While people seek psychotherapy for many different reason, all have some problems in establishing and maintaining close and gratifying relationships with others. Sometimes they have spent much of their life “faking it” (usually by being bright and accomplished) but were never able to develop a sturdy, deeply authentic and resilient sense of self. Lacking such a sense of self, they may never have had occasion to learn how to trust others, to reveal themselves with openness and vulnerability, and to confront others with genuine concern and honesty. The therapy group attempts to set up a social situation where group members can experience developing trust and being trusted; learn to experience authenticity and genuineness; overcome experiences of shame while learning to really like themselves; and where over time they can come to be seen, known, accepted, challenged, and stretched in their capacity to be self-aware, to love and to play. Inevitably, members will at some point experience others in the group similarly to the ways in which they experience intimate others outside the group, or similarly to the ways in which they experienced family members while they were growing up. The opportunity to explore preverbal feelings in a safe setting is what makes the group experience so potentially healing and transformational.
Most people feel anxious at the thought of joining a therapy group for the first time. We all remember what it was like feeling the odd man out: entering a new school, dealing with cliques in junior high school, and the like. Yet this human vulnerability transfers beautifully into the group setting, where everyone has been the ‘new person’ at some point. We all grew up being part of groups, including our families, and sometimes the roles we developed to hold ourselves together, as a sort of psychic skin to cope with the stressors of these groups, may be long outdated, atavistic to the person we are becoming. The group setting facilitates our working through and relinquishment of these roles, allowing us to shed the old skins and grow new, healthy psychic skin more conducive to thriving instead of merely surviving.
The group matrix provides a container for all the fears and feelings that go unspoken, unrecognized in our daily life. You do not have to bear your pain alone. The best part is, you will discover that your struggles are not yours alone. While the lyrics of your struggles may be quite personal to your history and your temperament, the music of your unique dilemma will be echoed around the room. The group is a sacred space, along the lines of Buber’s I-thou relationships. Your fears and burdens will be met with respect and gentleness. Group provides a unique opportunity for mirroring our inner self: most of us unwittingly rely on the kind of fun-house mirrors that distort, showing us caricatures of ourselves. As other group members get to know you, they will reflect back your strengths. If you have decimated self-esteem, they will help you discover hitherto unsuspected resources deep inside. If you somehow remain stuck in old patterns, group will help you master the terrors that brought them into existence in the first place. You will find a way to balance at the edge of the unknown, risking new ways of being-with-others. Growing a sturdy self as an adult is a tough task: it helps to have company who bear witness to your courage.
Most people stay in group for at least three years: it not only takes a village to effect change, it takes some time as well.