Group therapy provides a unique opportunity for participants to connect with other people who are experiencing something similar. This affords participants the chance to develop empathy, to receive and give support, and to feel less alone in areas of struggle. Yet, group therapy can also be anxiety provoking. The risk of being known more fully by others can feel dangerous initially. It is also one of the most beautiful parts of the counseling journey. Adults have learned how they want to be known, and they learn to put up the curtain so certain parts of themselves are kept hidden. This is something we also pass on to our children. While there is something appropriate about having boundaries, all too often we limit our opportunity to connect with others because we fear allowing ourselves to be more fully known.
I have led groups for kids, adolescents, and young adults, and this opportunity and anxiety has been present in each. Keeping the following in mind can help you get the most out of a group therapy experience.
“I am not alone. We are all here to work on something.”
Kids often enter group feeling embarrassed or alone, thinking no one else experiences the same kinds of struggles. In group, they recognize that the problem they felt ashamed of is not as unusual or big as it used to feel. Hearing their story in the story of others creates a bond within the group that allows a relationship to grow and withstand the expected rough patches. This experience empowers both parties, and helps them recognize the value they have to offer others simply by being who they are.
“We all have strengths and weaknesses, and being open about mine will bring more connection and growth, not less.”
I have watched the initial nervousness fade for those willing to engage and be known, and these same individuals have had the greatest opportunity to show empathy for others and themselves. Group therapy is not as easy as it may sound; the tension of taking risks in a social situation is still present, and the skills we are learning do not come naturally to some. Embracing the opportunity to grow with others in group therapy does require some risk-taking, but the process of growth through connection can be just as valuable as the skills themselves.