Group therapy is the choice for many because practically all peoples' problems in living stem from difficulties in interpersonal relationships.
A therapy group can be an ideal setting in which to explore and rectify these difficulties
I may suggest to new clients that they may gain more by being in a therapy group than in individual therapy if they feel fairly comfortable in their lives and function well, but have difficulties in relating to others.
For others, being in both group and individual therapy is an excellent combination; they can work on their internal difficulties in the individual therapy and their relationship problems in the group.
Still others are not ready at first for a group because they do not feel comfortable sharing with strangers but, after some individual treatment, are ready for a group.
Many different types of therapy groups exist.
Some are homogeneous, in which all of the particuants have a specific problem with which they want help, such as substance abuse, severe illness or sexual abuse.
I find great value in working with mixed groups of men and women of varying ages whose members represent a microcosm of society. This gives the participants the chance to work with issues and people that represent a cross-section of those with whom they come in contact in their everyday lives. The result can be the exciting process of discovering the nature of their interpersonal difficulties, working them through and improving their ability to achieve satisfaction in their relationships with people in their lives.
I have found through many years of leading groups that people tend to perceive and react to the other members in a manner similar to the way they react to certain types of people in their everyday lives.
For example, an elderly woman may perceive and react to a young female group member in the way she perceives and reacts to her own daughter. If her relationship with her daughter is fraught with conflict and misunderstandings, resulting in much pain and feelings of alienation, then exploring her perceptions and expectations of the young woman in the group can greatly help her. She can begin to understand her own feelings toward her daughter, her daughter's feelings and point of view, and help her to create a more satisfying, loving relationship with her daughter.
One of the many techniques I might use with such a woman is to have her role-play with the female group member, imagining the latter as her daughter. The young woman can give the older woman feedback as to how she experiences her, and other members can also give their impressions and support.
I routinely ask people to do this type of exercise, and then to switch roles. This enables the woman to attain some understanding about what it feels like to actually be her daughter. She may begin to understand why her daughter relates to her in the way she does. The result is often increased understanding of her daughter and an improvement in their relationship.
There are many other positive things that a person can get from a group.
• For instance, a man may feel lonely and rejected by his wife, not realizing that his constant criticism of her makes her withdraw from him. He can achieve insight in the group about how his critical habits affect others if, as usually happens, he is critical of someone in the group who reminds him of his wife.
• A person who grew up feeling like a constant outsider, unaccepted by groups in which he or she has wanted to be involved, can explore this issue in the therapy group and become more adept at becoming an "insider" when he or she wants to.
• Another example is the self-centered man who grew up as an only child and can't understand why people seem to shun him. He can learn why and how his behavior turns others off and how to become part of a group, instead of having to dominate it and always be the center of attention.
Therapy groups usually meet weeky for 1 ½ to 2 hours per group. Homogeneous groups are often time limited, meeting for approximately 10 sessions. Mixed groups are generally ongoing, with people leaving when they have accomplished their goals in the group.