Nancy Wesson, Ph.D.
Group psychotherapy is a very powerful and effective treatment modality. I
have led psychotherapy groups for 30 years and in private practice for 28
years. In this article I offer some pointers for starting a group and for
keeping it going successfully. There
will be a 4 hour, 4 CE credit CSGP workshop on this topic on Saturday Feb. 23,
Before beginning a psychotherapy
Receive training in group psychotherapy to be able to effectively handle leadership
challenges such as monopolizing, absenteeism, conflict, etc.
Choose the type of group you would like to lead: process, psychoed. psychoanalytic, or
a combination, short-term or long term.
Develop a written group agreement for group clients which includes: confidentiality, time
commitment, absences, fees, acceptable group behavior, (norms), and termination
Develop a marketing plan for attracting new group clients. For example:
Connect with individual therapists who are
likely to refer to your group.
Phone screen and then conduct an in-person interview (if possible) with each
potential group client to evaluate the client for the group and also to prepare
the client for how the group works and how it will feel to be a group member.
This group preparation will help your group client feel more comfortable
and committed to joining a group.
Begin the group:
Begin your group when you have 4, preferably 5 clients ready to join the group. At
the first group session have members connect with each other and take time for
each member to discuss their personal goals.
Most members of any type of group are joining the group not just for
information but for connection. See the “Group
as a whole” not only as a collection of individual clients but as a “group,” an
entity in and of itself, and comprised of relationships as well as individual
clients. You can encourage connection
between group members by including time for group members to interact. The
relationships between group members and the sharing of similar issues, will
bring your group members back to group each week.
Keep the group stable,
safe, and dynamic
If a member is not participating in the group explore this gently in the group. (They
may not think their contribution is important).
The group agreement is central to keeping the group safe and memberscommitted. If a member is often late or
absent, bring this to the group for exploration. If a member is very frequently
absent and does not respond to group feedback, then meet with that member privately.
Frequent absences by one member can easily lead to more member absences. The
same is true for lateness and impulsive angry outbursts.
Encourage empathy, positive feedback, support, and the expression of feelings in the
group. This will help group members feel connected to others in the group.
Group members need to feel they are each an important part of the group.
The joy of group therapy for me is watching group member
connections, relationship building, and identification, that is, when members no
longer feel alone with their psychological issues. This is one of the most
important healing factors for group therapy.
When describing the group, members will easily tell others that the
group is not “the group” but “my group.”
(Yalom et al, 2005).