The Healing Crowd

All about group therapy: what it is, why it works, and which group is right for you.

Group Therapy as Family of Destination

Would you like to have a new family?

Recently during a consultation I read a transcript of a session by the therapist.  This is a group where many components of positive psychology are being employed and the group is functioning much better after introducing elements of positive psychotherapy (PPT).  The therapist noticed that one of the primary therapeutic factors, altruism, had emerged more prominently in the group with PPT. (See prior posts on therapeutic factors and positive psychotherapy for more details).

Each member during the session was encouraging and offering help to other members, giving concrete suggestions from their own life.   This was done without advice giving, correcting, criticizing, or condemning the members supported one another in a genuine and nurturing fashion.

This prompted one member to speak up:  "We always talk about family of origin," he offered, "But the reason I come to group is because this is my family of destination.  This is the direction I want to be heading in my life".

This gave me pause for thought.  Group has long since been seen as correction of the original family dynamics.  Irvin Yalom, a pioneer and leader in the field of group therapy identifies the corrective recapitulation of the primary family as one of the top therapeutic factors for making changes in one’s life.  Over time our family of origin infuses us with the rules and "culture" of our family dynamics.  We soak it in and learn how to be in the world by following these rules.  But in group therapy other members and the therapist challenge these dynamics and the blueprint given to us by our family.  Our beliefs come under inspection and, little by little, we find there are people who give us feedback very different from our family members.  This is difficult to take in initially, but over time we adjust our sense of how we see ourselves.  

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Imagine that our family gave us a variety of distorted mirrors to use as feedback about who we are, like in a fun house.  Those mirrors could make us tall or short, or wide, or skinny, but whatever the distortion we didn’t get an accurate sense of who we are.  In group therapy the feedback becomes more like a regular mirror.  If our family distortion told us we were three feet tall and six feet wide and we took this self-image out into the world, we wouldn't reach for what we wanted because we thought we were too short.  As feedback from the group alters this image there is also support offered for accepting it.  

We find from the members that we have gifts and talents and strengths that were not noticed, or ignored, or blocked. As our self image evolves from the feedback of the group we can see ourselves differently in the world and make changes that allow us to enhance out well-being:  Not a bad destination to set our sights on.

Daniel J. Tomasulo, Ph.D., TEP, MFA, is a licensed psychologist specializing in group psychotherapy and psychodrama.

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