It’s hard to open up – that’s why it’s easy for someone to get lost in the crowd or fall through the cracks. However, it is the role of the group therapist to notice. Nobody talks about the therapist the way they do other members of the group, so let’s take some time to discover who they are and what they can do.
There are two important parts to group therapy: the experience of the process and the integration of self-reflections.
The first part–the process–is all about starting fresh and developing relationships between the therapist and fellow group members. The group’s process will lead you away from dwelling on things you can’t change. The immediate events of the meeting take precedence over other events both in the current outside life and the distant past of the members.
The second part is what illuminates the process. Group members must self-reflect and examine their own transactions in the group. The key is to integrate any realizations, breakthroughs, and transformations that are occurring.
This approach combines two main types of group therapy: psychoeducational and process-oriented group therapy. Psycho-educational groups are structured and focused on providing you with information about specific topics. Process-oriented groups focus on the experience of being in the group and transformation through expression of thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
The therapist’s job is to guide the group towards the here-and-now by focusing on current feelings and interactions within it; from there the therapist facilitates the self- reflection and integration of whatever awareness is beginning to come to light.
The group therapist is a leader and trained professional; by taking an active approach, they establish group cohesion and mediate interactions between members. Most importantly, the therapist is responsible for maintaining a safe, respectful, and ethical group environment for all group members. The therapist ensures that the group remains nonjudgmental and productive for everyone involved. Group therapists proactively alter their approach and tailor discussion so that everyone feels comfortable sharing and participating.
Over time, groups can become resourced to support its members in more significant ways.
For example, as a facilitator I might tell a story in order to help group members work through triggers and complicated emotions. As the group gets going, it evolves into a support system that is able to properly support its members during important breakthroughs. It’s essential that the therapist work in tandem with the group and this is one of the greatest advantages of group therapy – building resilience among group members.
In order to build more resilience among group members, group leaders need to provide a calm, steady, reasonable, loving, and fair presence. This will in turn build trust and empower people to participate and grow.
Empowerment is key to group therapy; a group needs a strong leader to encourage group empowerment. Groups focus on and organize themselves to work on different things: some are task-oriented and aim to achieve solid, preconceived goals, while others focus on the process itself. Some groups orient themselves towards maintenance after a goal or break-through has already been achieved and focus on rest and repair. I believe that synthesizing all of them is what works.
For example, I might have people do experiential exercises guided through mindful awareness. But to do this without a process afterwards to explore what happened would be less fulfilling and integrative. If a member got triggered during group exercises, some kind of repair may be in order before the group is able to continue moving forward.
After completing tasks and processing, groups may need moments of being able to relax and laugh together. It’s important for the therapist to give group members the opportunity to interact in fun and informal ways. This allows members to get to know each other without being intimidating, and keeps things light before they are ready to deeper again.
Group therapists carry out a very important balancing act of decision-making. Groups have different structures and members with different personalities; it’s a balancing act to know when to do what.
The role of the therapist in a group environment can be a lot less intimidating than in a one-on-one session because the power dynamic is very different. In a group environment, the therapist guides and mediates discussion amongst members. While still being the leader, the therapist is in a much more supportive role.
If you are interested in learning more about how group therapy can help you or the role of the therapist in group therapy, reach out.