During therapy

Difficulties within group therapy

Being in therapy with a group of other people can be a helpful way of working through your problems and difficulties. When asked, clients often say that meeting other people with similar problems and working through them together is both helpful and valuable, and adds an experience that individual therapy doesn’t. 

I received group therapy which was extremely helpful

A number of different types of group are available, with some set up to provide support, whilst others have a more active focus. Some are longer term, sometimes without an end date, whilst others are short term (6 – 12 sessions) and very focused. 

Many groups are well run by experienced, trained, therapists (sometimes called ‘facilitators’). Sometimes, though, you may feel that you have some individual experiences that make your involvement in the group difficult, which may mean you do not get as much from the group as other people, or which may leave you feeling unable to talk about your problems, or possibly even make you feel worse. 

One area of potential difficultly is how you feel towards other group members, and/or I went to some group sessions but found it hard as I could not help internalising other people's distress. to the group as a whole. In the same way that the effectiveness of individual therapy is based partly on the relationship between therapist and client, the effectiveness of group therapy is helped by the relationships between group members and each person with the group as whole. This is not to say that everyone in a group gets along all of the time; conflicts or difficulties within a group can be useful source of learning. The important aspect here is how any difficulties are identified and addressed by the group members and facilitators. In general, difficulties and conflicts that go beyond one or two sessions and that are not addressed in the group could be considered an unhelpful process. 

An additional area of concern raised by clients is how to handle distress in the group, both your own and that of others. In the initial stages of the group you will probably have received some guidance on what is likely to happen, and developed an agreement with fellow group members on what is likely to be helpful if, or when, you or other group members become distressed. While it is helpful to refer to this guidance, it can be difficult if you are finding that the group raises lots of emotions, and you have concerns about this. You may also find it difficult to show your feelings to other group members, or be distressed or upset about seeing other people distressed or upset. 

In both of these instances, you should talk to the group therapists or facilitators about your experience. They may be able to offer individual advice, or suggest that these issues are raised as part of the group – particularly if your experience is likely to be a common one. 

Having group therapists or facilitators who are approachable and able to hear your concerns is a helpful and positive aspect of group therapy. If they are too controlling or domineering, or fail to address issues that may be making the group unhelpful, you may not get as much out of therapy as you could. If you notice this happening, you could try and raise this with the group therapists themselves, perhaps during a group session, or at some time outside. If this doesn’t seem to help, or isn’t possible please see 'I am not getting on with my therapist'.

When in group therapy, you may experience times when you would like to make contact with the therapists in between the sessions. Depending on the therapy approach, there can be different guidance on this.  Sometimes individual therapy can run alongside group therapy but with other approaches, contact with therapists outside of the group is limited or doesn’t happen at all. At the outset of the group, it is useful to make sure your therapists are clear about the steps you need to take if you’re finding that the gaps between the group sessions are too long for you.