The decision to start therapy can sometimes feel like you’re embarking on a mysterious journey. So many questions can run through your mind about the group experience. If you’ve never tried a process therapy group before, you will find yourself wondering what to expect.
Your Past Group Experiences
Over your lifetime you have had many experiences within groups. It’s helpful to put group therapy into perspective and to differentiate therapy groups from other types of group gatherings and memberships.
There is no way for any human being to avoid participation in groups. Humans are pack animals and we are very familiar with group participation. Often, you have thrived in group settings and derived great pleasure and satisfaction from these experiences. However, some of experiences have been sad, disappointing, embarrassing or devastating.
Just think of all the ways you have been a member or participant in groups: Family, Extended Family, Classrooms, Friends, Clubs, Teams, Workplaces, Religious Congregations, Choirs, Bands, Games, Parties, Audiences, Retreats, Camps, Marches, Rallies, Social Networks, etc.
Experiences in Group Therapy
When joining a process therapy group, you should always strive to achieve some realistic goals and make some positive changes. But in order to accomplish your goals, you need to take action and experience new things.
If you participate in any type of group in which members interact with one another, express feelings, reveal experiences and disclose thoughts and beliefs, then you will have reactions – emotional and mental.
Group membership and participation stimulate and provoke a never-ending flow of comfortable and uncomfortable emotions, thoughts and memories. And, many of these reactions are predictable while others are surprises.
Emotional Reactions in Group Therapy
It is impossible not to be affected when participating in group counseling sessions. On a spectrum of emotions, from pleasurable to painful feelings, over time as a member you will experience a full variety. Some of them you will express and share with the others. But some emotions you will suppress and repress, ashamed to reveal them. At times, your emotional reaction may overwhelm you.
All adults experience the same range of emotions. However, some people express and recognize their inner feelings better than others. We all perceive the same types of primary feelings within and this unites us. In order to psychologically develop and mature, your emotions need to be felt and listened to, not avoided, denied or suppressed.
All emotions are messages from within you. In a process group, it is good to learn the lessons that your feelings teach you and to express your real honest emotional reactions. This creates a sense of safety and authenticity for all of the members.
Here are some of the common or expected emotions that you will experience in a process therapy group:
- Anxiety, Fear and Paranoia
- Shame and Embarrassment
- Joy and Happiness
- Sadness, Depression and Grief
- Anger and Frustration
- Love and Compassion
- And Many More
Mental Reactions in Group Therapy
You will have various kinds of thoughts when participating in a group. At times you will be open to new ideas and at other times you may close down and refuse to accept new ideas or to expand your perspective.
Some memories and thoughts will bring you pleasure while others may embarrass you. Some you will share openly but others will be withheld and hidden from the group.
At times you will be spontaneous and authentic in sharing but at other times you may contain and hold yourself back, pretending you aren’t having certain types of embarrassing thoughts.
You may find yourself sharing with others what you believe will be accepted and then refrain from sharing in order to avoid potential criticism So, sometimes you will be genuine and risk-taking while at others you will discover that you are being self- protective and secretive. It takes determination to work on your goals in group because you will encounter many distractions.
You will experience in yourself: new insights, perspectives, obsessing, reflecting, rejecting and projecting. You will struggle with being praised and feeling criticized.
Everyone enters a process group with assumptions about group therapy and the members. Some expectations will be gratified and accurate while others will be shattered and inaccurate. You will discover that some of your assumptions and judgments are misconceptions. Some surprises will be uplifting while others will be disappointing.
Members may be much more accepting and supportive of you and your shameful behaviors than you expected them to be. You could discover that you are stronger and more understanding and helpful to others than you thought you could be. Hopefully, you will start feeling less alone and isolated.
You might be surprised how much you learn from others’ life stories and experiences. In group, you may start feeling more secure and supported than you have ever been before.
At times you will enjoy the group and be grateful you joined and then unexpectedly you may feel negative about the group, the members and the leader.
Over time, you will start noticing how habitual and predictable you are – your feelings, thoughts and behaviors. You will observe your personal cycles, automatic behavior, contradictoriness, judgments, energy shifts, ambivalence, and how painful and pleasurable being a group member can be.
Groups are always emotionally and mentally challenging. And that is the power of group therapy. We grow from these challenges and self-observations.
Are You Bold Enough to Try Group Therapy?
Participating in a process group is challenging and I know this from direct personal experience. I have been a participant in a number of process groups and I have directly experienced all that I have written about above.
Some of what I have revealed here may feel negative or stimulate doubt in you. Nevertheless, I know how growthful process groups can be. I invite you to give this type of growth opportunity a try.
You can read my other blog articles about “Group Therapy” by clicking this link: http://www.drrevelmiller.com/category/group-therapy/
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