I saw E twice last week, and we spent the better part of both sessions thinking about how I might make group therapy more meaningful for me. As I wrote earlier, I left after Monday’s session with the task of finding words I might use to ask the others in the group to step back and look at the issues in their lives from a meta perspective, or perhaps to take a deeper dive into their emotions.
It wasn’t terrible, what I came up with. But it wasn’t good either.
When I see E again on Wednesday afternoon, I tell her that I don’t feel right asking the others to behave differently.
“I can’t think of a single way to say it that won’t cause some of them to scold themselves for doing group ‘wrong,’ and I just don’t want to do that to them,” I explain. I tell her exactly who in the group I think might do that, and she doesn’t disagree.
“So what’s your plan then?” she asks. She has that half-frown on her face; I can tell she’s wondering if I’m just going to give up on group after all. “I am willing to help you get what you want, but I feel like I shouldn’t do for you what you can do for yourself.”
“I think I can try something myself. As I was driving over here today, I realized, finally, what was bothering me about anything I thought about saying It’s just not reasonable to just ask them to do group differently,” I tell her. “but instead it seems more fair if I change my own behavior in group. If I dive in deeper myself–and honestly, I haven’t said all that much about myself, because I have thought my issues weren’t a good fit with what they talk about. But if I just go where I’d ideally like to, they will know what I mean by deeper. Then they can choose to follow along with me–or not, depending on how it feels to them.”
E nods and asks me what I might talk about.
“Well, as you know, my two big issues these days are my sexual relationship to my husband and my early attachment wounds. I am not going to talk about my attachment to you in front of the group–just too weird. And I’m not prepared to describe everything about the sexuality work. But I was thinking about what I might say. Do you want to hear it?”
Of course she does.
“I can tell them that I have been going to a sex therapist because I have a history of abuse and trauma that interferes with me being emotionally present in my sexual relationship with my husband. In this therapy, we focus a lot on my ability to be present in my body and simply notice sensations. We also have talked a lot about consent and my ability to stop things whenever I want to or need to. My husband has come to a few sessions, and he’s completely on board with this, as well as very patient and understanding.”
“So I have homework between session, which is generally some version of the same thing: arrange for time when my husband and I can be together, without distractions, and simply touch one another in a pleasurable way. It can lead to intercourse or orgasms, or not; that’s not the point. The point is simply for me to pay attention to my physical, mental and emotional reactions, to ask for something if I feel like it, or to stop the whole thing at any point.”
“It’s not difficult homework. It’s low pressure, and there’s no passing or failing. But still, I don’t do the homework very often. And I’m not sure why, exactly. Yes, I can blame the fatigue I feel at night. But I think there’s some kind of resistance going on as well. I don’t really understand it, because I am choosing to go to this therapy because I want to have more sex and more connected sex with my husband. And yet there’s something in my that’s not fully bought into this plan.”
I think E is a little surprised that I’m willing to talk about this with the group.
“Yes, I know, it’s more personal than what others share,” I say. “But if we are just going to talk about our aggravating co-workers who don’t fully pull their weight, I don’t have much to say. That’s a genuine issue, for sure, and I’ve grappled with it in the past. But that’s not helpful for me right now. And if this is about seeing if the group can be helpful to me, then this is what I should be talking about. And anyway, even if it doesn’t go much of anywhere, I know they won’t laugh at me or embarrass me. They’ll be nice to me about it. The worst that can happen is that they give me superficial advice or kind of try to lighten it or switch the topic a bit.”
“And if that happens, how will you feel?” E asks me.
“Disappointed, I guess. But then if I do decide to leave the group, I’ll feel like I tried and have evidence that it’s not the right fit for me. And if I feel more upset about it than I’m imagining right now, I know how to manage my own self-talk and take care of myself. Plus I have an individual session with you again a few days later.”
“You are well-resourced, I think,” E says, smiling.
“Right, I think so, too. And if nothing useful comes from group, I can still talk with you or Marie about what that resistance to doing my homework is all about.”
“Exactly,” says E. “The resistant part is probably holding some fear, and we need to think about what it is she needs to feel safe and comfortable doing the homework.”
“Yes,” I say. “And if someone starts to take group in that direction, maybe a way you can help is to ask a question or say something to support that kind of processing. But I’m not asking you to do what we would do in an individual session, just maybe to help support the meaty parts of the conversation.”
“I can do that,” she tells me. “This might be a very helpful model for some of the others. Again, that’s not your job in the group. But if you are getting what you need and also opening a door for others to walk through, so much the better.”
So… that’s my plan. Group meets Monday night. We’ll see 1) if I chicken out; 2) if someone else arrives with an issue that feels more urgent, and I wait another few weeks; 3) if I go ahead but it all turns out differently from the plan. I’m not sure what will happen. But I’m pretty sure I’ll be okay regardless of the outcome.
(Knock on wood.)