Decreasing Social Isolation and Social Anxiety
Many individual psychotherapy clients who do not have a support system are often fearful and distrustful of others if they attempt to get too close. Many of these clients can function very well in structured work or school settings, ( in front of a computer ) but find it impossible to relate to others as friends or partners. Social Isolation and social anxiety are components of this avoidance behavior which leads to loneliness.
Group psychotherapy is an excellent vehicle to learn about close relationships
and the value of support and closeness.
In group clients work through barriers to closeness and develop the ability to trust others. Communication skills and conflict resolution skills are modeled repeatedly and in group, these clients experience the “normalcy” of human interaction.
Learning to Safely Relate to Others and Have Friends
Even some very high functioning psychotherapy clients are very adept at avoiding any real conflict in relationships. As a result, the relationships they do have are very short term and/or lack commitment. These clients can become quite anxious in times of conflict or crisis. When a client in this situation discusses their dilemma in group or they are in a conflict in group, they receive empathy and an understanding of how to handle conflict safely.
Speeding Up Individual Change With Group Psychotherapy
The Benefits of group psychotherapy and the change process.
As a group psychotherapist I work actively with each client’s individual psychotherapist.
The group stirs up “tuned out” feelings, feelings otherwise only felt when in conflict, and this creates an urgency to resolve these feelings,and the opportunity to resolve the underlying relationship issues. Many of our clients are excellent at disguising in individual psychotherapy many of their issues in relationships.
In group psychotherapy, relationship issues are quickly evident i.e. in being part of a group a client will demonstrate, and in an obvious way, the very interpersonal behavior which is causing problems in his/her relationships.(I have learned that this may be very different behavior from what is actually seen in an individual psychotherapy session.) When a client’s behavior creates feeling reactions in other group members, and is described and expressed to the client by the group, many clients will become aware of their own interpersonal behavior and work actively on better ways to connect with others.. Many clients may also be able to see their own defenses in other group members, and thus by association in themselves. With the support and observation process of the group they become even more motivated to change.
A Team Approach – Interpersonal Group Psychotherapy
I explain to clients in the initial screening for the group that being in group psychotherapy is like having a “team” instead of just one individual, to resolve relationship issues. This “team” is very skillful and leaves no stone unturned in discovering the barriers to closeness. The team also provides the necessary support and nurturing for change.
The case of George is illustrative of this process. George had been in individual psychotherapy but was unable to develop relationships in his personal life. He was depressed, lonely, frightened and tended to avoid contact with others. He had no close friends, did not date, and did not even know that he needed these relationships in his life. He was very afraid of joining group. At first, he just listened to the interactions between other group members and made it his personal objective to stay out of them. After a while though, the group repeatedly drew him in and questioned his need to be so guarded. George had never experienced others as particularly interested in him. Gradually, George began to understand: to feel cared about, and to trust his own need for closeness. He became more actively involved with others in the group, and he began to use his new relationship skills outside the group. When George left the group he had developed many significant relationships.