Group psychotherapy is a laboratory, a microcosm of the outside world, where we study ourselves interacting with others. The work, when we gather as a group, is horizontal rather than vertical. The focus turns to one another, so we may learn more about ourselves.
I am currently running one on-going group at A Quiet Room, on Monday nights from 7 - 8:30 pm at my office in TriBeCa. I have run multiple groups in the past, and it is possible another group will form over time.
Group psychotherapy complements individual therapy, expanding the interaction with the therapist out into a roomful of strangers. In coming to know and understand these strangers and your means of relating to them, you gain awareness of your place in the larger world.
You walk into a room filled with strangers.
You experience instantaneous, unconscious responses to each of these other people. Just as everyone else in the room does.
I like that woman - she has a friendly face.
That one looks angry, I’ll avoid him.
He’s a snob, I can tell from the way he sits.
I get a bad vibe from her. We won't get along.
Each person will have broader responses, too:
Feel an impulse to win the room over.
Decide to lay low.
Hope for silence.
Pray someone starts talking.
I leave my therapy group in silence sometimes. Observe their reactions.
Some find it soothing.
Others seem panicked.
The responses you have to strangers are based upon predictions.
Like Pavlov's dogs, you have past experiences with other, similar people.
You make new predictions based on those outcomes. You expect what happened last time to happen again.
Your predictions might be accurate.
But this unconscious process can lead to critical mistakes.
In daily life, you meet a new person and make assumptions.
You compare that person with someone in your past. This comparison drives your response.
Maybe he reminds you of an authority figure who encouraged and supported you.
You try to sound intelligent, and mention your accomplishments.
Or you might have a negative response. Maybe he reminds you of someone you disliked as a kid.
You clam up and avoid him.
You are not relating consciously to the person.
You are relating unconsciously to your past.
When you respond very strongly to someone you barely know, that response is likely based on past experience, not present reality.
Mostly, you relate to the world the way you related in your family.
In a roomful of strangers, the person who clams up probably clammed up in his family, too.
The person who is warm and outgoing probably still plays that role at family get-togethers.
As a child, your family is your world. You adapt to survive there.
Those adaptations live on.
For an article about group therapy from Will's blog, The People's Therapist, click here.