It takes a village - the group therapy approach to mental health

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

In recent years, mental health awareness has become a key focus, destigmatizing individual therapy and seeking support. The ongoing pandemic has further added to a serious need to support the ever-growing population that is battling various mental and public health concerns. You may find increasing literature and posts on social media that demystify individual therapy but there’s a dearth of information and possible avenues for group-based support systems. Here’s a starting point to the conversation.


Isolation is a prime factor contributing to deteriorating mental health. In the pandemic, we have noticed heightened disconnection, dysregulation and yearning to feel that one is not alone in their struggles.

BecauseYOU was born primarily from this need to fill the gap in community healing and support that is missing currently. While support groups exist to provide a safe space to distressed voices and coping with ongoing or past suffering, the group process we follow takes principles of traditional group therapy and group work to enhance connection to the community and enable a compassionate, holistic understanding of one’s life struggles.

So why group and not individual?

While group based work is not a replacement to individual therapy, it is naturally complementary to individual work.

One of the key factors in individual therapy that makes it so effective is the relationship between the client and the therapist (the ‘therapeutic relationship’). In group therapy, the healing interaction extends beyond just between the client and the therapist, to the relationships between other members of the group. Essentially, a group has the potential of maximizing healing relationships.

Experiencing the stories of others helped me gain a new perspective on my own journey and on life. I’ve never been more comfortable talking about my feelings and emotions. And I now see the value it adds in my life. (Sudhan, BecauseYOU community member)”


Irvin Yalom, also known as the ‘father of group therapy’ proposed factors such as self-understanding, interpersonal learning, universality, instillation of hope, catharsis, identification and guidance from group members as contributing to healing of individuals. He was of the opinion that “People need people - for initial and continued survival, for socialization, for the pursuit of satisfaction. No one - not the dying, not the outcast, not the mighty - transcends the need for human contact.”


The idea of commonality, of not having to do everything alone and being witness to the vulnerability of others have the capacity to boost change and growth for others. Somehow, a space becomes available for aspects of one’s self that are difficult to engage with or look at alone in groups.

Another key aspect of group therapy is connection and regulation. We all have a need to be seen and heard. Connection is at the heart of all human experiences. Very often, mental health concerns and other life transitions lead to a disconnection or loss of intimacy in relationships and may interfere with our capacity to have meaningful engagement with our environment.

Arielle Schwartz, a renowned clinical psychologist in the area of complex trauma, defined co-regulation as the way in which one person’s autonomic nervous system sensitively interacts with another person’s autonomic nervous system in a way that facilitates greater emotional balance and physical health.


Simply put, the presence of others can influence us in a multitude of ways and can create a safe, supportive space of acceptance, compassion and connection for our own painful experiences. A shared space usually also lends itself to corrective experiences and instilling of trust and hope in times of distress. Group therapy aims not only to help individuals cope, but also to tap into their internal and external resources that can deepen their connections in interpersonal relationships and improve self-awareness.


From a Group of Strangers to a Community

Joining a group of strangers might sound awkward, to say the least, or even intimidating! But with time and the right facilitation, groups transform into healing spaces and allow for building of community. In our experience with past cohorts, the initial awkwardness very quickly dissolves, lending itself to enthusiastic participation and formation of strong connections.


“I was sceptical about this (group) approach, but once I started, I realised it was just right for me. I looked forward to each session. Even though this was an online program, it was designed so well that our community developed strong bonds.(Sai, BecauseYOU Community Member)


While maintaining the basic principles of safety and confidentiality, our emphasis is on building a community of care, compassion, appreciation, love and empowerment that continues to rely on the support of these group members they get to know over a course of a few weeks as their support systems and cheerleaders.


Our version of Group Therapy

Moving away from illness, our approach is wellness focused and highlights the belief that people are always responding and possess the ability and capacity to grow. Mental health is more than just overcoming languishing, it is striving for flourishing – and through our groups, we attempt to take this striving and make it an achievable goal.

At BecauseYOU, our groups are focused on building awareness and resourcing clients in non-directive ways – the facilitator is not an expert but a co-traveller with the client, gently guiding them on their individual journey. Using an eclectic mix of mind-body therapeutic approaches, the facilitators co-create a space for mutual understanding, safe exploration of difficult emotions and the practice of self-soothing. Our facilitators come with their own lived experiences of mental health challenges, and their own journey has a very significant role to play in the practices they bring to the table and in their approach to the group.


“I love being part of the BecauseYOU community, it’s a source of comfort for me. The facilitators truly ‘get it’ since they have been on the journey themselves. I find that I am able to connect better to the people outside of the community by practising vulnerability within the community. (Divya, BecauseYOU Community Member)

With a major focus on acceptance of the whole self, the goal is not to make certain emotions or problems go away or be 'fixed'. Rather, the purpose is to build the capacity of group members to ride through waves of big and small emotions or sensations together. That may look sometimes like learning ways to cope, building capacity in interpersonal awareness or simply finding meaning in their experience. This is done using art, expression, sharing, movement and through other creative channels.

What sets group therapy apart is that it allows for a deeper exploration with the knowledge that others will hold them, join them and support them in their difficult moments either with a reassuring smile, a kind look, a word of encouragement or simply safe silence. The engagement in these groups naturally allows group members to access feelings of hope, togetherness, compassion, gratitude and empowerment. We have noticed shifts in the narratives of members that look like “What is wrong with me”, “Why can’t I stop being so anxious” at the start of the groups, to “I’m not alone in this”, “there is more to me than just my anger”, “I can allow myself and others to witness my failures” towards the end of the group. So it really does take a village, a collective spirit, when your journey seems tiring, long, lonely and difficult to navigate in isolation.


At BecauseYOU, every group member is ensured a personalized experience, right from understanding their needs, their current level of comfort or discomfort with joining a group and supporting them at each step in that journey through regular check-ins even between groups.


Our next Essentials Program starts in September, register for a taster session now and be part of a growing community.


References:

1. Mallinckrodt, B. (1989). Social support and the effectiveness of group therapy. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 36(2), 170. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1989-26859-001

2. Butler, T., & Fuhriman, A. (1983). Curative factors in group therapy: A review of the recent literature. Small Group Behavior, 14(2), 131-142. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/104649648301400201

3. Johnson, B. (2019). Psychotherapy: Understanding Group Therapy. Retrieved from: https://www.apa.org/topics/psychotherapy/group-therapy

4.https://drarielleschwartz.com/connection-co-regulation-psychotherapy-dr-arielle-schwartz/#.YRs3iy0Ro1I

5. https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/22216-the-theory-and-practice-of-group-psychotherapy

6. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.636919/full


52 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All