The group really helped me, sharing made me a new person. The client was trying to describe the way that being in group counseling had benefited them. I am a believer in group therapy. I have seen the things that happen when a group is on task and working. The clients can see it also.
There is a saying in groups that “we are only as sick as our secrets.” One powerful way in which groups can help people is to allow them to tell their story in a supportive environment. When it works it can be magic.
Twelve step groups are self-help group’s not professional therapy. But in the addiction field we quickly learned the value of being in a group that understood what you are going through and who were all supportive of your recovery. In mental health groups we see the same results. People all sharing about their life struggles makes us feel more connected and less alone. Powerful things happen in peer support groups.
Some professionals are leery of groups. They have suggested to me that group counseling is a lessor sort. They tell me that “real therapy” takes place with one client and one therapist in the room. I try to avoid arguing. Then why do we do couples counseling and family counseling if it is best done in an individual session I ask? I try to listen politely to their answers.
Most of life is about relationships. We are wounded in our relationships and most often we are healed by a helping, supportive relationship. Sometimes that relationship is a counselor, sometimes it is a group.
Not all groups are safe places to tell your most painful life events. In therapy groups it is up to the leader to make groups a safe place. In self-help groups it can be riskier. We talk about confidentiality and anonymity but that is no guarantee that someone will not break the rules and repeat what another person said. The longer the group has been together the safer people feel but it is never without risks.
What I often see happen is that people try to keep things secret in group that everyone else in group knew already. When someone is arrested for a DUI it is in the paper, when they come to group they hint vaguely about a self-control problem and demand confidentiality.
More than once a client has told me something in a private session and then a few weeks later their courage now turned up a notch, they tell the whole group. In most every case the result was that the group understood and supported them in their disclosure and the person, now having publically admitted their defects of character, finds they have unburdened themselves and are no longer keep in pain by that secret.
Some of us have spent our whole life’s trying to hide our true selves from others. There is something very freeing about opening up and sharing about our total selves, warts and all. People who have to hide themselves from others not only cover up their flaws, they cover up their endearing qualities also.
Sharing who you really are can indeed make you a whole new person.