Is Group Therapy Right for Me?
For many, the idea of group therapy sounds horrifying. How are you supposed to sit with a load of strangers and expose the your struggles and pain? What will they think of me and how on earth is it supposed to help?
Binge eating is usually a secret struggle that comes with so much self-blame. For this reason many people think individual sessions would be the only way to deal with such a painful problem. In this post I will address some of the most commonly held beliefs and concerns about group therapy. Some of them are myths that need to be dispelled, but others may hold a grain of truth.
#1. I don’t know what to expect.
Whilst the group is made up of unique individuals, every group also develops a group personality, which looks very different from group to group. However, there is always an overarching agreement to respect each other’s experience and give each other space to speak. My role as the therapist is to ensure the group remains a safe place to explore what’s going on for you and the other members. Generally binge eating groups tend to be very kind places. The structure of the session may vary, but it usually it begins with the group statement (a few paragraphs read out that reminds us why we are there) and a ‘check-in’ where each member can say a few words about how they are and they might say what they want from the group today,(but it’s totally ok if you don’t know what you want from the session!).
#2. People will judge me.
Yes. Yes they will. Every opinion or choice we make is a judgment. When we listen to others speak, we are trying to put what they are saying into some kind of context that makes sense to us. This means drawing on our own beliefs and experience to discern what is being communicated. Sometimes what we say won’t make sense to others, it might jar with something inside of them. Likewise, our interpretation of their situation will differ from their understanding. It’s ok. This is not something we need to be fearful of; this difference can be embraced and used to bring about change. When we continue to view our problem in the same way over and over, that’s when we get stuck. Hearing other people’s response to our situation, when done respectfully, can be exactly what facilitates the change we desperately want.
#3. My problem/struggle/situation is so unique, no-one will understand.
Your struggle may not be as unique as you think. There are no new problems out there. When we are circling the drain it may feel as though you are utterly alone and no-one else has ever felt the way you do now.
I think this misconception prevents people from reaching out for help with binge eating. The belief is that no one could possibly know what it’s like for us. Often this idea has been reinforced by many past experiences of being misunderstood by others.
One of my favourite moments when facilitating groups is when someone is sharing and I see the recognition on the faces of the other members. Heads start nodding and the sharer feels heard in a way they may never have experienced before. This chases away feelings of shame and isolation.
It’s important to add that although your situation may not be unique, you certainly are.
#4. Isn’t individual therapy more effective?
Not necessarily. Group therapy can offer support in ways not achievable through sitting one on one with a therapist.
Group members often connect with each other in a way not possible to replicate with a therapist. They connect through mutual experience. One of the most powerful tools of recovery in 12-step programmes for addictions is the idea of reaching out for help and offering help. When we help others, we help ourselves. If you suffer from binge eating yourself and you give some supportive understanding to another who is also suffering from binge eating, you both benefit. If you are able to use your own suffering to help another then you bring meaning to your own experience and have managed to draw something positive out of your pain. You get to help and be helped at the same time.
This mutual reciprocity is not possible with a therapist, they are not (hopefully!) going to tell you what a difficult time they are having to give you an opportunity to help them. It just wouldn’t be right. Although individual therapy is great for talking about some of the things you wouldn’t feel comfortable bringing into a group.
So while group therapy can be a nerve wracking experience, the potential benefits are huge. If you fancy giving group therapy a go I run a couple of online groups especially for anyone who is struggling with binge eating.
For more information, click here and carefully read the criteria for joining and then, if you are interested please fill out the contact form and I will be in touch to have a conversation about whether the group is a good option for you.