Group therapy can be a challenge but can also be extremely rewarding not just for the participants but also for you as the group leader or therapist. In this article, we will see about ‘How To: A Successful Group Therapy Discussion?’.
How To: A Successful Group Therapy Discussion?
As you lead the discussion, your role becomes central in the session; you have to allow the participants to be honest and open about their feelings and at the same time ensure that the discussion doesn’t flow into unhealthy mindsets and views.
So let’s get discussing how you can ensure a healthy, positive and effective group discussion and How To: A Successful Group Therapy Discussion? Questions you can ask:
Here’s a cheat sheet before you set the circle of chairs for your group:
1. Why don’t we go around the group and introduce ourselves?
Take the time to get to know everyone and build familiarity within the group. Make sure to include everyone, encourage the ones afraid of being in the spotlight in front of a group. You can even begin with yourself-
“Hi everyone, I am Claire Dunphy. Welcome to the group therapy session of Pinterest Addicts. This is an internet barred safe space where we can share how Pinterest has become an addicting distraction from the issues of life- family.”
2. Why are you here?
Ask them the reason for them joining the group. This can be a good beginning discussion in the first session of a therapy group and will involve a myriad of issues and goals. Make sure to encourage everyone to open up.
[P.S.-watch out for any Marla Singers]
3. Are you here by your choice? If not why do you feel that a group session is not for you?
While the voluntary participants already suggest a readiness in them, you might find some reluctant and non-believers in your group.
So, for the Hazel Graces sitting literally in the heart of Jesus, make sure to not challenge them in their beliefs, but also highlight the benefits of group therapy (scroll down for a short list) or try asking them to just hang around for a bit and take a test drive (or maybe lure them in with good sandwiches).
But you must be prepared to lose a couple of members- it isn’t a direct review of you. Group therapy just isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
4. Does anyone have any new experience to share with the group?
Get the ball rolling with everyone getting a chance to talk about something that has happened since the last time you all met- a new book they read, a new recipe they tried, perhaps they re-watched an old sitcom, or just had a regular week at their job or college- everyone gets a chance.
Pro Tip: Set a time limit for each member so no one gets talked over or left out without disturbing the schedule.
Find a balance- Since it’s a group discussion, it might happen that while someone had the worst week ever, someone else might be feeling on top of the world. Don’t forget that while you’re making someone feel proud and encouraged about the excitement in their life, that the other might be doing a mental comparison and feeling discouraged.
5. What do you think about what ‘the other member’ has just shared?
The beauty of a group discussion is getting to focus in depth on a topic. As the group leader or therapist you can make the group focus on one feeling or a common experience. For example if one brings out how their affliction has affected their work life, ask the others if they have felt the same.
This helps the speaker feel validated and not alone and also gives everyone else the chance to put forward their experience.
Also if some member talks about something you think relates to another member, try to include them in the discussion by asking them to tell the group how they feel about it. Remember, not everyone is comfortable center stage, but allowing someone to remain a wallflower for too long might not be the most effective method of helping them.
A Few Filler Questions:
Silence is not always comfortable, so break out the following questions to get the talks flowing again:
1. Why don’t we give some time to reflect on how and why group therapy can be helpful to us?
This can be a very good beginning point if it is your first session or even a filler question if you feel some members are starting to lose momentum and faith in the group. It can help bring the focus back on the positive reasons for everyone to be there. Someone might just love coming there to listen, someone might like to feel heard, someone might just be there because you make a mean sandwich.
2. Let’s take some time to talk about what we are looking for from this group?
Another filler question- let everyone come forward with their hopes and dreams. When you ask your members this question, it immediately puts them in a positive, authoritative and hopeful zone where the group is not a center for their weakness rather it is a measure for them to build strength and a healthy future in a common shared space.
They aren’t there to tend to a ‘weakness’, but to build a ‘strength’.
3. Let’s take a detour, has anyone seen a new movie or series or read a new book?
Don’t be afraid to allow the discussion to be about something other than mental health and wellbeing. Sometimes the best way to get everyone to start talking is a mutual love of Dwight Schrute.
Having a heavy conversation in a closed room with your therapist can be scary in itself but discussing with an entire group can make the vulnerability factor heighten even further. But such discussions within a group setting can also be very rewarding as everyone gets to share their lowest; the feeling of being alone gets challenged as you see your own issues reflected in someone else’s life.
1. What do you think is the main challenge of ‘the issue the group was formed to help address’?
Let the participants focus on the negatives openly for a while. A personal challenge, the effect on their relationships, work life, health, studies etc. everything can be talked about. It can be freeing to highlight the problems or the judgment someone has faced in their life.
But ask the members to end on a positive note or ask if some other member has any positive suggestion or experience with the same; how they plan on facing the challenge in the future or if someone has overcome them in the past.
2. Do you harbor any guilt about some action of yours?
Guilt is a heavy emotion that can be a true obstacle in the path to recovery, don’t let the group shy away from their fear of judgment. Encourage them to lean into the fear. With this question, you truly make the group question and come up with their stories and perhaps even find comfort in the stories of others. This can be an extremely sensitive issue, and as a group leader or the therapist you will have to make sure that it does not receive any negative response from any other member.
Group Specific Questions:
A group therapy can be formed for a myriad of reasons and topics. The answers to your generic questions might lead to a specific discussion on some issue that a member has highlighted and you feel needs to be discussed in depth.
For example if you go exploring the feeling of guilt, the experiences that come out within the group can be different for a group of recovering alcoholics, a suicidal help group, a group for helping people grieve or couples therapy. Encourage them to explore all experiences and let the conversation flow as the members explore their feelings.
1. Has this group helped you in some way? Or maybe not?
This is the feedback part of the session which will allow you to know your audience and build from there. Pay attention to how the members have reacted to different methods and strategies you have used and change your tactics if less number of the participants are being benefitted from them.
It doesn’t always reflect on your abilities as a group leader or a therapist, rather is an opportunity to explore different theories and ideas.
2. Would you like some changes in the group?
Since the group is for the participants, it is imperative that they feel comfortable in the space they become their most vulnerable. Asking them for suggestions and changes, therefore, is a very important part of building an effective and healthy therapy group.
Don’t be afraid of criticism; be open to new ideas and suggestions. Also, don’t just ask for the sake of asking. Of course all suggestions of all members cannot be implemented but you can try and actually apply the worthwhile suggestions.
Assignments or Tasks:
1. Writing exercises
This can be an effective exercise to get the emotions and feelings of everyone in the group to come to the surface; especially for our silent wallflowers. Encourage everyone to be as vulnerable and descriptive as they can be. These can then be discussed in the next session where every member is asked to share their written word with the rest of the group.
A writing exercise can be about a particular feeling, or a description of a past event that has affected them, or something positive for example a future goal, a dream house or even a dream partner.
2. A Social Task
Sometimes, the session can be ended by giving the group a particular task to be done in the time being before the next session for example reaching out to a family member or a past friend, keeping a journal, reading a book that focuses on an issue that has come up in the previous discussions, if the therapy is for agoraphobics maybe you can give a social exposure task, etc.
4. A Group Picnic
You can also organize an outside group session for a change; although routine can be comfortable, sometimes a change of scenery can be very refreshing. So, pack a basket of those sandwiches, grab a few sliders and cold drinks and get a bus rolling to some scenic peaceful spot. Hold a session being one with nature.
5. Partner Up
Try this: if you have an even number, divide your group members into sub-groups and give them different team building tasks or if your group therapy is to combat some addiction, you can assign two members to hold each other accountable.
Benefits of Group Therapy
While one on one therapy sessions can feel comparatively comfortable and easy to go through, with just one person to open up to, group therapy comes with an added number of people but it has its own benefits. Some of them are:
-It is more cost effective than a therapist session; however, in this case cheap does not mean less support.
-As you interact with the people in the group, however daunting it might seem in the beginning, it will help you to develop your social skills as you build more comfort and confidence.
-A group therapy can be a very good source of receiving and giving support. For the support in sadness and the support to move forward- the people who can understand you can relate to you and your experience can be the best source.
-Going through your problems, the most disheartening emotion you feel can be loneliness. But, when you meet people with similar issues and fears it can feel like you are not alone in the cesspool of pain; and within this common, safe, shared space you can begin to grow.
-The first and the hardest step to healing is sharing. Once you have decided that you want to begin the journey to healing, you open yourself up to receive support and love, you learn to trust that sometimes every issue cannot be solved by own self and perhaps there is more than the world can offer you. Sharing your feelings can also be an effective stress reliever.
-As you hear the different perspectives from different people, you can pick and choose particular ones that fit you best and inculcate the positive ideas into your own life. It’s never bad to get advice from an experienced person.
-You might find talking to strangers intimidating, but confidentiality is a very important part of group therapy. Feeling vulnerable is okay, but you shouldn’t run away from your fears, lean into them. So feel free to share and learn.
Now we have learnt ‘How To: A Successful Group Therapy Discussion?’, A group discussion is simply a safe space the group provides to each member so all can focus on growth and overcoming similar problems. Your role in a group session is more of a mediator- to lead the discussion in a positive manner and allow the members to feel comfortable enough to speak and feel heard. You can make the group begin talking and even provide the direction the conversations should lean in, but in the end it is the members of the group who make the group effective. In your place, you can influence the level of comfort and camaraderie through some of the exercises listed above.
Some additional points to help you:
– Encourage your group members to reach out to each other; for example mentoring or sponsoring relationships can be formed. Also, you can partner them up for some exercises if you feel the group needs help building a connection.
– If you have a shared experience yourself, you too are allowed to be vulnerable with the group. It helps build a relationship of trust between you and the participants.
-Try to steer the group away from political, religious or sensitive issues. They can be a cause for conflict and might even discourage someone from feeling comfortable within the group.
– As the session involves a myriad of views and opinions, some sessions may involve heated arguments and you will have to play the role of a peacemaker. It isn’t on you to exact judgment but you can only help them calm down and respect each other’s viewpoints.
– As everyone has more or the same experience your fears and mistakes can be discussed openly in a group of fellow sufferers as an entitled feeling of judgment does not factor in.
– A truly open and honest group discussion might take a while. Be patient, don’t try to rush the discussions and make the group focus on particular feelings- longer and in depth.
– Good Coffee and some cookies go a long way 🙂
A word from your author:
Show/ movie references I have used in this article
1. Claire Dunphy- Modern family series
2. Marla Singer- First rule about fight club: you do not talk about the fight club
3. Hazel Grace- The Fault in Our Stars (a well written sob fest by John Green)
4. Dwight Schrute- The Office series