Group therapy is becoming more and more popular today. Many have come to even prefer it over individual therapy. To help understand the benefits of group therapy, what types of issues group therapy can help and what a typical group therapy session would be like, I have interviewed therapist Melodie Anderson, MA, LMFT.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice. While in graduate school in 1982, I began facilitating groups. In 1988, I was licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist and continue to have groups today. I have run groups in private practice, in the school setting, and in an agency setting. I have experience in facilitating two types of groups: psycoeducational focus groups and long term interactive psychotherapy groups. I have facilitated groups for abused children, foster children, teens, young professional women, couples, therapists, women in divorce, adults molested as children, and coed survivors of sexual assault. In addition, I have facilitated groups on social skills, eating disorders, psychodrama, and assertiveness training. My longest running group, “my group of a lifetime,” as I call them, has been in existence since 1990 with some members participating for 20 years.”
What are some benefits of group therapy?
“The benefits of group therapy are tremendous. Most importantly, the group enables members to change faster and in far greater ways than I can alone with someone in individual sessions. Interactive psychotherapy groups promote growth and healing of attachment and relational deficits and trauma. Group members in this form of group are carefully screened prior to entry. The group is supportive, loving, challenging and honest. Group therapy provides a place to test out new skills, recognize self-sabotaging behavior, recognize ways one avoids intimacy, realize ways to make meaningful contact with others, learn assertive communication, learn constructive anger expression, increase awareness, develop personal boundaries and respect for other people’s personal boundaries, explore family of origin issues, deepen empathy, take risks, and look discerningly at oneself and how one treats one’s self. These group members process interactions and reactions between members in a way that is constructive, fosters development of negotiation skills, and increases emotional management and safety. Group members benefit from observing other group members work and from recognizing one’s internal reaction to others’ in the group. As one member so aptly commented, “Group is family done right!” These groups are not time limited and are closed until someone leaves the group and makes a space available.”
“A typical interactive psychotherapy group session is less structured than a psychoeducational group. An interactive psychotherapy group starts with reactions to the last group session. Next it proceeds with updates since the last group session, and finally whoever wants to work will either ask for time or start sharing. Following on that, comes interaction and giving and receiving direct feedback amongst the members of group. Guidelines are agreed upon, such as, maintaining confidentiality, anonymity, prompt starting and ending times, letting the facilitator know when one will be absent, giving notice of closing with the group, avoiding sub-grouping and a commitment toward the group which make the group setting safe and consistent.”
“By contrast, Psychoeducational groups are more structured, with the facilitator controlling the focus and direction of the group. In this type of group, educational exercises promote awareness and skill-building on a certain topic. Often these groups are inspiring, encouraging, supportive, and skill-developing. These groups are time-limited and can be open or closed to new members joining once it has started. I prefer closed groups to promote consistency and safety.”
What are the advantages of group therapy versus individual therapy?
“Besides the benefits of having a variety of personalities with their support, acceptance, challenges, and interactions in the room, the biggest advantage of group therapy over individual therapy is the cost. Group therapy costs less. I suggest group therapy as an adjunct to individual therapy because group is evocative, especially in the beginning. This allows participants to have extra support and guidance while in the beginning stages of group.”
What type of issues can group therapy help with and what would a typical group therapy session be like?
“Group therapy helps with most issues a client would bring to therapy depending on the groups focus and composition and the developmental level of the client. A skilled and seasoned group facilitator will interview potential members to determine the “fit”.”
A few testimonies of group members that you can also find on my website are
“Group has been a circle around me inviting me in, to take the next tender step closer to life and connection. My heart has been shattered and held in the loving hands and hearts of group, opening a space in the cracks for a trust to take root and tether me to the knowing that I can and do belong. I don’t always know this but I know I will find it again because it lives in me with the tender hand and heart prints so lovingly laid on my soul through the years of my time with group”
“Group loved me before I could love myself, and wanted to find me where I have been lost.” “In the presence of group I opened my soul, exposing some of my darkest secret places. I was so frightened of what you would think, but you never made me feel ashamed. You always understood. In so doing, you bestowed upon me the gift of acceptance. I am grateful.”
“I’m learning something so new to me. I’m learning what it’s like to know what true intimacy is. This was a very scary step for me to take. It requires taking risks with others. Sharing exactly what I’m feeling without hedging around. I’m learning that as I allow myself to become vulnerable and honest with others it creates a bond between us and warm feelings inside. The closeness I feel is much more rewarding than staying safe, it’s too lonely there. It has hindered my relationship with others. As others are honest with me it allows me to look deep within. That sometimes causes pain, but from that pain I’ve gained strength and growth; their honesty enables me to trust and respect them.”
“Lastly, I would like to add, it is awe inspiring to observe group members taking risks, challenging, and supporting each other. It is rewarding to see them grow new skills, and incorporate new understandings into their lives. I am impressed with the courage and honored by the sharing of each remarkable person I have had the opportunity to work with in a group setting.”
Thank you Melodie for doing the interview on the benefits of group therapy. For more information on Melodie Anderson or her work you can check out her website on www.MelodieAnderson.com.
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