Everywhere we look, we see evidence of the fact that some maladies of the human heart are best cured by groups. What is the secret power of the human gathering?
From self-led recovery circles like Alcoholics Anonymous to stories of delinquent youth finding purpose through team sports, from adults finding joy in community theater and amateur choirs to bodily healing taking place through group prayer– it is clear that in the right circumstances, humans are able to access deeper dimensions of wellbeing through groups than without them.
Perhaps it’s because we are wired at deep biological levels for group belonging, like many mammals (and especially those mammals to whom we are most closely related!). Whatever the reason may be, long before the concept of group therapy was even formulated, the natural truth existed already, that a group heals what cannot be fully healed alone.
Some who embark on their healing journey may dread group therapy activities, and in all honesty we have good reason to do so, because the inverse of the above is also true: groups can also harm us in deeper ways than any individual could. All humans carry some degree of wounding related to the aspect of us that interfaces with groups. Those who have experienced bullying, scapegoating, marginalization and other forms of pain at the hands of groups often carry deep, unprocessed trauma about what happened to us in a group setting.
It is for all these reasons that group therapy is one of the most potent medicines against that which makes us sick at heart. It is precisely because groups have special healing properties and because we have been wounded by groups, that joining a group with the specific intention to heal has magnified results for us.
Group therapy activities are facilitated by a practitioner who is capable of holding the space for the higher healing of the group, as well as encouraging healing process within individuals in that group setting. In other words, the group as a whole is a “patient” receiving healing medicine, as is each person within the group.
Group therapy activities are designed to give participants the chance to practice ways of relating which are better for the human heart, but which we may not have had the chance to learn yet.
In group therapy activities, we learn to speak about our own true experiences, be deeply understood and accepted, and also hear the others. It is through the power of group therapy activities that we come to internalize a healthier sense of our “just right” size, as one among many, entitled to belonging on a platform of total equality. When the core wound around whether or not we belong is finally healed, then we have no problem extending that basic, just-because-you’re-human belonging to another, without conditions and requirements.
While talk-based group therapy activities are highly effective, alternative forms of group therapy activities are magically potent as well. Expressive arts therapy, gardening, and yoga all work beautifully in the group setting. Whatever ails you, there’s a group for it; there are groups dedicated to healing relationship struggles, groups for those of us who hear voices, groups for those going through specific life stages, and of course, those with addiction.
Regardless of a group’s specific dedicated focus, a good group is one in which the balance is held so that all may be authentic, and yet all are also guided to follow basic behavioral expectations that ensure and protect the belonging and safety of all in the group. The individual must never overpower the group, but also the group must not cause harm to an individual. When we can all reasonably belong, as we are, while we go about the business of healing, it is a good group.
In group therapy we can heal the most basic wound of all, which is the question many of us hold in our hearts: if I were to be honest about how I really feel, if I were to show who I really am on the inside, would I still be accepted, liked and loved? Or would I be rejected, disowned, marginalized, pushed away, shamed, and cut off from the supply of group love and belonging, if I did not perform the appearance of agreeing and belonging, of not having my own thoughts and opinions?
If this sounds like THE question of human existence, you’re not wrong. Because every single person on planet earth struggles with this piece to some degree or another at this time, I believe that it inside groups that our greatest healing will happen. Thanks for reading!