Nancy Wesson, Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist
Certified Group Psychotherapist (CGP)
Group psychotherapy is a very powerful and effective treatment modality. In this article, I offer some pointers for starting a group and for keeping it going successfully.
Before beginning a psychotherapy group:
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 issues.
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 members committed. 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).