U-M Counseling and Psychological Services

Why are groups helpful?

Group therapy is frequently more effective than individual therapy in helping people acquire new ways of thinking, feeling,and behaving. This effectiveness stems from the fact that group members can practice new behaviors both within the group and in their everyday interactions outside of group.

Group members often work on their relationships with one another. This can involve developing trust, building intimacy, or working through conflicts. With time, you can then carry over the work that you do on relationships with other group members to your relationships outside of the group. At some point you will begin to see how working on relationships with other group members can translate into progress on the concerns that brought you to CAPS in the first place.

Like other forms of therapy, what you get out of your group experience will depend largely on what you invest into it.

What You Can Get From Your Group Experience

  • Group is designed to re-create some of the interpersonal situations that cause problems in your life.

    What's different about group is that you can experiment with more helpful ways of dealing with those types of situations. The "feeling better" part happens after you have practiced these new behaviors, thoughts, and feelings.

  • Learning to initiate things.

    To the extent that the leader refrains from imposing structure on the group, group members have an opportunity to learn how to get things going on their own, without depending on someone else to do it for them. Each person, with the help of the leaders, can learn to express her or his own wishes and to act on her or his own instincts instead of continually being tuned into the expectations and pressures coming from other people.

  • Learning about closeness and intimacy.

    What often blocks people from being close is the fear of being pushed around by other people's feelings, demands, and expectations. When they begin to get close, they get tangled up on the feeling level. In the group there is a chance to learn how to disentangle the problems that arise in relationships so that people can be close and still retain their freedom, autonomy, and self-assertiveness.

  • Experiment with new ways of relating to the world.

    Most of us rely on only one or two fixed relationship styles when encountering others. Group is a kind of laboratory where all kinds of experiments can be tried out, where new ways of relating and communicating can be risked, where a certain percentage of failures can be accepted, as with any experimental situation.

Strategies (For getting the most out of your group experience)

  • Be as honest as possible.

    Honesty doesn't necessarily mean sharing your deepest darkest secrets. Honesty simply means doing your best to share your thoughts and feelings as they arise during a group meeting.

    Say out loud when you feel frustrated, excited, scared, disengaged, sad, angry, confused, happy, annoyed or are unsure of what you're feeling. For example, "I felt sad while you were talking about your experience.".

  • Ask for feedback.

    One of the best things that group has to offer is the advantage of getting input from 6-8 people instead of just one therapist.

    Getting feedback from other group members is one of the best ways to overcome worries about how you are perceived by others.

    Let's say you just made a comment to the group. Now you are wondering if what you said sounded silly, strange, stupid, annoying, etc. Instead of sitting there silently and worrying (like you normally do), state your concern out loud and ask the group for their reactions.

    When you receive feedback from other members, try to remain open and simply listen to what they have to say. Look for the merits in their perspective, rather than the flaws. Then, you can always share your reaction—what ever that reaction may be.

  • Try something new.

    You can think of group as a safe setting in which you can test out different ways of interacting with people and see how it feels for you. For example, if you want to learn to be more socially outgoing, you could work on that by initiating more interactions with other group members. Then, you could ask for feedback on your new behaviors.

    How much you get out of your group experience will depend on how much you are willing to take risks in group. Group therapy is helpful, in part, because it will provide you with a safe environment in which you can say and do things that you might not be willing to say and do outside of group.

  • Learn to identify and communicate in the here and now.

    Most of the time we live in the past or the future. Or our thoughts are "somewhere else"—perhaps tied up with some problem or worry. In the group, there is an opportunity to focus our awareness on what's going on RIGHT THIS INSTANT, so that we may regain the kind of contact we once had with our environment and ourselves.

  • Engage your fellow group members.

    Ask questions of one another. Challenge each other when you notice: someone is silent or vague, when you disagree or see a different perspective, or when you see others are disengaged or defensive.