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Group Therapy for Personal Development & Growth

What is Group Therapy?

Group Therapy, which is also known as Group Psychotherapy, or sometimes referred to as Group Counselling, is a psycho-therapeutic treatment that takes place within a carefully formed group, during which group members talk about their difficulties, lives, and everything that matters to them. The group therapeutic approach has been proven effective for a variety of life situations and difficulties. Under my guidance, as a professionally trained Group Therapist, group members help each other explore the personal, interpersonal, and social factors that shape their relationships and affect their psychological health. Within a therapy group, lively, stimulating, thoughtful and supportive interactions between group members become a powerful way of learning about yourself and others, providing new perspectives and opportunities for personal development. The idea of treating people in groups originated in the 1940s, in the wake of World War II, when psychoanalyst S.H. Foulkes used group therapy to efficiently and economically treat returning soldiers suffering from combat fatigue. Foulkes’ group treatments facilitated healing and gave veterans hope by providing a safe space to process difficult experiences and feelings.

How Effective is Group Therapy?

The efficacy of group therapy for trauma-related disorders, as well as a variety of other emotional and psychological difficulties, is well established. Multiple studies have demonstrated its effectiveness in:

How Group Therapy Works & the Rich Potential of the Group Dynamic

Thinking about it, we are all born into a group – our family. Group therapy is a place where we can be ‘re-socialised’, meaning a healthy group culture can help us learn and grow in ways that our family of origin could not. For instance, most of us struggle dealing with conflict, which inevitably arises in families and groups. Another challenge that many of us face – is to find a good balance between belonging on the one hand; and being true to ourselves on the other. How do you manage this balance in your life? Without a doubt, group therapy is a good way to practice and better understand how we relate with others and develop more effective and enjoyable ways to connect, argue and negotiate differences. Many of us could do with this kind of therapy.

A Deeper Dive into Group Therapy & its Value

Group therapy is alive and well and just about everywhere these days – universities, hospitals, psychology departments, rehab clinics and in the private sector too. I sometimes feel that group therapy is still one of the most misunderstood psychotherapy treatments. Why? Because group therapy can be scary – it can be hard enough to share one’s difficulties with a therapist, let alone a group of strangers. From experience, I have found group therapy to be a powerful and potent psychotherapy treatment. Having undergone a lengthy training in group-analytic therapy, which included 6 years of being a patient in a therapy group, I have become a great believer in its value. The experience of being a member of a therapy group, helped me see and feel first hand the potential of group psychotherapy. It certainly has changed me, my sense of belonging and connection, and my way of communicating with others. It helped me to feel more at ease in groups. This is important, given that we spend a lot of our time in groups – work, school, family and friendship groups. And of course, I witness significant changes in most of my clients, who are members of my therapy groups.

The Impact of our Personal Backgrounds

As we grow up, we take on board the spoken and unspoken rules and dynamics within our family. If our family culture was marked by a lack of thoughtful and open communication with each other, we are bound to experience difficulties in our relationships later in life. In group therapy, the therapist and the group members together develop a healthy and safe emotional climate in which unhelpful patterns of relating can be noticed and challenged. In this way, the group becomes a space in which new ways of communicating can be developed. This makes a therapy group a rich and fertile ground for change.

An Example from a Client

Martha, a middle-aged woman, grew up in a family where her need for self-assertion was disapproved off throughout her childhood and teenage years. When Martha expressed disagreement within the family, she was rejected and dismissed as being unreasonable, inconsiderate and ungrateful. Group therapy client exampleAs an adult, Martha easily felt like a ‘troublemaker’ when she expressed disagreement or tried to set healthy boundaries, even when articulated in a thoughtful and considered way. This became a major problem in her relationships with her friends, co-workers and husband – leading to burnout, exhaustion and resentment. For Martha, group therapy offered a fertile ground to loosen and change this unhelpful pattern, which developed in her younger years. The therapy group offered a space in which she was able to recover aspects of her authentic self-expression. The group members valued, enjoyed and invited Martha’s ability to voice her true feelings, which deepened and enriched the group process. By working through these issues, Martha also helped other group members to discover and articulate their own capacity for self-expression and self-assertion.

Why you Might Hesitate to Join a Therapy Group?

It is not uncommon for people to initially feel some reluctance to join a group. Fears that it will be too difficult to talk about problems in the group usually disappear, sometimes quickly and other times more gradually, in the encouraging atmosphere of the group. Sharing feelings and experiences in a lively and supportive group creates an atmosphere in which mutual confidence and support can develop.

Who is the Ideal Candidate for Group Therapy?

Group therapy is for everyone. Why? Because everyone deals with groups (family, work, social settings) and everyone has room to improve their ability to relate with others, whether this is understanding one’s feelings and sharing them, or being more assertive and having better boundaries. Who is group therapy forGroup therapy can be helpful for a variety of life situations and difficulties. Anxiety, depression, stress and trauma, relationship issues and low self-esteem are typical problems for which a group might be recommended. It may also be helpful to those who suffer from the effects of loss, separation, divorce or the psychological impact of health-related issues. Group therapy is also concerned with uncovering undeveloped aspirations and creativity of group members. Group therapy affects the deepest levels of the personality and thus is not a rapid therapy.

Overall Benefits of Group Therapy

  • A therapy group provides support. It can help you realise you are not alone in experiencing emotional challenges, such as depression, anxiety and relationship struggles.
    • Many people experience a sense of relief and feel less isolated as a result of belonging to a therapy group.
  • Group Therapy offers a space where you can share and talk through difficult experiences and everything that matters to you.
    • A group can offer you multiple perspectives on your situation which can help you better understand and manage your difficulties.
    • Being part of a therapy group can inspire change by witnessing other group members addressing and overcoming their difficulties. A group like this can be encouraging to start tackling your own challenges.
  • Group therapy facilitates authentic self-expression and increases self-understanding and self-awareness.
    • It enables you to observe and practice new and more fruitful ways of relating and interacting with others.
  • Group therapy provides an arena in which you learn to pay better attention to yourself and your feelings, and also to become more aware of others and their feelings.
    • It also can support you to deal more effectively with conflict in relationships, which are inevitable.
    • The development of all these vital interpersonal and social skills go hand in hand with a reduction of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and social isolation.
  • Group therapy is a powerful way of learning about yourself and others, as it provides new perspectives and opportunities for personal development.
  • It is a relatively cost effective therapeutic approach.

Meet Your Group Therapist – Kirsten Heynisch

Extensive professional training and experience coupled with a real passion and commitment to support people to heal, develop and unfold their true potential, are important ingredients I bring when facilitating therapy groups. I am a Chartered Clinical Psychologist, qualified Group Analyst & Group-Analytic Supervisor, and Accredited Practitioner in Mentalization-Based Treatment (MBT). I have trained and worked as a psychologist and psychotherapist for over 25 years. My specialist training in group therapy has allowed me to faciliate and clinically supervise NHS therapy groups for many years. In April 2018, I set up my first private therapy group in Buckinghamshire. If you are curious and potentially  interested in joining my therapy group, I will be delighted to hear from you. Please contact me today for a FREE consultation – no strings attached. 

Due to developments brought about by Covid, the therapy group is now meeting weekly online and once a month in person. If you are interested in engaging in Group Therapy, please feel free to contact me to find out more.