Why Join a Psychotherapy Group? 1 First Questions


Groups are scary! We all know the truth that groups can be very scary when other people treat us in ways that we don’t like and they seem to be indifferent or even take pleasure in our discomfort and vulnerability. So why would one join a psychotherapy group with six or seven group members who are strangers to us and whose motivations and personalities we know nothing about? We might perhaps trust the group psychotherapist who will be conducting the group for the 90 minutes meeting every week but what to make of the expectation of sharing difficult experiences and emotions and making known one’s thoughts about oneself and others? How could this most scary of places possibly be helpful?

I am a group analyst with 20 years experience of conducting psychotherapy groups of all kinds and want to show you that it is entirely normal to be wary when considering entering group psychotherapy. Your trust needs to be earnt and not taken for granted. Not everyone will benefit from group psychotherapy and it helps to know what factors make it more likely that you will benefit and that the preconditions of sufficient safety are in place.

Let’s start with the basics. Is the group psychotherapist you are considering someone whose training has included extensive experience of several years personal therapy in a psychotherapy group? Has that person, as part of their training and subsequently, conducted groups under the supervision of a qualified and experienced training group psychotherapist? Has this training been with a reputable psychotherapy training organization? Is the group psychotherapist registered with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy or British Psychoanalytic Council?

Next are your needs. Are you being offered a full psychotherapy consultation and consideration being given to your unique therapy needs? What needs are being suggested would be met more effectively by group psychotherapy than individual therapy and by the particular group that you are considering? Do you feel understood and safe with the group psychotherapist? How have they responded to your questions and concerns – are they too quick to reassure you or have they taken the time to explore the full extent and roots of your fears? Has the possibility of individual sessions, prior to joining the group, been discussed with you either to assist your further self-understanding and sense of security or in helping to stay in contact whilst awaiting an agreed start date?

Next is the setting of the group. Is the building and the room quiet and comfortably furnished with a toilet available nearby? Does the entrance and reception offer a feeling of respect and confidentiality that engenders confidence in psychotherapeutic activity being understood and supported?

And finally, how clear are the boundaries for the group and group members? Will the room always be the same and the time of group sessions’ start and ending remain punctual and constant? How is it explained that group psychotherapy therapy benefits from being a ‘stranger group’ with no ‘dual relationships’ and avoiding of contact between members between sessions? How will group members be informed of breaks or of new members joining? How do you contact the group psychotherapist if you need to inform them of an unavoidable absence or lateness? What discussion is there of fees if different rates are offered to members? What explanation is given of the contract for mutual confidentiality of members and what happens if you know someone in the group or happen to meet them in another situation?

If you feel that your consultation has satisfactorily answered all these questions then you are probably in safe hands to begin your journey.

In my next article, I shall explore why groups do feel so scary and how group psychotherapy may be just the form of therapy to help you … or for you to avoid or postpone joining a group until you are further on in developing a sense of Self and are better able to express your fears whilst in the presence of others.

Marcus Page

Group Analyst, NHS Consultant Psychotherapist (retired) UKCp reg 5616