In our modern world, an increasing amount of emphasis is being placed on good mental healthcare. While this is undoubtedly a positive sign of progress as a society, the methods of pursuing therapy can sometimes be a little confusing. The impression is often made that there are as many different types of mental health therapy as there are practicing therapists; this is in part due to modern therapy's emphasis on pursuing treatment that works for the individual patient. Therapy groups approach the idea in a slightly broader respect; increasingly popular, they allow people suffering from a variety of challenges to seek help in the company of others they can relate to. A therapy group can be a wonderful tool for helping large numbers of people to overcome some profound personal difficulties, and learn how to cope — if it is being run properly.
Here are 5 tips for running an effective therapy group:
A Strict Policy of Non-Violence
It is important to avoid overly assertive or controlling behavior in a group therapy session, but there are other important factors that must absolutely be kept out of the setting. One of these is violent, threatening, or otherwise intimidating behavior. Many people, particularly those with social or self-esteem issues, will shut down when confronted with antagonizing behavior, rendering the group useless. In a worst-case scenario, they will need a lot of help giving the same concept another try, and may need to do so with a different group. This kind of behavior needs to be avoided — tactfully, if possible, but if necessary, it must be very calmly and directly shut down.
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Make the Group Fun!
This point is often overly emphasized with regard to groups targeted at children, but simultaneously under-utilized by groups catering to the needs of adults. Fun is an important concept to incorporate; socializing is supposed to be fun. If the group comes off as boring, monotonous, oppressive or frivolous, it's not going to be of much use; participants may still benefit to some degree, but it won't serve them well as a societal model.
A wide range of options can help make therapy fun for adults — everything from the ubiquitous coffee and doughnuts, to games and activities, to popular films that address the challenges on which the group is focused (in a constructive manner).
Respect a Participant's Privacy
No personal, private information is owed to the group — or to anybody. People who are participating in a group therapy session should never be required to divulge any particular piece of information, at any time. This sense of vulnerability and obligation is directly counter to what is needed to help resolve a wide range of common psychological challenges, which people with a wide range of disorders find themselves facing. It is up to a group leader to actively protect participants from this kind of infringement, not simply avoid requiring anything of them themselves.
Encourage, but Don't Force, Participation
By choosing to attend group therapy sessions, a person has already taken the first step in trying to help themselves face their challenges head-on. More often than not, such an individual has already sought individual counseling elsewhere, meaning that they have in fact taken several steps along the path to a healthier lifestyle. Attendees should be encouraged to participate as gently as possible, but it's just as critical that they are never forced to do so before they are ready.
Be Straightforward and Direct, but Unassertive
Anyone running a group therapy session should be open and straightforward about the group's purpose: what it intends to do, for whom, and how, and what challenges they hope to help others in attendance overcome. At the same time, this shouldn't come across in a way that makes those present at the session feel as though they are being singled out, or in any way targeted. One of the crucial aspects of group therapy is that the people who come together feel like they are part of a sympathetic social circle. If they instead feel as though they're facing a united front of resistance or accusation, the group can be turned on its head, even becoming counterproductive.
By following these and other basic guidelines for managing a therapy group effectively, a good therapist improves their overall efficiency. They are able to help more people develop more successful strategies for coping with a wide range of psychological challenges, and in doing so help them learn how to function more effectively in society as a whole. The group itself is both a helpful tool, and good practice for the individual in need of therapy.