Updated: May 22, 2021
If you are new to the therapy space, the idea of group therapy may sound completely foreign to you. More familiar types of therapy consist of one on one work with a therapist, couples work, or even family therapy. I often hear that when people think of group therapy they think of options like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and/or support groups for loss, divorce, or religious purposes.
There are several types of therapy groups. There are groups for support, for processing and discussion, for educational purposes, and more. Austin Group Psychotherapy Society has an extensive list of different groups in the Austin area if you are interested in exploring further.
A true leader in the foundation of important factors of group therapy, Irvin Yalom, is a huge inspiration of mine. Yalom primarily works from an existential approach to therapy in that he considers overall mental health often stems from all human beings' struggle with existing. Themes of existential work include the "four basic human issues that all people struggle with: isolation, meaninglessness, mortality, and freedom." (Read full bio at goodtherapy.org)
The same article from goodtherapy's website lists Yalom's 11 therapeutic factors that influence change and healing in group therapy.
Here are Yalom's 11 factors with my commentary in italics as to why each factor means so much to me as a therapist in group work:
1. The instillation of hope: Seeing group members eyes sparkle as they realize there indeed IS opportunity for change and improvement is one of the most beautiful things that comes from the therapeutic space whether individually or in group.
2. Universality: This is my favorite of the 11 factors in that it creates a realization of "oh wow! I'm not the only one who feels this way." or even as extreme as "Oh, I'm NOT crazy for thinking that!"
3. Imparting information: Whether through the therapist/group leader or other group members, learning new perspectives, new factual data or information, or even furthering one's level of knowledge on a subject they didn't know about before is a beautiful benefit of the group space.
4. Altruism: Each group member is of important value to every other group member in that their presence alone is beneficial and healing. Group provides an opportunity for clients to also become the healers to others. It's a space to give back as well as receive.
5. Corrective Recapitulation of Primary Family Group: Another of my favorites. The group environment reflects the feeling of being a part of a family and brings back subconscious emotions/triggers that can be healed in the safe space of the group that may not have the opportunity to be healed within one's family of origin.
6. Socializing Techniques: For those who don't socialize easily, have struggled with social cues, or who are simply limited on social interaction, group plays a huge role in practicing feeling empathy for others, reading non-verbal and verbal cues, and filling the need for connection and interaction. Note: if you struggle with social anxiety, finding a small therapy group would be a great place to start.
7. Imitative Behavior: Group members model for one another how to react in heathy ways to life's circumstances. Group members will notice they may begin to imitate one another in their personal lives in a way that is beneficial.
8. Interpersonal Learning: Gives group members the ability to learn alongside peers, see themselves through the eyes of others in a safe and healthy way, and practice giving and receiving. Group members are also able to feel understood, seen, and heard in a group space where they may not always feel that way in their personal lives.
9. Group Cohesiveness: As groups progress and members get to know one another better, a new layer of vulnerability, trust, and emotion will reveal itself. The group will mesh together in a way that feels supportive, synergized, and healing. The group may feel like a family or a team.
10. Catharsis: The release of emotional burdens, intimate thoughts, and fears creates an opportunity for healing with others witnessing each group members' hard work. This can be extremely healing in individual therapy, but introduces a new level of healing when sharing this with other witnesses who are in a similar position.
11. Existential Factors: By witnessing the lives of other group members, practicing sharing about their own lives, and ultimately learning to accept the "meaning" of life, group members are able to find more peace with life itself and existential thoughts that tag along.
I currently offer groups for those who identify as female and align with the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) personality trait. Not familiar with the term Highly Sensitive? Learn more.