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Page Contents: Personal issues and safety in group psychotherapy.                    


I was in group psychotherapy for a couple of years and made some changes although could still work on a few more issues. I was quite attracted to another member but never felt safe enough to explore it. Actually, it caused a lot of anxiety about issues I have with men. The psychotherapist noticed the attraction between us but focused more on the other person and the reasons for his attraction. I tried to bring it up but felt awkward and uncomfortable as was not a group that was interactive or confrontational (the psychotherapist did most of this). I did call the psychotherapist for advice, he indicated that the conversation was not confidential and would be brought up in group (understandably) and was. I used to obsess about this person all the time and think about the feelings. I am also seeing an individual psychotherapist who told me this was normal to be attracted. However, at the fact that I tried and could not bring it up in group several times she suggested that I quit which I did. I did think about this and know that it is my choice to leave, however I am disappointed in myself that I could not confront this issue. I do this in real relationships with people that I am attracted to and it causes problems. I can’t focus and think about the other person and the relationship all the time to the point of not functioning normally in life. Which is why I do not engage in relationships. I can lead a normal life without worrying or obsessing about the other person. Even abusive relationships that I don’t leave. The individual psychotherapist indicated that I need to learn when to quit a relationship that is not working for me (group and boyfriends) and that thinking about someone else is normal. Although this wasn’t normal and people in my life mentioned this. I wish I could have explored this in the group but failed several times. I want to work through this issue and not sure what the next step for me is now that I quit the group? I want to be honest and courageous to face things and work through them, but at what point do you give up. I found that it is easier to tell an individual psychotherapist or person your feelings/wants/needs than a group of people, who do not do that. I’m not sure if it is clear what I am asking, I suppose the whole question of obsessing and what to do next?

Group psychotherapy can be effective in the proper circumstances. In general, groups are most helpful for interpersonal issues that do not result from long-standing personality dysfunction. A group can also be used along with individual psychotherapy as an adjunct, controlled environment in which to practice what has been learned in the individual work. And, as you have experienced, a group leader who is not attentive to the psychodynamic issues of a particular member can cause serious psychological damage.

Deep personality problems need to be resolved by getting to the unconscious conflicts at their core. This has to be done through psychotherapeutic encounter and interpretation in which the client can learn to speak freely and honestly without fear of the psychotherapist taking everything personally and acting defensively. Raw emotions need to be tracked back into their origins in the past, and their effects in the present need to be explored and understood. This is not an intellectual process that can be learned in a classroom or in books; emotions have to be felt in their raw and vulnerable depth through honest interactions with the psychotherapist. The psychotherapeutic relationship doesn’t get any more “real” than this.

Of course, group members could theoretically serve this psychotherapeutic function—but if all the members could react non-defensively to intense emotions, then they wouldn’t be in need of group psychotherapy in the first place, would they?

Hence, individual psychotherapy might be the best place in which to work out your problems. Unfortunately, it isn’t sufficient that your psychotherapist just say, “Learn how to deal with these things.” Your psychotherapist has to teach you how to deal with these things through the psychotherapeutic work with your unconscious. And if your psychotherapist lacks the training and experience to do this sort of work, then you may have to “quit a relationship that is not working” for you and find someone who can do the “real” work to help you.


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