About Process Groups

What is a Process Group?

Group therapy is a powerful tool for growth and change. In process groups, 5-10 individuals meet face to face to share their struggles and concerns with 1-2 trained group therapists. The power of process groups lies in the unique opportunity to receive multiple perspectives, support, encouragement and feedback from other individuals in safe and confidential environment. These interpersonal interactions can provide group members an opportunity to deepen their level of self-awareness and to learn how they relate to others.

Process groups are typically unstructured. There isn’t a specific topic for each group session, but some of the groups may be focused on a particular theme or the group may be target to specific group of individuals (e.g., women, men, or older students). Members are welcome to bring any issues to the group that they feel are important, and the primary focus of therapy in the group is on the interactions among group members. Members are encouraged to give support and feedback to others, and to work with the reactions and responses that other members’ contributions bring up for them.

What can I expect from being in group therapy?

The first few sessions of a process group usually focus on the establishment of trust. During this time, the group therapists and group members work towards establishing a level of trust that allows them to communicate openly and honestly. In a climate of trust, people feel free to care about and help each other. New members are often amazed at how much their contributions help other members. Group trust is enhanced when all members make a commitment to the group.

During the group meeting time, members are responsible for talking about what is troubling them. Discussion flows according to what members would like to talk about — the group leaders do not, for the most part, assign topics for the group to discuss. Members are encouraged to give support and feedback to others, and to work with the reactions and responses that other members’ contributions bring up for them. Group members and group therapists may serve as models for effective communication, offer problem-solving strategies, and promote self-acceptance and self-support.

As individuals begin interacting freely with other group members, they usually re-experience or recreate some of the interpersonal difficulties that brought them to the group in the first place. Many of the reasons people seek help with personal issues usually stem from difficulties in their relationships with others. Under the skilled direction of a group therapist, the group is able to point out troublesome interpersonal patterns by providing feedback and support and offering alternatives, and in such a way that the difficulty becomes resolved.

Unexpressed feelings are a major reason why people experience difficulties and distress. Sharing your thoughts and feelings in a safe and supportive environment is an important part of group therapy and strongly affects how much you will be helped. The climate of trust provided by the group promotes an environment where members feel safe to share their struggles and work collaboratively to understand one another. As individuals increase their self-awareness, develop new ways of relating to people, and learn new adaptive behaviors, they make progress towards their personal goals that brought them to the group.

How Can I Get the Most Out of Group Therapy?

  • Be yourself. Start from where you are, not how you think others want you to be. This might mean asking questions, expressing anger, or communicating confusion and hopelessness. Change begins with whatever you feel free to disclose.
  • Define goals. Take time before each session to define your goals for that session. Nevertheless, being flexible about your goals is also important. You may be surprised to find that your goals continue to change throughout the group process.
  • Recognize and respect your pace for getting involved in the group. Some group members will always be ready to disclose their thoughts and feelings; others need more time to gain feelings of trust and security. By respecting your needs you are learning self-acceptance. If you are having a difficult time with how to discuss your problems with the group, then ask the group to help you.
  • Take time for yourself. You have the right to take group time to talk about yourself. Many people feel that other’s issues are more important, while some have a difficult time facing feelings, or have fears of appearing “weak”. By recognizing what the reluctance means, you begin the growth process.
  • Focus on what is most important to you. Through talking about your concerns the group will help to recognize patterns. With time being limited it is important to try focus on the main ideas, thoughts and feelings. Focusing on minute details is often a way to avoid dealing with the key issue.
  • Recognize and express reactions and feelings. Pay close attention to what you are feeling as you are sharing or others are sharing. If you are having difficulties recognizing and expressing your thoughts or feelings, ask the group to help.
  • Be aware of censored thoughts and feelings. Learning to express thoughts and feelings, without censorship, enables exploration and resolution of interpersonal conflicts and self-affirmation and assertion. Try and take the risk to let yourself be emotionally available to and vulnerable with others.
  • Give and receive feedback. Giving and receiving feedback can be a major component of your experience in group therapy. The purpose of feedback is to help others identify patterns, personal presentations, unrecognized attitudes, and inconsistencies. Feedback can be one of the most effective ways to deepen any relationship.
    • Tips for giving feedback:
      • Feedback needs to be concrete and specific, brief but to the point, and representative of both your feelings and thoughts.
      • Be specific about what you’re responding to (particular remark, gesture)
      • Share both positive and negative feedback
      • Give feedback as soon as possible
    • Tips for receiving feedback:
      • The best way to get feedback is to request it from specific individuals, those whose impression means the most to you. Find out from others in the group how they perceive you. What role do they see you taking on in the group? What are your “blind spots”?
      • Seek clarification from the member or verify with other members if the feedback you’ve received matches their perceptions as well
      • Beware of becoming defensive, but if you feel yourself becoming defensive, it might be a good idea to share it.
  • Avoid giving advice. Sometimes we really want to offer advice to someone who is struggling, but often when we do, we fail to let that person feel heard. Most group members learn that giving advice, suggestions and solutions is seldom helpful. For advice-givers, it takes time to learn how to express personal reactions, communicate understanding, give support, and listen attentively.
  • Take risks. Experiment with different ways of behaving and expressing yourself. By taking risks, you can discover what works for you and what doesn’t. This may mean expressing difficult feelings, sharing information you usually keep secret, or confronting someone about something upsetting to you.
  • Ask questions. If you are wondering about or confused about something that has just been said or hast just occurred in the group, then seek clarification from group members or group leaders. It’s likely others may have the same questions that you have.
  • Become aware of distancing behaviors. All of us have ways of behaving which prevent others from getting close to us. Some of these are remaining silent and uninvolved, telling long involved stories, responding to others with intellectual statements, asking content questions, making hostile or indirect comments, and talking only about external events. Keep in mind that distancing behaviors have had a purpose in the past. The question you will face is whether the behavior is preventing you from getting what you want – close relationships with people.
  • Try to be as direct as possible and be open to the responses of others. Telling a story is sometimes a way of being known, but it can also be a way of avoiding dialogue and intimacy. Aim for dialogue that fosters an understanding of your experiences rather than monologue.
  • Remember that how people talk is as important as what they say. Pay attention to the non-verbal behaviors in the group – yours and those of other members. Talk about what you notice.
  • Focus on the relationships you have with the group, other group members and the leader. Put a priority on noticing what is happening inside the group. What is going on that makes you feel closer or more distant towards others? Try and explore with the group what you notice.
  • Work outside the group. In order to get the most from the group experience, you will need to spend time between sessions thinking about yourself, trying out new behaviors, reflecting on what you are learning, reassessing your goals, and paying attention to your feelings and reactions.
  • Be patient with yourself. Growth takes time, effort and patience. Changing what has become such an integral part of ourselves is very difficult and slow. By having patience with ourselves and accepting and understanding these blocks to growth, we set the foundation for growth and change.
  • Give the group time to develop. It can take a number of sessions before members of a group begin to have sufficient trust and security to be open and honest, to disclose their concerns and feelings. Thus, we encourage you to make a commitment to attend at least four sessions. If you are not getting what you want out of the group, then talk about that with the group members.

The Group as Laboratory

In trying these new ways of interacting with others, the important thing is to do something that feels difficult. Old, familiar ways of behaving will probably not result in productive experiments. Moreover, a new behavior may seem difficult at first, but with practice, it gets easier. Then the new behavior may be added to your repertoire-your range options-and it’s available whenever you need it.

If You Relate To People By:You Might Experiment With:
Complying, giving in, being self-effacingSaying no
Resisting suggestions; holding backTaking a risk; trying something new.
Always talking; filling any silence with words because you feel uncomfortable.Being silent for a minute; getting in touch with uncomfortable feelings; talking about those feelings.
Waiting for someone to say something, then reactingInitiating something yourself, for someone else to react to.
Always smiling, even when annoyed or angry.Talking without smiling
ExplainingSimply responding with what you feel (e.g., " I have an impulse to explain")
Trying to get people to stop feeling a certain way.Simply accepting the way they feel; at the same time exploring your impulses and feelings
Being polite; not showing anger or judgmentBeing judgmental and angry, frankly and outrageously.
Expressing anger easilyChecking to see what feelings are underneath the anger.
Deflecting praiseAccepting praise and agreeing enthusiastically with it.
Feeling bored but being too polite to say anything about it.Talking about your feelings of boredom.
When attacked, defending yourself.Not saying anything in rebuttal-but exploring the feelings you have.
Being afraid-and hiding your fearBeing openly afraid; letting everyone know it.
Always complimenting others.Telling others exactly how you feel about them.
Trying to get everybody to approve of you.Being what you are and not giving a damn what they think.
Giving adviceReporting "I feel like giving you advice" but not doing it.
Always helping other people.Asking for help, letting yourself be helped.
Always asking for help.Helping someone else.
Controlling your feelings and suppressing them.Experiencing your feelings and exploring them.
Keeping things secret.Disclosing something about yourself that is hard to say.
Playing it safe.Taking a few risks.