Group therapy has long been a recognized mode of therapeutic treatment for a number of conditions and areas of struggle. The benefits of group include learning to work within a system of either familiar people (including relatives or co-workers) or complete strangers with whom you share a common struggle or condition. Typically, the modules run for a given number of sessions and the information presented may be offered in a structured format, or it may have a loose “skeleton” framework and be more open-ended in nature.
Topics which may open wounds or shake loose old, ‘buried stuff’, are handled with sensitivity and time to process what is being experienced by the individuals involved. I have led groups with families who have lost a child, those who have a family member (typically a child) with a chronic illness or emotional and behavioral challenges, those with a family member recovering from a long-term condition, and groups of those who have suffered loss (bereavement groups).
I prefer using the “Closed group” model because it builds and protects a sense of cohesion and support in which each member can build an expectation of participation and attendance from those with whom they are sharing a small part of their journey. The modules I have developed can be used for family systems or community groups.
Systems and Group Work:
This aspect of the training for MFTs remains one of the most intimidating to inexperienced therapists. Many licensed mental health providers find it difficult to keep the needs of more than person in mind when working with more than one person in a session.
I have worked with families all my professional life. My background as an educator prepared me to monitor individuals in a group and try to balance the needs of all persons so they are heard, seen, understood, and validated by at least one other person in the room–even if I am the only one responding to them.
“Joining” with each member of a group or family system is not always easy, yet without each member feeling “heard and held” in a safe space, there is a risk of failure to achieve the goals. Each person must believe they are as vital to the success of the group as any other member. Patterns of interactive ‘habits’ will emerge and must be evaluated for safety and effectiveness in reaching the goals of the group.
In work with groups, the facilitator introduces a topic which provides a vehicle for modeling respectful listening, self-monitoring, connection, and authentic expression of internal experiences, without harm to others in the group. Family systems work is quite similar to group work, but has the added benefit (or risk) of an additional layer of past shared experiences, some of which we have to work through slowly and painstakingly. Admittedly, such therapy contexts are more complex and can have longer reaching outcomes.
Using specially created “modules”, I focus on strengthening present relationships, and developing empathy for the experiences of others. In group work, I model effective communication, and teach members about realistic expectations based upon developmental stages of all group members, and commitment to a greater goal. I stress the importance of feeling valued and vital to a “tribe”, and encourage meaningful participation from all members of the group.
As an “outsider”, I can observe and reflect to each member of a group/system how I perceive them to ‘be’ with the others in the group; frequently, this reflection challenges the way the member views themselves. Frankly, it does not always feel kitten-soft; in fact, it can feel more like a balloon popping in the hand–startling and a wee bit awkward.
“Growing Pains” are not always experienced without some tenderness, but they are necessary for the health of the group/system. If you liken a group or family system to a very dense cut of meat that is to be served to all members of the group, not everyone has the “chops” to chew the meat at the same pace. It helps if the meat is prepared before heat is applied. Fibers within the structure of the meat are tight (which means ‘tough’ to chew), until the fibers are “convinced” to loosen up a little bit, thin out some. Have you ever tasted a “tenderized” piece of meat? It took quite a beating to be that delicious! (*no, I don’t beat my clients, but it can feel that way, sometimes.)
I enjoy challenging individuals in groups to embark upon small yet significant journeys toward examining past experiences, imagining wiser future decisions, and seeking changes resulting from those decisions. I integrate faith, values, and a strong worldview steeped in personal responsibility and potential for meaningful change, frequently unconsidered prior to the presentations. Participants may not agree with everything they hear, but they all leave with “food for thought” and plenty to talk about on the way home.
I utilize a straightforward approach to initiate interest in, and ownership of, the potential all humans have to change the relationship they have with their own lived experience, thus offering a new perspective, long understood to be the most vital element of personal transformation. One man leaving one of my presentations told me, “You tell it the way it is, not the way we want it to be!” High praise, indeed.
These Module Topics are available:
For group contexts, I am available to address the following:
- Premarital Skill-building (approved provider of the Twogether in Texas 8-hr class)
- Teen / Young Adult : Foundations for Relationship
- Wedges or Hedges: Communication & Conflict in Relationships
- Fire-proof your Marriage
- Removing Masks: Ministry Families from the Inside Out
- Parenting with Loving Discipline
- Co-Parenting, Blended (or Pureed) Families
- Infant-Child Development & Attachment
- Healthy Childhood Sexual Development
- Living with “Diff(erent)-Ability”
- Good Grief!: Putting the Pieces Back Together
- Self-Awareness & Identity Discovery: Be Your Own Best Friend
- Caring for the Caregiver
If you’d like more information about group work, or having Dr. Hayes present on one of the topics listed above, please inquire using the CONTACT tab on this site.
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If you or someone you know needs mental health crisis management, please contact a professional medical or mental health provider as soon as possible. The owner/author of this site intends only to offer general information and all material is subject to change without notice.
Nothing posted on this site is intended as professional guidance or therapeutic advice of any kind. If you find the material helpful, that’s its intent, but please understand your use of the site should under NO CIRCUMSTANCE be considered a professional therapeutic (or personal) relationship between the user and the author of this site. Leslie LaRo Hayes, Ph.D., LMFT, assumes no responsibility for discomfort or other loss that may result from decisions made after utilizing any part of this website.