Life itself still remains a very effective therapist. - Karen Horney
I posted last week on the first meeting of this "Opening up" group. The reflection sheets everyone had filled in after the initial meeting had been copied and sent to all participants, so we already had more material to work with as we started this second session. I've experimented with different ways of beginning interpersonal group meetings over the years. In peer groups I usually bid to start with a few minutes of silence. I find it seems to help people "arrive" and then to engage more deeply, more quickly - it certainly does this for me.
Often then there would be agreement that everyone who wants to "checks in". I usually start interpersonal groups I'm leading with this round of check ins too. I suggest that if bigger issues start to emerge, the person involved considers flagging the issue as something to return to once everyone has had an opportunity to briefly say how they're doing. Strong emotion however typically "trumps" other structures so - if someone is pretty charged up - I would usually make space for them to work straight away. This is both about going with the general guideline that strong emotion usually highlights that an issue is worth looking at, and about going right ahead to focus on "emotional elephants in the corner of the room" rather than have them distract everyone from other less charged work.
So we checked in. Good. Then issues were picked up both from the reflection sheets and from what had been said as people checked in. We're working on three relationship domains in these groups - relationships in our pasts & how they've affected us, our current relationship networks & what's going right & wrong with them, and relationships in the here-and-now of the group. Good discussions. People raised important issues in their lives. Others responded with their experience, insights, and feedback. Caring and open; increasingly so. Learning to trust. Feeling accepted. Seeing others take risks in self-disclosure and taking risks oneself - and finding out it's OK. Important, especially at this stage of the group. The handout on "Therapeutic factors in groups" highlights that the benefits of group therapy come in a whole series of ways. Typically interpersonal factors (both expression & feedback), catharsis and especially group cohesiveness are rated particularly highly - but it varies with the stage of the group and with the psychological robustness & emotional intelligence of the participants.
The here-and-now relationships in the group are a particularly rich potential source of learning - partly because we've all witnessed the development of these "group relationships" and can give each other well-informed, eye-witness feedback. I now asked people to pair up (there was one group of three) to talk more about this in-the-group relationship domain. I introduced the "Needs, beliefs & behaviours" model that highlights how our past experience of relationships can so strongly colour our current relationships out "in the world", and also our here-and-now relationships in this group. It's a model I've described more fully in a series of blog posts - "Our life stories ... part one, needs", "Our life stories ... part two, beliefs", "Our life stories ... part three, behaviours" and "Our life stories ... part four, relationships". So the pair exercise was to talk with one's partner about how experience in past relationships (especially early in our lives) is affecting how we're relating here with others in this group - and to talk to about what each of us wants to change in our "interpersonal styles". Paraphrasing Alice Miller "The walls we build to protect ourselves become the prisons in which we live". This is jailbreak time!
See "Opening up, third session" for a description of next week's meeting.