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What Is Group Process: How to run a process group

Updated: Mar 26

What is a process group?

A process group consists of six to eight people who are, in general, looking to enhance and improve relationships with themselves and other people in order to live a more fulfilling and satisfying. The group therapist is there to help members find out what gets in the way of achieving this alone.


how to run a process group : group therapy skills #1


Let me tell you my recurring group nightmare....


Imagine that I'm stepping into my first group therapy session and I'm kinda feeling confident.


I say hello, and the group just stares at me in silence.


Or even worse, they don't stare at me, they're looking at the walls - they are just silent.

And bored.


So I do that thing you're supposed to do and "hold the silence", but it goes on, and on.


Crickets.


Tumbleweed.




My hands are sweating as I type this. It's a horrible thought for me still, and I've lead hundreds of groups in different settings. This experience is a universal terror for new therapists and seasoned ones. It's BRUTAL!


However, in this blog post and video, I am going to share a technique I use all the time that will help give you techniques and strategies to use so that this doesn't happen.


It's a game-changer!


If you're finding me, my name is Oliver, and I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and a Certified Group Psychotherapist (CGP). With nearly a decade of experience running various types of therapy groups, I understand the nuances and challenges of this role. I've done a lot of extra group therapy training and supervision in psychodynamic therapy and modern group psychoanalysis that help me not only facilitate a good group process, but also to help train other therapists in my role as Clinical Director and Clinical Supervisor.


Understanding Process Groups: The Spectrum of Group Therapy

To run a process group effectively, it's essential to understand what sets it apart from other types of groups. Imagine a spectrum of groups: on one end, there are leaderless or social groups, like those formed on Meetup.com for casual activities. In the middle, you'll find more structured groups with a leader, a goal, and specific learning objectives - parenting groups are a prime example of this.


On the far end of this spectrum lie process groups, which are distinct in their focus on the interpersonal dynamics within the group. The essence of a process group lies in exploring the interactions among members - how they relate, react, and connect with each other. Unlike social gatherings or even structured educational groups, process groups delve into the realm of relationships, emotions, and personal growth.

types of group therapy - with process groups at one end of the spectrum

What Is Group Process?


In a process group, typically consisting of six to eight members, the goal is to enhance and improve relationships with oneself and others, fostering a more fulfilling and satisfying life. The therapist plays a crucial role in guiding this journey, helping members uncover and work through the barriers that hinder their interpersonal growth.


A process group consists of six to eight people who are in general looking to enhance and improve relationships with themselves and other people in order to live a more fulfilling and satisfying. The group therapist is there to help members find out what gets in the way of achieving this alone.

Such groups are not just about discussing issues; they are about learning effective and affective communication, handling conflicts, and developing a deeper understanding of oneself in relation to others. This is where process groups diverge significantly from other types of gatherings, like AA meetings, which might have organized elements but lack a focus on interpersonal processing.



How To Run A Process Group

If the goal of group therapy is to help people talk about their feelings, connect in new ways and understand what blocks them from doing this normally, then you're probably smart enough to realize that this absolutely won't happen by itself.


In all probability, a group of eight strangers is going to sit in awkward silence, perhaps waiting for the therapist to take charge. Alternatively, a member might assume an unofficial 'therapist' role, suggesting activities like introductions to break the ice. Sometimes, an individual might plunge into sharing personal, deep-seated issues, setting a precedent for the group's interaction, which is not usually a good thing.


If the group members won't spontaneously engage in meaningful dialogue and profound self-discovery, how do we get them to do it?


This stage is critical in group therapy because it sets the tone for future sessions. The silence and hesitance are not just obstacles but opportunities. They are indicative of the group's current state of mind - a blend of anticipation, fear, and the natural human tendency to regress in unfamiliar settings. Recognizing and navigating this initial awkwardness is pivotal in steering the group toward productive and meaningful interaction.


Modern Group Analysis and Group Therapy Techniques

Modern group analysis offers a framework for understanding and guiding these complex dynamics. It's a blend of theory and technique grounded in maturational developmental concepts.


As a therapist, your interventions are attuned to the relational capacities of the individuals and the group collectively. The goal is to foster the maturation of group members, encouraging them to evolve from a regressed state to one of healthy adult interaction.


This approach requires a deep understanding of group dynamics and the ability to adapt your techniques to suit the group's developmental stage. Whether you're leading a psychoeducational group, an art therapy session, or a more traditional process group, the principles of modern group analysis can be seamlessly integrated. The techniques are not one-size-fits-all; they are adaptable and responsive to the unique needs and progress of each group.


Establishing the Group Therapy Agreement

A cornerstone of effective group therapy, at least through the lens of Modern Group Therapy is establishing a group agreement or contract. This agreement is not just a set of rules; it's a mutual understanding of the behaviors and norms governing the group's interactions. In a way, it's akin to the unspoken agreement we adhere to when attending a play or a lecture - a set of expectations that defines our role and participation.


The group agreement in therapy might include commitments like punctuality, confidentiality, equitable participation, and the expression of thoughts and feelings in words rather than actions.


It's essential to discuss and agree upon these rules collectively, ensuring that every member feels involved and accountable. With groups like teenagers in residential treatment, involving them in creating these rules can significantly enhance their commitment and empowerment.


However, the beauty of this agreement lies not in its strict enforcement but in its role as a tool for exploration and understanding when people don't follow it. Inevitably, these rules will be broken, but each breach presents a unique opportunity to delve deeper into the underlying issues and dynamics at play. It's not about punishment or enforcement; it's about using these moments to gain insight into each member's behaviors and motivations.


When people don't follow the group agreement, we assume there's a resistance there, and rather than shame or blame, our job is to help illuminate it, understand it and work through it.


how to run a process group with the group agreement

Using The Group Agreement To Start The Group Processing

One of the primary challenges in group therapy is addressing the silence that often marks the beginning of a session. As a therapist, it's essential to recognize this silence not as a barrier but as an opportunity to foster deeper engagement. Encouraging participation is key; for instance, posing open-ended questions like, "What's going on with the group right now?" or "Why are we finding it hard to talk?" can prompt members to reflect and respond.

Balancing group dynamics also involves managing dominant members, who may inadvertently stifle others' participation. In such cases, it's crucial to gently intervene, as in the example of 'James', to redirect the focus and ensure equitable participation. By reminding members of their agreement to express thoughts and feelings and to address their reactions to others, you can facilitate a more balanced and interactive environment.


The Group Agreement and The Group Process

When someone breaks the group agreement, it's an opportunity rich with potential for growth and understanding. Instead of viewing these breaches as failures or disruptions, they can be seen as gateways to deeper understanding. For instance, if a member consistently arrives late, it's an opportunity to explore underlying issues that might be influencing this behavior. Perhaps there was traffic, sure, but also perhaps this group member is avoiding a confrontation or expressing a feeling to someone. We can use the group agreement gently to help them work through whatever that fear or concern is and help give them the tools to communicate and connect.


Effective handling of the group agreement involves open, non-judgmental discussion. Asking the members about their experiences and feelings related to the breach can lead to insights not only for the individual but for the entire group. This approach transforms potential conflict into a learning moment, reinforcing the group's collective commitment to growth and understanding.


Frequently Asked Questions About What Group Process Is


  1. What is a group process in therapy?

  • Group process in therapy refers to the way a group will work together to understand, explore and connect with each other, using progressive emotional communication to deepen their under

  1. How does a group process work?

  • It involves regular meetings where members share and explore their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, while receiving feedback and support from the group and the therapist.

  1. What are the benefits of a group process?

  • Benefits include gaining insight from others' experiences, learning new ways of relating to people, and developing a sense of community.

  1. Who can benefit from group process therapy?

  • Individuals facing various mental health challenges, such as anxiety, depression, or interpersonal issues, can benefit from group process therapy.

  1. What is the role of the therapist in a group process?

  • The therapist facilitates discussions, ensures a safe environment, and helps members to understand and process their interactions within the group.

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