Group psychotherapy is the collaborative exploration of relationships as they develop among the members of a group, including the therapist. It offers the opportunity to see ourselves through the eyes of others, and to see ourselves in others. The group creates an environment where we can experiment with ways of being in the world.
Group psychotherapy is not primarily a problem solving therapy and there are no pre-set topics. Instead group members are invited to participate in an open conversation, a kind of free association between the members of the group including the conductor.
Through the developing network of relationships, we can discover the unconscious influences affecting our current emotional experience. Over time our inner world becomes more available to us through our experience of the group, and the group itself takes its own place inside us as a resource for the future.
Group therapy offers a different experience from working one-on-one: The group itself becomes your therapist, guided by my knowledge and insight as conductor. Sometimes group therapy is a more appropriate choice than individual therapy and offers unique possibilities and challenges.
While the idea of working in a group may be intimidating, we all grow up and live out our lives as members of groups, whether family and friends, school groups and employment: Group therapy helps us to find the freedom to be ourselves as we participate in those groups.
Working in a group makes psychotherapy available when we would not normally be able to afford it, or when we would not be able to make time during our day to attend appointments. In an environment where public funding for psychotherapy is limited, groups allow me to work with people who might not otherwise be able to afford therapy.
I set the group up thoughtfully so the unconscious of the individual members and the unconscious of the group can be observed and understood. Over time a group takes on a life of its own that can stand for something vital in the minds of its members, making use of our fundamental human ability to have one thing stand for another.
Currently I have one group meeting in Grey Lynn, Auckland. We are a mix of men and women with a wide range of issues. The group meets on a Tuesday evening from 7:00 to 8:30 pm and have been meeting since May 2007. This group is “slow-open”, so it is not possible to join or to leave from 15th October to 15th March. Newcomers commit to a minimum of twelve evenings, and if someone decides to leave they are asked to attend four more meetings to allow for an appropriate transition. The joining process from first contact takes about a month.
“The individual is, and always has been, a member of a group, even if his membership of it consists of behaving in such a way that reality is given to an idea that he does not belong to a group at all. The individual is a group animal at war, both with the group and with those aspects of his personality that constitute his “groupishness” … In fact no individual, however isolated in time and space, should be regarded as outside a group, or lacking in active manifestations of group psychology.”
Bion, 1961, pp. 168-169