In today’s world, where we find so much information about how to cope with various issues, from our finances and investments to our own emotional and mental health, many times we might feel confused and uncertain about the choices we should make in those particular situations. Narrowing down to the mental health aspect, we continue to have many options and opportunities to explore ways for healing and integration. Thus, we may talk about individual therapy, workshops, couple therapy, and to go all the way up to more complex therapies such as group therapy. The following are the benefits of Group Therapy as I experienced it as a counselor intern not too long ago.
From the beginning of history, one of the characteristics of our humanity is that we are social beings: we group into societies, we communicate with each other to survive and to thrive. As a result, each one of us grows and develops in relationship with the other people: with our parents of caretakes, our siblings at home, friends in school, significant other in intimate relationships, colleagues and bosses in the workplace. Each one of us internalizes all these relationships and these experiences contribute to our uniqueness and individuality. One comprehensive therapeutic approach that may tap into each one of these relational aspects is Group Therapy, a concept introduced in psychotherapy around 1940’s. Group therapy is a setting in which different people, with different backgrounds, unique upbringings, individual present time situations, meet together and open up to each other in a safe and caring environment.
As a counselor intern, I was invited to attend two such groups, specifically two Men Groups, and at the beginning, my reaction was more of: “Hmmm…could a man open up totally in front of other men? Is that ok? What if this is not safe? What if someone will be hurt in their ego by the other men in the group?”. I had a mixture of feelings such as pride as well as shame, anxiety, curiosity, embarrassment, and willingness to be there. If it were not counting towards my clinical hours to graduate from school, I could have easily quit such an overwhelming experience. Fortunately, this inclination went away after I first witnessed of a group therapy session.
The principles I learned in Imago Therapy had a tremendous impact on my experience of men groups. The most important principle for me, and which I would like to share was leading with vulnerability. Each person spoke from his own experience, on how he felt, what his thoughts were, and how he behaved in a particular situation. All the other members of the group would relate to the presented story in the same manner: talking about similar experiences in their own life and using their own self as the ultimate meaning-seeking guide for the main presenter. Such an approach would help everyone to immediately drop their defenses, anxieties, and fears, seeing themselves through the eyes of the other men, without being blamed, shamed and ridiculed, but rather understood, appreciated for the courage of speaking up, and enriched by the other men’s similar experiences shared in a very empathic way. The key is to believe in the therapeutic process and stick with the group for at least a couple of sessions.
I learned something very precious: Group Therapy is a jewel that still needs to be discovered by many of us. Here, at the Imago Center of D.C., we have the privilege to offer different therapeutic groups employing the concept of Imago Therapy. I urge you to look at the many groups we are currently offering: various couples, men’s, women’s, immigrant women, contemplating divorce, Covid-19, loss and grief to name a few.