By David Joel Miller.
Group therapy can be very helpful.
The group really helped me, sharing made me a new person. The client was trying to describe the way that being in group counseling had benefited them. I am a believer in group therapy. I have seen the things that happen when a group is on task and working. The clients can see it also.
There is a saying in groups that “we are only as sick as our secrets.” One powerful way in which groups can help people is to allow them to tell their story in a supportive environment. When it works it can be magic.
Twelve step groups are self-help group’s not professional therapy. But in the addiction field, we quickly learned the value of being in a group that understood what you are going through and who were all supportive of your recovery. In mental health groups, we see the same results. People all sharing about their life struggles makes us feel more connected and less alone. Powerful things happen in peer support groups.
Some professionals are leery of groups. They have suggested to me that group counseling is a lesser sort. They tell me that “real therapy” takes place with one client and one therapist in the room. I try to avoid arguing. Then why do we do couples counseling and family counseling if it is best done in an individual session I ask? I try to listen politely to their answers.
Most of life is about relationships. We are wounded in our relationships and most often we are healed by a helping, supportive relationship. Sometimes that relationship is a counselor, sometimes it is a group.
Not all groups are safe places to tell your most painful life events. In therapy groups, it is up to the leader to make groups a safe place. In self-help groups, it can be riskier. We talk about confidentiality and anonymity but that is no guarantee that someone will not break the rules and repeat what another person said. The longer the group has been together the safer people feel but it is never without risks.
What I often see happen is that people try to keep things secret in group, that everyone else in the group knew already. When someone is arrested for a DUI it is in the paper, when they come to group, they hint vaguely about a self-control problem and demand confidentiality.
More than once a client has told me something in a private session and then a few weeks later their courage now turned up a notch, they tell the whole group. In most every case the result was that the group understood and supported them in their disclosure and the person, now having publicly admitted their defects of character, finds they have unburdened themselves and are no longer kept in pain by that secret.
Some of us have spent our whole life’s trying to hide our true selves from others. There is something very freeing about opening up and sharing about our total selves, warts and all. People who have to hide themselves from others not only cover up their flaws, they cover up their endearing qualities also.
Sharing who you really are can indeed make you a whole new person.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books