How Can my Group Members Get The Most Out of Group Therapy?

In my last blog post, I wrote about the benefits of group therapy. I wrote that post because a lot of our clients are hesitant to start group. They worry they won’t have enough time to talk (and therefore prefer individual therapy), they fear their group members will judge them or gossip about them, they think they just don’t belong, etc. However, once they try group, they start to discover how rewarding it really is.

So, once you convince your clients to try group therapy, you may want to talk to them about the things they can do to get the most out of it. Here are some things you can go over with them…

-Stay present

One of the best ways to connect with your group members is to stay in the here-and-now. Listen carefully to what they’re saying- don’t listen to the thoughts in your head that are going over something that happened yesterday or something that might happen tomorrow! Only bring your focus to your thoughts when they are in reaction to what’s going on in group.

When you are present, you can better observe your group members & group dynamics. Share these observations when appropriate. Focus on non-verbal behaviors, such as facial expressions, body language, & tone of voice.

-Be open

Be vulnerable. Yes, this is scary, but group is a place where you creep out of your “comfort zone”.

When a client has finally agreed to group & you tell them to be vulnerable, they might be like…

…but they have nothing to fear! Being open doesn’t mean you have to share everything about yourself right away. Some people can come into group & tell their whole life story on the first day, while others are quiet and observant at first- that’s okay!

But it’s important to be open & genuine. This means you accept your feelings, thoughts, and experiences without rejecting or judging them. If you feel anxious about sharing, that’s okay! It’s normal to feel anxious when you first start group. Most of your group members likely feel the same…

Keep in mind that group is a safe place where you can share things you normally hide from others. You don’t have to hide in group, you don’t have to apologize for how you think & feel, and you don’t have to try to impress your group members. Your group members just want you to be open & honest- that in turn gives them the courage to share about themselves!

-Give feedback

Your feedback can help your group members grow. When they reveal something, they want to know what you’re thinking and how you feel about what they said. They want to know if you can relate. They want to get your unique perspective. So speak up!

One piece of advice: avoid telling your group members what to do. If your group member is talking about a problem, you can share suggestions/possible solutions (especially if you have faced the problem in the past), but don’t tell them what they “should” do. Besides, when people share their problems, they’re not always looking for advice. Sometimes, they just want to be heard (and to vent!)

-Accept feedback

If you can dish it out, you better be able to take it! When your group members give you feedback, they’re not trying to criticize you. It’s not personal, so there is no need to become defensive. If you’re having a negative reaction to feedback, just let your group members know. They will likely understand.

In my previous post (on the benefits of group therapy), I wrote:

[Feedback] is important because group members can provide different perspectives on situations. And the more diverse the group, the better. When people come from different backgrounds, they may look at problems differently and can therefore offer more solutions.

Sometimes, we are too emotionally involved in our problems to realize what’s best for us- that’s why it’s important to hear from our group members! The more we hear from them, the more insight we gain.

So there you have it. Learn to accept feedback. It won’t kill ya. When you get feedback you don’t love, try and smile.

-Engage with your group members

Do not monopolize group. Do not talk and talk and talk and talk. Your group members love ya, but they don’t want to hear from just you. When you take over, group members disengage and zone out (they’re human, after all).

Talk with them instead of at them… Engage with them by asking questions, asking for feedback, making eye contact with them (and not just with the facilitator), etc.

-Do something different

As I mentioned earlier, group therapy helps you get out of your “comfort zone”. You can take risks in group because it’s a safe place where acceptance & encouragement replaces judgment & scorn. Group is basically your “safety net”. You can practice things in group (like social skills, conflict-resolution skills, etc.) so you can better apply them in the “real world”. Your group members will help you along the way.


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