged by the leader. In the participation agreement or ground rules, new members must often commit to restraining themselves from having social contact with members outside of the group meetings.
Leaders encourage members to come together as “growth buddies” or “agents of help” within the group setting but to refrain from socializing by phone, email, text or face-to-face in the community.
Inevitably, two members will accidently run into one another in public. In many group contract agreements, members commit to not forming social relationships with other members and to report these incidental encounters outside the therapy sessions to the group and process how it felt to see one another in an public setting.
Over the years, experienced group leaders have determined that this “social abstinence” is a helpful policy for a number of good reasons. Members are surprised to hear this requirement but they usually follow through with it. Through this agreement, all participants remain more objective, strive less to be liked, and form fewer protective alliances within the group.
Often, group members do not know one another’s last names or where they live or work. But when they come together as a group, they trust and respect one another as “therapeutic friends.”
In psychotherapy process groups, socializing is often discouraged. However, in time-limited psycho-educational groups, socializing is often encouraged. Attending a short-term group for 4 to 12 sessions that discusses focused topics presented by the leader is often better for friend-making outside the group. Also, open drop-in groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous, encourage making supportive social friendships among the participants.
7. Individual therapy works faster and is more effective since I do not have to share time with so many others.
There is no evidence to support the premise that individual therapy works or solves problems faster than group therapy. In addition, there is no research that suggests that individual therapy is more effective than group therapy. Both individual and group therapies can be effective.
The outcomes can be similar or equal depending upon the client’s needs and capabilities. Some may benefit more from individual therapy while others may benefit more from a group experience. At the outset of treatment, it is difficult to determine exactly which method will be more powerful and helpful.
Therapists must judge whether they believe a new therapy candidate may respond better to individual or group therapy. It is not uncommon for a client to start with one modality of therapy and then to transition to the other modality. Plus, many group members also participate in individual therapy and vice versa.
Group members learn a great deal by listening to other’s issues. The group experience can be quite dynamic and powerful while discussing a personal dilemma or listening to others’ problems and feedback. In process groups, all members are constantly “processing” ideas and emotions within themselves and are engaged in an “interactional process” with one another. Often, getting feedback from peers can be more powerful and validating than receiving feedback and direction from an individual therapist.
One important benefit of group therapy is that the members realize that they have much in common with other people. They discover that they need not feel alienated, strange, lonely or odd and that they experience emotions and thoughts just like others do. Their behaviors, feelings and conclusions are very similar. This experience does not occur as easily in individual therapy.
The discovery of their commonality can be very healing and inspiring and generalize to their relationships outside the group. Group members often tend to become more accepting and understanding of themselves and others after listening to members share and process their issues.
So, without sacrificing quality care, group members can make progress as they do in individual therapy.
To read the next blog article in this 6-part series, “Misconceptions about Group Therapy, Part III”, click the link below: http://www.drrevelmiller.com/2019/12/misconceptions-about-group-therapy-part-iv/