What is the function of a support group and how does it work?

How do I choose between individual and group psychotherapy?

How would I know if I could benefit from a psychotherapy group?

How will I know if I fit in to a psychotherapy group?

What to look for in a Group Psychotherapists Professional Credentials.

"Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy is concerned with the study of relaxed intelligent behaviour on the one hand and stressful automatic behaviour on the other, with the promotion of the former and reduction of the latter"

Emeritus Professor W.M.S. Russell
Reading, England

What is a psychodynamic process group and how does it typically work?

A process group typically consists of eight individuals who agree to meet regularly for a specific period of time, depending on the kind of group being hosted. Rules and expectations are agreed upon prior to the beginning of the group, and maybe discussed by members during the group if and when the need arises. A common purpose among those individuals who join a process group is in their wanting to find out more about who they are and, what it is perhaps that they would like to see change with-in their personal lives and in their relationships with others. In essence, a process group is expected to increase emotional awareness and relational understanding between self and others. The work of putting emotional experiences into words can give an individual the cognitive and emotional tools that lend to self-learning, insight and the potential to function with an increased sense of freedom, and with increased sophistication.

The premise of a process group draws from a psychodynamic perspective and is based upon developmental theory. he group is not apt to be influenced to change from 'outside' social pressures and cultural values making it a very specialized and unique psychotherapeutic method of healing. The group as a whole shapes its own unique culture, common values and norms thus, creating a meaningful context upon which it can evolve and grow at its own pace.

The life of a process group from the beginning to the end parallels different developmental stages of growth and maturity. As a group moves forward through its natural stages, the members and the "group-as-a-whole" are assisted with guided feedback and process comments from the leader and or co-leaders. As a result, the group inherently knits together with an abundance of experiences forming and emulating a social microcosm that bears its own unique culture and identity.

A most remarkable and natural phenomenon in the earlier stages of a process group is the way in which individuals, and sub-groups alike repeat the many characteristic ways once developed to survive the stressors and strains in the very first group...the family. Members may remind each other of significant others in their past or present circumstances bringing feelings, thoughts, ideas and fantasies to the fore.

One of the most important keys to a successful process group is when all group members feel sufficiently relaxed and safe to talk as openly as they possibly can about any aspects of the group experience in which they choose to respond. By engaging with one another on different emotional levels, individuals will hopefully gain wider perspectives about the various ways they relate to their inner world and understand how this becomes reflected in their relationships with others.

As awareness increases individuals may begin to recognize newly found aspects of themselves. Individuals and 'the-group-as-a-whole' may actively and unconsciously attempt not to become aware of various emotional aspects of themselves, to avoid uncomfortable and perhaps painful feelings. This is a common phenomenon of human behavior. It is within the supportive and relaxed atmosphere of the group experience that such feelings can be recognized, acknowledged and replaced with conscious, uncontaminated choices in social behaviors and verbal attitudes. The courage to allow these kinds of meaningful connections to take place can help to resolve emotional conflicts and difficulties with feelings of mastery and empowerment.

Once the group members feel more trusting with the leader and other group members, channels of communication are opened, allowing for a genuine and profound sharing of emotional experiences to take place. Thus, feelings of trust and support as well as other identifying therapeutic factors assist in creating room for innovative and creative risk taking with in the group. For each individual the rewards of creating such a place that is their own can be a place that is very real and fully connected. It is a place to be fully who they are without the need to 'fit-in' to a pre-determined pattern.

In summary, being in an experiential process group all members has the opportunity for considerable personal gains, 'corrective emotional experiences' and 'intrapsychic' change that can last a lifetime. Just as individuals bring old learned behaviors and attitudes into the group they may take new ways of inter-relating outside the group. This may enable individuals to cultivate healthier interdependency with others, as well as increased expressions of mature and authentic intimacy.

References: 'The Practice of Group Therapy.' S.R. Slavson. International Universities Press, 1947
'Analytic Group Psychotherapy with Children, Adolescents and Adults.' S.R. Slavson. Columbia University Press, 1964.

Common Questions about Therapy Groups:

What is the function of a support group and how does it work?

Support groups are most useful in helping individuals to cope with external circumstances of common concern. Some examples of different types of supports groups are, counseling groups, psycho-educational groups, cognitive-behavioral and focus groups.

Focus groups can be designed for very specific needs within the population. For example to help individuals deal with specific medical conditions, concerns about retirement and different stages in life, or adapting to newly acquired life-roles such as parents adopting for the first time, or parents learning to cope with their first new-born baby. Support groups can also be designed to teach specific skills. These kinds of groups are often referred to as psycho-educational groups, which have more of a didactic approach. Counseling groups and cognitive-behavioral groups may go hand-in-hand. Members gather to exchange their thoughts, feelings and ideas about common issues, as well as learning specific behavioral techniques.

Support groups provide a place where individuals can widen their connections via networking with members outside of the group concerning specific areas of interest. They tend to be more oriented toward leaders leading the direction of the group and agendas may be set with dissension less likely to be encouraged.

Support groups can be 'open-ended groups' where members may attend on an as needed basis. Extended interviews are not necessary for the group to function well. On the other hand 'closed-groups' do not allow individuals to just 'drop-in' unannounced. Members are sometimes asked to commit for a specified number of weeks depending on the group.

How do I choose between individual and group psychotherapy?
What's the difference between the two and are the goals different?

Group therapy can be as effective if not more than individual therapy when dealing with interpersonal and relational problems. Each modality can be a worthwhile complimentary supplement to the other. One is not better than the other. Some individuals are better suited to one modality or the other depending on pragmatic reasons as well as reasons pertaining to suitability to the group of interest and their own personal feelings. They are simply different modes of therapy based on various models of treatment with different assumptions about the structure and dynamic of change.

Choice of treatment may depend more on personal feelings as well as past experiences. What is perhaps most important is how well one can make use of the potential treatment of choice.

Similarly to individual therapy members may take a look at how their inner world or unconscious becomes reflected in the relationships with other members and the therapist (transference). What is different and most favorable about group therapy is the simple fact that there are more members to share perceptions, ideas, feelings and observations.

Just as individuals decide about the their own specific aims of their therapy experience the goal in both group and individual psychodynamic /analytic oriented psychotherapy is to help people to learn previously unexamined assumptions that guide their perceptions, beliefs; and behaviors- to make the unconscious conscious.

To find out which may be a better fit for your needs it is well advised to seek out several consultations with therapists, who are credentialed in both group and individual therapy.

How would I know if I could benefit from a psychotherapy group?

Group psychotherapy has immense advantages with individuals struggling with interpersonal and relationship problems that may include issues such as intimacy, self-esteem and trust. Most people if not all can benefit from group psychotherapy. Whether you want to build your interpersonal skills for personal growth or whether you may be struggling with emotional problems, groups can always be beneficial. Mutual sharing increases the opportunities to deal with different kinds of interpersonal problems.

How will I know if I fit in to a psychotherapy group?

Consulting with the potential group leader and asking questions about the group you are interested in is crucial. Several interviews prior to joining a group are always helpful by allowing sufficient time to evaluate whether it is a group you feel you could fit into and benefit from. It is helpful to make sure all of your questions and inquiries are heard, understood and discussed respectfully. Further aspects concerning the choice of your potential therapist can be found in "Choosing a Therapist ".

What credentials should I look for when searching for a group therapist?

A Certified Group Psychotherapist (CGP) is a clinical mental health professional that meets nationally accepted criteria of education, specialized training and extensive theoretical and practical knowledge of group dynamics. A CGP is an expert in group psychotherapy and an ethical practitioner who is committed to group psychotherapy as an autonomous treatment modality.

A board-certified Group Psychotherapist may gain the designation of "CGP" through the following organizations:

All those who are qualified at the state level are required to keep up with continuing education for re-credentialing purposes.
  © 2007 Deborah Reeves MGPGP, CGP, LPC