Let’s be honest, deciding to see a therapist is not something that comes easily to everyone. To truly benefit from the process, one must be willing to be honest and completely open with their therapist as well as themselves. As a result, you will often find yourself revealing things about your experiences and your thoughts that you would not normally share with your friends or family, let alone a complete stranger. In doing so, especially at first, many people experience feelings of vulnerability that may cause discomfort, and that’s just in the case of talking to one person in the privacy of their office. What happens, however, when there are not one, not two, but ten individuals in front of which you are expected to bare your soul?
When it comes to tackling issues of mental health, group therapy has proven to be an exceedingly effective method. The therapy groups typically consist of 5-10 members that meet with 1 or 2 trained therapists, once a week for about 90 minutes on average. The therapist(s) works with all of the members of the group at the same time and focuses on the condition or lived experience for which all the members of the group are seeking help.
It is not uncommon for people to be hesitant to participate in group therapy due to the heightened sense of vulnerability — more people means more exposure – and this concern is completely understandable. However, if you can get past that initial feeling of discomfort, the benefits of group therapy can be extremely advantageous.
Here are just some of the benefits to group therapy:
One of the most significant advantages of group therapy is discovering that there are people who are experiencing the same pains as you are. When struggling with a mental health issue or the aftereffects of a significant life event, it is common to experience feelings of isolation and alienation, and that feeling of “nobody could ever understand” makes reaching out for therapy all the more challenging. When you participate in group therapy, however, you will be surrounded by people who are coping with the same or similar challenges as you. The shared knowledge and experiences foster a unique sense of trust, patience, and understanding. As a result, a group therapy environment decreases the likelihood of those around you making snap judgments and promotes a safe space in which one can find understanding and a sense of belonging. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with others who better understand what you’re going through has also been found to assist in the alleviation of feelings of rejection, hurt and stress.
- Different Perspectives
Group therapy, by its very nature, includes input from a diverse range of opinions and perspectives. Human beings have the tendency to differ in opinion and will often perceive a singular challenge and its possible solutions in very different ways depending on their personalities and life experiences. If you look at how other individuals deal with concerns and problems similar to your own, you may find new strategies that you might be able incorporate into your own approach to living better. Moreover, different group members will often find themselves at different phases of their healing journey and will be able to share their own personal experiences and coping mechanisms with the group as a whole.
The expression: “It’s hard to see the frame when you’re in the picture” is one that rings incredibly true. As human beings, we all have blind spots regarding ourselves, and some of these spots may prevent us from properly addressing the things that may be at the foundation of our troubles. In group therapy, as a result of your interactions with you fellow members, it becomes much easier to see yourself more clearly through the reflections provided by other members’ points of view, allowing you to uncover your own blind spots and improve your capacity to cope with the situations for which you sought help.
- Finding Your Voice
Finding or re-finding your own voice can be a challenging to do. Using it can prove to be an even greater feat. If you aren’t used to speaking up in front of a group, group sessions can provide a safe environment in which you can practice, even if it is difficult for you. The secure environment that is created in group therapy sessions allows its members to experiment with different ways to utilise their individual voices in an unfiltered manner without experiencing some of the tension and worry that they might otherwise encounter in other areas of their lives. Knowing how to express yourself respectfully and efficiently can help you gain confidence, and being heard and respected yourself can empower you to believe that you deserve to be heard and taken into consideration.
One of the most significant advantages of group therapy, in my opinion, is the variety of perspectives that group members bring to the table. The participation of members from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, races, sexual orientations, genders, ethnicities, religions, diagnoses, and other characteristics allows for a variety of perspectives to be offered to group members and challenges members to look at situations in ways they might not have considered before. There is a tremendous amount of opportunity to learn from one another, and group therapy provides the environment in which this might occur.
- Confidence and Support
It is through the camaraderie, fellowship, and support of other group members that one can develop a sense of security and self-assurance. When you are not with your group, it might be comforting to know that you can report back to them about your progress and celebrate your successes when you reunite. In some cases, you may choose to bounce certain difficulties or scenarios off of them in order to gain an objective perspective on what you could’ve done differently if you didn’t handle anything the way you would have liked to. This safety net translates into a self-assurance that allows you to venture outside of the group, knowing that even if you make a mistake, you’ll have others to fall back on if things go wrong.
As you can see, group therapy has numerous advantages. Does this seem like something you’ve been looking for in your search for self-awareness and healing? Is it something you feel is worth looking into even further? If it is something that you are considering, it may be a good fit for you, even if you’re not 100% sure at first. Just remember two things before you begin this new chapter of your journey: the first thing is that group therapy, like individual therapy, sometimes will require you to visit a few groups before you find one that works for you. The second thing is that it might not be easy to be open and honest with a group of strangers in the beginning, but as time goes by and the sense of camaraderie and respect grows, it often become easier. Make sure to be patient with yourself and show empathy when others share their stories.
The Author: Didi Tshabalala (Humanitas Intern)
Here is a little bit more about her:
My name is Didinhle and I have a Bachelor’s in Social Science. I majored in Psychology and Sociology because of my deep passion to better understand the internal and external forces that affect human beings, and the unique ways in which they can influence each individual.
What I offer is an integrative approach to counselling that is Person-Centred in nature. I aim to empower my clients to find solutions to the challenges in their lives in a supportive environment. As a counsellor, I value exploring the world of my clients and its challenges with honesty and respect. I am a sincere, caring, intuitive, and insightful professional who aspires to establish a safe, therapeutic environment that encourages self-awareness, mindfulness, and personal growth. I approach counselling from a holistic and humanistic perspective, meaning that I acknowledge both the mind-body connection, as well as the individuality and unique aspirations of each client. Through my approach, my hope is to better facilitate the journey toward health and happiness – in relationships, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, and physically – as well as a greater sense of overall wellness and the satisfaction in life.
I am passionate about empowering my clients and helping them discover and rediscover themselves in the midst of life difficulties. I am especially akin to helping individuals who are struggling with low or depressive moods, anxiety, stress, trauma, and any sort of life crisis.