Myths about Group Therapy

As part of my practice I co-lead an ongoing interpersonal-psychodynamic group with Dr. Joanne Hoffman. We are passionate about group therapy and provide the following responses to common myths about group therapy.

I'm too shy. Sometimes people who are shy come to therapy because they are unhappy with their isolation. Others may not get their needs met because they don't speak up. In this type of group you'll be able to proceed at your own pace while also benefiting from observing how others are interacting. This group also provides opportunities to try new behaviours in a safe setting.

I'm a private person, I don't want to air my business in public. Contrary to most people's fears, group therapy provides a powerful and positive experience regarding shame. In a mature and well-functioning group, members gradually make more personal self-disclosures and realize that the feared consequence doesn't happen.

I'm stressed out already with everybody else's problems! Some people enter therapy because they are overwhelmed with feeling responsible for others' problems and happiness. It can feel selfish to consider one's own needs and/or to encourage others to take responsibility for themselves. In an interpersonal-psychodynamic group, the therapists monitor the involvement of the members and encourage appropriate responsibility for each person to do his or her own work as well as to provide support to others. This type of group provides good learning opportunities to negotiate self-other issues in relationships.

How can other people with problems help me? Often talking with friends or family will provide the support and encouragement needed during a rough patch. However, if there are repeated conversations that seem to cover the same ground with no change, then a professional might be needed. It may seem odd then, to recommend group therapy. However, one powerful way that group is helpful is through universality, or realizing that you're not alone. Regardless of the problem that brings you to therapy, it is part of the human condition, and others in the group will be able to identify with your struggles. The job of the therapists in this group is to make sure that all clients are doing their individual work in the group and that the group is a safe environment to take risks. Sometimes the most helpful feedback will come from another group member's insights.

I have problems with being too assertive so I worry I'll make others angry with me and get kicked out of the group. Conflict and resolving misunderstandings are part of all relationships. In this group, the therapists work at making it a safe environment for people to take risks to try new behaviour, including providing feedback that is honest but can also be heard by the other person. This is not like "Survivor" on TV where people get "voted off". Each member makes a commitment to continue with therapy until his or her work is complete which reinforces the importance of working through misunderstandings and conflict to their resolution.

Further reading:

Yalom, I.D., & Leszcz, M. (2005). The theory and practice of group psychotherapy (5th ed.) New York: Basic.

A novel about group therapy: Yalom, I.D. (2005). The Schopenhauer cure. New York: HarperCollins.