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How a Group May be the Ideal Assistance

The following material is adapted from text developed by the late Jack Corazinni, Ph.D., of Virginia Commonwealth University. It has been modified to reflect the kinds of groups offered at the WVU Carruth Center.

Joining a group was recommended as a way to help you resolve the concerns that brought you to the Carruth Center. As you consider joining, or prepare for your first session, you may have a number of questions. We have tried to answer some of the more common ones below.

“Just What Is a Group Anyway?” 

The answer to this one is, “It depends!” The Carruth Center offers several different kinds of groups, which work a little differently. In an educational or skills-focused group, a number of individuals meet with one or more group leaders to learn new ways of thinking about certain issues and to practice new behaviors, often using a workbook or other structured approach. In a general or theme-based therapy group, a number of individuals meet with one or more group leaders and talk about what is troubling them. Members also give feedback to each other by expressing their own feelings about what someone says or does. This interaction gives group members a safe opportunity to learn more about the way they interact with others and to try out new ways of behaving. Finally, in a support group, individuals who share a common life experience gather for mutual support and encouragement. A common denominator of all groups is that the content of the group sessions is confidential—what people talk about or disclose is not discussed outside the group. Similarly, all groups need a few sessions for members to establish mutual trust, and trust is enhanced when all members make a definite commitment to attend the group.

“Why Does Group Work?” 

In all forms of group, members experience relief when they realize they are not alone—that their experiences, problems, or concerns are not unique and that others have similar difficulties. As a climate of trust develops, members experience the sense of the group as a developing community of care, where they can be genuine and help each other. Specific to a general therapy group, when people come into the group and interact freely with other members, they usually recreate those difficulties that brought them to therapy in the first place. Under the skilled direction of the group therapists, the members are able to receive support, consider alternatives, or gently confront themselves and others. In this way the difficulty becomes resolved, alternative behaviors are learned, and members develop new social techniques or ways of relating to people.

“What Do I Talk About When I Am in Group?” 

Talk about what brought you to the Carruth Center in the first place. Tell the group members what is bothering you. If you need support, let the group know. If you think you need honest feedback about how you come across, let them know this also. It is important to tell people what you expect of them. Unexpressed feelings are a major reason why people experience difficulties. Revealing your feelings—self-disclosure—is an important part of group and affects how much you will be helped. Appropriate self-disclosures will be those that relate directly to your present concerns. How much you talk about yourself depends upon what you are comfortable with.

“Are There Any Rules for My Participation in the Group?” 

Here are some “ground rules” that hold for all types of groups: 

  1.  Come on time and attend all sessions. If you know you’ll have to miss a session, let the group know the week before. 
  2. Group sessions are confidential. That means that participants don’t disclose the identity of group members or the content of the sessions to non-members. 
  3. Avoid “subgrouping,” or meeting one-on-one or in small groups between sessions. This can be tempting when you hit it off with another member, but it can affect the work of the group as a whole. Save such meetings for when after group is over.

Common Misconceptions About Group Therapy

“Group therapy is second-best to individual therapy.” 

Group therapy is being recommended to you because your counselor believes it is the best way to address your concerns. Group is recommended when it is the most effective method to help you. Your counselor can discuss the recommendation with you and answer any questions you may have.

“I will be forced to tell my deepest thoughts, feelings, and secrets to the group.” 

You control what, how much, and when you share with the group. Most people find that when they feel safe enough to share what is troubling them, a group can be very helpful and affirming. We encourage you not to share what you are not ready to disclose. However, it can also be helpful to listen to others and think about how their comments apply to you.

“Group therapy will take longer than individual therapy because I share the time with others.” 

Actually, group therapy is often more efficient than individual therapy for two reasons. First, you can benefit from the group even during sessions when you say little by listening carefully to others. You will find that you have much in common with other group members, and as they work on their concerns, you can learn more about yourself. Second, group members will often bring up issues that strike a chord with you, but that you might not have been aware of or brought up yourself.

“I will be verbally attacked by the leaders and by other group members.” 

It is very important that group members feel safe. Group leaders are there to help develop and ensure a safe environment. If you feel uncomfortable, talk about it in the group. As group members come to trust and accept one another, they generally experience the feedback of other members as supportive and positive. However, feedback can sometimes be difficult to hear. Let others know if this is so for you. Then consider that there are few other places where people will be honest with you about how you come across or about how your behaviors may be hurting you or others. This is precisely what group can offer, and it will be done in a respectful way, so that you can hear it and make use of it.

“I have so much trouble talking to people; I’ll never be able to share in a group.” 

Most people are anxious about being able to talk in group. Almost without exception, within a few sessions, people find that they begin to talk in the group. The leaders will help facilitate the process, too. If you are joining a group that has already been meeting, your fellow group members will remember what it was like to be new to the group and you will most likely get a lot of support for beginning to talk in the group.

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