I considered naming this post, “Why Every Therapist Should Run A Group,” but the truth is, group isn’t for everyone.
Most people don’t want to be challenged. This applies to therapists as much as anyone else. We all have a natural predilection to maintain what is familiar, comfortable and predictable, even if this tendency exacts a large cost.
Some of us have a lower tolerance for suffering than our peers, or we’re fortunate enough to have suffered sufficiently to be willing to change.
Change is not guaranteed to improve the situation, it just makes it different. But different experiences can lead to new thoughts and feelings, novel attitudes and connections.
You might spare yourself a lot of grief if you embraced this idea alone: if you don’t like your situation, do something different.
Groups can be incredible catalysts for change if run well. If run poorly, well, misery loves company and it can be deliciously seductive to have a whole bunch of people with whom to preserve the status quo.
To run a group well, you have to embrace change. You need to be more excited by the possibility of learning something new than you are scared of being hurt and disappointed. Of course, you will be hurt and disappointed at times, but if you’re open to it, you’ll learn a lot from those moments.
I run a process group for adults on Thursday evenings. The members have all been in therapy and are psychologically sophisticated. They take risks, share vulnerability, actively engage in the process of learning and change. It’s a place of intimacy and courage.
As the steward of the space, I keep two values in mind, Vitality and Belonging.
Vitality is something you experience in yourself, how engaged are you, how interested? Are you learning something new about yourself, being challenged, growing? Does the present situation feel meaningful to the rest of your life–your life outside the consulting room and the future? Many of us are conditioned to override our need for vitality.
Most schools and workplaces teach us to be quiet, sit in our seats, direct our attention to the instructed subject regardless of our natural curiosity and inclination. The pandemic of ADHD diagnoses is a reflection of this intolerance for intrinsic motivation.
Vitality is closely related to doing what you want to do in a deep and meaningful way. This doesn’t mean a reckless pursuit of mind-numbing pleasure. What you truly want to do may not be pleasant at all. Escaping danger or confronting an adversary are examples of intense vitality. So is any adventure or drama that captures your imagination, provides a sense of risk-taking and discovery. Vitality requires a degree of freedom, the ability to approach the edge of your comfort zone and explore new ways of being.
It’s in this liminal, unknown territory that you gain access to parts of yourself that you didn’t know you possessed.
Belonging provides the safety required for this kind of heroic enterprise. Belonging is experienced with others, in the sense of connection and shared purpose. We all have dark places inside us that are too scary for us to venture into alone. Therapy provides the support and companionship to see and touch what would otherwise overwhelm us. When there is belonging, there is a feeling of kinship and protection– “They have my back.”
Balancing these two values is the dance of leadership. It’s an art and a science that is never mastered, only studied and integrated through our own therapy, experience and training.