Is Group Therapy More Relevant Than Ever Before?
Usually we think of therapy as being one-to-one, but there is also a long tradition of group therapy
Psychotherapist Aisling Fegan explores the unique benefits of group therapy
It’s a New Year; a time to recalibrate and reconnect with the world around us. Group therapy, whether online or in-person, can offer a hopeful way to connect with others, foster healthy relationships and get to know ourselves better. So, let’s talk about online group therapy. What is it? Why might you consider attending and what should you expect?
What is group therapy?
Group therapy, specifically group analytic therapy uses the group as the primary mechanism for change. In short, the group is the therapy. It is a multifaceted process, full of depth and meaning.
According to founder Dr S.H. Foulkes, “the method and theory of group analysis is concerned with a dynamic understanding of the inner working of the human mind as a social, multi-personal phenomenon.” Dynamics arising in group therapy speak to our wider social, cultural and political context. To echo the phrase “the personal is political” (a quote that arose during the student movement in the late 1960’s), the personal is truly appreciated as political in group analytic therapy. This can be a reparative and transformative experience for group members.
...a little bit about the history of group analysis
In 1940, psychiatrist and refugee (who escaped Nazi Germany) Dr S.H. Foulkes invited the people sitting in his full waiting room to free associate with each other. From this, he brought these people together to undertake therapy as a group. And like this, group analytic therapy was born.
Later at Northfield’s military hospital, Foulkes worked alongside John Rickman and Wilfred Bion in response to World War Two. Here, he continued to develop his group analytic thinking and with others, pioneered a group programme to serve the needs of men who had experienced terrible things during war.
Why group therapy online?
At it's core, group therapy online is about realism and meaningful, cross border connection. It offers safe and consistent space to think about personal and shared social issues, like racism, the climate crisis and eco-anxiety.
Being in group therapy with others from around the world can help us to think outside of our own heads, culture and society. This simply is not possible with in-person therapy. This process offers an authentic and alternative perspective. It can help us to see beyond our social norms. This is something one of the founding members of the Institute of Group Analysis, Patrick De Maré referred to as outsight; “the outward expansion of social consciousness and thoughtfulness”. For some people, this can be a lifeline.
Online group therapy can be more accessible and it is often a preferred experience. Maybe you live in a remote place and want to think with other curious people, outside of your immediate bubble? Or, maybe you have commitments in your life like caring for a relative, parenting, your hours of employment or education? Perhaps, online therapy suits your health needs? Or maybe, you travel a lot? Online therapy can be a consistent and safe space in your life. It can be an anchor.
What to expect?
Starting a group may be a new experience. As a group analytic therapist, I meet with group members individually before they begin the group. This is an opportunity to think about whether the group might be right for you. The process of entering the group moves at your pace. There is no rush. Some people prefer to work individually in therapy, before entering group therapy.
Group analytic therapy is offered for 90 minutes, on a weekly basis. You will need to make certain arrangements to accommodate this type of group into your week; like creating and protecting the time in your week to attend.
There are usually up to eight regular members. Group analytic therapy typically involves a commitment that you attend for a minimum of one year. This helps to establish a sense of safety and a knowing that the group will be together in a consistent and ongoing way; through ups and downs.
Foulkes, S. H., (1975) Group-Analytic Psychotherapy. Method & Principles. London: Gordon and Breach. Later: reprint Karnac Books.
Lenn, R. & Stefano, K., 2012. Small, Large and Median Groups: The Work of Patrick de Maré. s.l.:Karnac Books.