Group psychotherapy and support groups

Everything in this website applies to both group and individual psychotherapy, so we’ll discuss just a few differences here. Resistance in group psychotherapy is notoriously higher than in individual and couples psychotherapy. Don’t be surprised, therefore, if more experienced group leaders require you to commit for 10 or more sessions before considering you. This is because just about everyone wants passionately to leave the group for the first 3 months or so. You spend about that much time thinking it’s all crap. But it can be a very powerful, eye-opening experience.

If you cannot afford individual psychotherapy and you want to try a group, I would warn you against joining a group with a trendy sounding theme. This is my bias, of course, but if you’ve followed me so far (see Why go?, personality, and symptoms) you know that we are all suffering in highly similar ways, underneath the particulars of our symptoms. The more you limit the range of exploration and discussion, then, the less you will learn about your problems and yourself.

As is so in individual work, the test should be whether or not the sessions bring you personal insight into your particular life and difficulties. If you are only hearing others’ generalizations, you may learn a few things, but this is not therapy; it is unlikely to bring about any marked change in your functioning. [see also What psychotherapy isn’t, What cures - II, Evan]

The exception to the above is what are called ‘Support Groups’. A support group is not psychotherapy but it can be a very powerful agent of change. A support group is a coming together of people with a common concern to share their experiences, feelings, perceptions. Often such groups are not led by professional psychotherapists but by laymen. This has been the basis of all the 12 step groups, which are rarely led by a professional. Some people have been able to change their lives drastically, with only their own readiness to do so and their commitment to a good 12 step group program.


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