Group Therapy – The Do’s, Don’ts, and What to Expect

Entering into treatment for the first time can be a daunting task, especially when part of the treatment consists of group therapy. There are a number of challenges but even more rewards in participating in this form therapy. Here I hope to provide some information on what to expect as you enter into and participate in group therapy, with guidelines for creating a safe and therapeutic experience and suggestions towards making the most out your treatment experience.

The first and most important thing to consider is confidentiality. There’s the saying “What’s said here, stays here” and this is crucial towards creating a group which can feel safe sharing about themselves with one another. Group members need to be able to trust one another as they grow comfortable sharing with each other about highly personal thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and experiences. This is not to say one should not talk about their groups outside of group, keeping to themselves their experience and topics explored. It is recommended that individuals in treatment share with friends and family both benefits and barriers they experience in treatment. The caution here is that they do not offer any personal or identifying information or share detailed information about a peer in their group, when talking with loved ones.

The second thing that stands out as important is maintaining an atmosphere of respect while in group. While in treatment and participating in groups, individuals may feel challenged or may feel the need to challenge their peers. This is healthy and part of the process. However, it is recommended that group members practice patience and open-mindedness, understanding that treatment and change is a process for each individual. It is often best when individuals speak from their own experience and use ‘I’ statements (e.g. “When that happens, I feel…” or “I think that…”).

With confidentiality and respect as starting points, individuals are afforded the opportunity to take advantage of the group process. Keep in mind that “closed mouths don’t get fed.” Everyone in the group, with assistance and direction from the group facilitator, should be provided with the opportunity to share. While it is up to each individual to decide for themselves what or how much to disclose, individual’s level of participation often matches the benefit they feel from the group. Most individuals find that they are slow to open up in a group initially but with time become more open and trusting. With this being said, group members are recommended to share the time. Taking time to practice active listening and providing support to peers are crucial elements of this process.

While actively participating in groups, both in sharing and listening, it is recommended that you pay attention to your feelings and thinking about your thinking. It is common for feelings to arise in the group process, as well as thoughts to occur which may expose beliefs that are working against you. Both thoughts and feelings can serve as a barrier to your level of participation, but when acknowledged and shared with the group they can lead to a transformative experience.

Finally, carry the work outside. Treatment, group therapy, is not something that exists within that one hour or within the walls of a treatment setting. Group members are routinely exposed to new ideas and perspectives, learned ability to experience feelings (positive and negative), ways of thinking, coping skills and recovery behaviors. Please take the experience of group and apply what you have learned and insights you have developed into your life. This is the purpose of the group: To develop a new, healthy way of living with support and encouragement from people who understand you.

Author: Jonathan Blauvelt, MA – Clincal Supervisor – Footprints to Recovery

Stephanie Ballard, LPC, CADC

Currently attending The Chicago School of Professional Psychology's Business Psychology PhD Program with an emphasis in Consulting. Graduate of The Chicago School of Professional Psychology's Masters of Arts in Clinical Counseling Program with an emphasis in Addiction.

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