Dr. Sophia Aguirre, Ph.D., CGP, FAGPA
Why is Group Therapy so Powerful?
Why should I consider group therapy?
I am firm believer that group psychotherapy is one of the most powerful tools for growth and change having witnessed amazing results firsthand. Group therapy provides a unique opportunity to understand the relationships we have with ourselves and others. My therapy groups focus on helping group members relate to one another more authentically and to deepen your experience of vulnerability, intimacy, and closeness with others. The power of a group lies in that a group allows for the creation of a person's social microcosm, where the patterns of how you relate to people outside of group are recreated inside the group. Thus, while you speak about your struggles in individual psychotherapy, you live out your struggles in group therapy. Furthermore, there is a vast amount of research which shows that in many cases group psychotherapy is more effective that individual therapy, especially when interpersonal difficulties are a primary concern or when a person's alienation, isolation and lack of support exacerbates their symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Group therapy provides the unique opportunity to receive multiple perspectives, support, encouragement, and interpersonal feedback from other individuals in safe and confidential environment. During the group session, members are responsible for talking about what is currently troubling them. Discussion flows according to what members would like to talk about, and in general, there is not a specific theme or topic that the group is assigned 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. As individuals begin interacting freely with other group members, they usually re-experience or recreate some of the interpersonal difficulties that prompted them to seek therapy in the first place. Within the context of a safe, supportive therapeutic atmosphere, the group is able to point out these troublesome interpersonal patterns by providing honest feedback. Thus, the group provides members the opportunity to witness how their behavior impacts others and how, in turn, they are impacted by others. As individuals increase their self-awareness, develop new ways of relating to people, and learn to relate more authentically with others, they are then able to generalize those skills to "real world" outside of group.
What to expect in a Process Group
The therapy groups that I run in my practice are “interpersonal process groups” where the common elements that bring members together are the desire for self-understanding and a shared commitment to strive towards authenticity. These groups are comprised of 5-8 individuals and meet on a weekly basis for approximately 90 minutes. The groups are varied in their composition, but all members are psychologically-minded and have had previous individual psychotherapy (or are currently in individual psychotherapy), thus they are prepared to do the more advanced psychological work of an interpersonal process group.
The first few sessions of a psychotherapy group usually focus on the establishment of trust. During this time, I will help the 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 as evidenced by their consistent attendance and their attempts to engage authentically, genuinely, and openly with one another. I utilize a here and now process: focusing on what is happening in the group through an exploration of feelings, thoughts, and desires. By examining these elements, we can deepen our experience of intimacy and vulnerability. This ongoing process of exploration and connection facilitates deeper insight about your past relationship patterns so that you can establish healthier, more satisfying relationships in and outside of 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; as the group therapist, I do not generally assign topics for the group to discuss, though will share my observations of potential personal or group issues that could merit further exploration. 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 the group therapist may serve as models for effective communication, offer problem-solving strategies, and promote self-acceptance. Unexpressed feelings are a major reason why people experience difficulties and distress in their lives. 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 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. Within the context of a safe, supportive therapeutic atmosphere, 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. 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.
A common reason that people struggle in their relationships is that they may consciously or unconsciously avoid disagreement, conflict or confrontations with others. However, if you are to have real closeness and honesty with others, then you will find that disagreement and conflict are natural outcomes of the process of understanding others. Group therapy offers you the experience of maintaining real connection with others not just despite disagreement or conflict, but through the experience of working through conflict in a healthy, appropriate manner. While it may seem counter-intuitive, it is the process of repairing ruptures in relationships that builds the sense of trust, closeness, and intimacy. Thus, with my guidance and support, my therapy groups will provide you a healing environment where you can learn to tolerate the discomforts of closeness and expand your capacity to experience the value of feelings of anger, frustration, resentment, sadness, disgust and fear. As we gently stretch and lean into these new and sometimes uncomfortable relational experiences, we begin to grow and develop the type of self-actualization we've been yearning for.
Is group therapy be as effective as individual therapy?
Group therapy is typically just as effective as individual therapy for various reasons. First, most members identify with issues other members share and find they are helping themselves just by being present and processing the issues vicariously. Second, by listening, giving feedback, and engaging other group members about their concerns, you may also be practicing new ways of interacting. Third, group therapy offers the opportunity to get multiple perspectives and increased support from peers. Fourth, the group environment offers a safe a place to try out behaviors or new ways of being.
The Aguirre Center for Inclusive Psychotherapy offers a variety of process groups, some geared for specific communities (i.e., Latinx Therapy Group) or particular groups (ie, Groups for Therapists). If you are interested in learning more about the groups we offer or ready to start your healing journey in a group:
Visit our Group Therapy information page to learn more about our current group offerings.
Visit our Getting Started Page to request an appointment to begin the process of becoming a client.
Review our Frequently Asked Questions page to learn more about what you can expect about the services we offer.