Often anxiety or depression is related to problems in interpersonal relationships. Group therapy is ideal for interpersonal difficulties like the following:
• Often feeling angry, frustrated, or dissatisfied in relationships
• Having difficulty trusting others
• Struggling to forge close (or meaningful) relationships
• Feeling that one often has to please others
• Relying on alcohol or drugs to socialize
• Struggling to communicate one’s thoughts, feelings, and needs directly
• Being controlling (or easily controlled) in relationships
• Feeling that one’s relationships are shallow
• Experiencing anxiety in social situations
• Frequently experiencing loneliness
• Manipulating others to get one’s needs met
• Having trouble with self-esteem
While not exhaustive, this list is intended to capture the broad range of issues that might lead one to join an interpersonal group.
If you are considering joining one of my groups, I believe reading this will help you with your decision.This booklet describes the group psychotherapy experience that is offered, including who might benefit from it, what those benefits might be, and what would be expected of you if you join a group.
What is Interpersonal Group Psychotherapy?
Interpersonal group therapy is based on the idea that a great many of the difficulties that people have in their lives can be understood as problems in their relationships with other people. As children, we learn ways of getting close and talking to others and ways of solving conflicts with others. In general, these early patterns are then applied in adult relationships. Sometimes these ways are not as effective as they might be, despite good intentions. Groups offer an opportunity to learn more about these “interpersonal” patterns. Very often, symptoms such as anxiety or unhappiness, bad feelings about yourself, or a general sense of dissatisfaction with life reflect the unsatisfactory state of important relationships. Groups are designed to be especially helpful with these sorts of problems. Other treatment approaches might help in other ways.
An interpersonal therapy group involves 6 – 8 people who meet together weekly with one or two trained therapists to work through relational issues that lead to psychological symptoms or dissatisfaction in relationships. Sometimes the groups are co-ed and sometimes they are gender specific. Each group session lasts for 75 – 90 minutes.
In interpersonal group psychotherapy we are encouraged to do what is so difficult in most of our interactions: Talk openly and honestly about what we are feeling and thinking, give others constructive feedback, and open ourselves to feedback about how we appear to others. In Client Note Keeper everyday life, we rarely have the time, focus or courage to examine ourselves and the parts we play in our relationships-or even how we create and maintain our own problems. Often our anxiety, depression, and other problems derive from worries about what others think of us, but getting honest answers about what others think can be difficult in our ordinary interactions.
In group psychotherapy we learn how to ask for feedback, how to take in the feedback we are offered, how to think through the message in that feedback, and how to change our attitudes and behaviour in light of that feedback. And we learn how to give effective feedback to others and help them grow.
How does Interpersonal Group Therapy work?
Interpersonal group therapy is unstructured in that there is no formal agenda for each meeting. The leader does not begin the session with a question and group discussions are not topical in nature.
Instead members are asked at the beginning of each meeting
(1) to mindfully pay attention to their thoughts, feelings, and reactions as they occur moment to moment as the group takes place and
(2) to report on what they notice.
While this seems very simple, people often have a difficult time with this task. Most of us are so accustomed to acting on our thoughts and feelings that we seldom slow down to notice what is going on “behind the scenes” in our minds. Nevertheless,what goes on in the back of our minds has an impact on how we interact in our everyday lives.
Who is ready for Group Psychotherapy?
Therapy groups can be very supportive, but they can also be very challenging. Profitable group participation requires a willingness to take risks and to experience uncomfortable emotions, at least long enough to think about them and try to understand where they come from.
To be a good group member you need to be curious about yourself and how you work, and about others and how they work. It means you need to be willing to try to figure out what you are feeling and thinking, to try to express your real thoughts and emotions, and to do this in a respectful way that can help all members grow.
How to Get the Most Out of Interpersonal Group Therapy
The more you can involve yourself in the group, the more you will get out of it. In particular, try to identify the sorts of things that you find upsetting or bothersome. Try to be as open and honest as possible in what you say. Group time is precious it is a place to be working on serious issues, not just passing the time of day. Listen hard to what people are saying, think through what they mean, and try to make sense of it. You can help others by letting them know what you make of what they say and how it affects you. Many of the issues talked about in groups are general human matters with which we can all identify. At the same time, listen hard to what others say to you about your part in the group. This process of learning from others is an important way to gain from the group experience.
One way of thinking about group is to view it as a “living laboratory” of relationships. It is a place where you can try out new ways of talking to people, a place to take some risks. You are a responsible member of the group and can help to make it an effective experience for everybody. A good way to think about how a group can help people is this: Consider a person risking a different way of talking about personal matters, getting some response from the other members that it sounds all right, and then learning from this experience.
Do your best to translate your inner reactions into words. Work hard to become aware of what you are thinking and what you are feeling, and then let the group know. Group is not a “tea party” where everything has to be done in a socially proper fashion. For example, while interruptions are usually unacceptable in social gatherings, in therapy groups they are often desirable. Group is a place to try to explore the meaning of what goes on and the reactions inside that get stirred up.
Remember that how people talk is as important as what they say. As you listen to others and as you think about what you yourself have been saying, try to think beyond the words to the other messages being sent. Sometimes the meaning of the words does not match the tone of voice or the expression on the face.
Because the group is a place to learn from the experience itself, it is important to focus on what is happening inside the group room between the members and between each member and the leader. Often, understanding these relationships throws new light on outside relationships. Many people have found it helpful to think about themselves in terms of the things they know and don’t know about themselves, and the things that others know or don’t know. One of the tasks in group is to try to help members become more known to others and to themselves by three main methods: