To Group or Not to Group?

I haven’t written about it much, but I started group therapy in November. I went into it not sure it was a good idea (with a pretty crabby attitude, actually) but also with the hope that I would find warm, deep connections with a group of smart women.

It’s not really working out that way, though.

It didn’t help that I entered the group–which consists of seven women–right at a time of rapid turnover. The first real session I attended up focused on saying goodbye to two of the women who had been in the group for a while. In a way, it was sweet to hear people say their goodbyes and talk about what they learned from one another. But none of that meant anything to me or helped me make new connections.

Soon after, another woman left, and then another, and each time a substantial amount of the group (90 minutes) was spent on farewells. Meanwhile, since four people left, three new women joined (plus me). The new women were not just new to group, as I was, but new to therapy. They seem smart, nice, talented. But they are also cautious and hesitant about what they share. I hear a lot about how busy everyone is and how tired; they just need a good rest.

E facilitates the group, the same therapist I see individually. She is very light touch in her facilitation, overall, especially with new people. She did share a handout with everyone that encourages us to offer one another empathy and to address emotions but not to offer advice. Still, that’s hard when you aren’t used to it. So one time when I tried talking about ways that I find it hard to create the meaningful connections to people that I long for, one woman offered me the advice to go for a short walk if I feel upset about it. That just left me feeling frustrated and more alone than ever.

I just don’t know that this group is offering me much. I told E, when I started, that I would give it six months. It’s been about that now, so I am asking myself, do I want to continue or quit?

The case for staying: the women all seem kind. There’s one in particular that I’d like to become friends with. Also, it’s a place to come and just be as you are, without having to pretend that everything is fine. It allows me to hear the ways in which others struggle, which helps remind me that I’m not the only one with self-doubts and major questions about my life.

The case for leaving: The conversation is usually not as deep as I would like; the tendency to focus on minutiae of workplace tensions or stress doesn’t speak to what I’m working on. Some days I leave feeling lonely. Also, there are some things I don’t like about the group, such as the way many women arrive late or don’t show up sometimes for weeks at a time, which makes it hard to have a cohesive group.

A reason to stay, at least for a while longer: Maybe I could try to be more open about the issues that I care about now, such as how to be present during sex, or accepting myself even when I’m triggered. Maybe if I push the limits of the group, I could help make it what I would like it to be. The idea of talking about deep, important, confusing emotions with a safe group of women still holds appeal.

Other reasons to leave: Another woman will leave the group soon, because she’s moving away. And that means we will have yet another newcomer join us. Also, we meet the evening, and now that it’s getting to be summer, that’s a nice time to spend in the garden with my husband or going for a walk. Maybe that would be a more rewarding way to spend my time.

I don’t know. What should I get out of group? What do people get out of group therapy, when it feels right? Do I just need an attitude adjustment? Or is my very uncertainty a sign that group therapy, or at least this group, is not what I need?

I mentioned the other day that I am really re-thinking my approach to therapy, and this just fits into that larger question: what do I need at this stage of my life to support myself and live as healthy a life as possible? And beneath that there lurks a secondary question: how ready am I to see E less often? How can I care for the inner toddler who still longs for her?

CREDIT:  Image modified from a photo by Mārtiņš Zemlickis on Unsplash 

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