If you’re like me, when you walk into a room (or a Zoom meeting) with more than two people, your social anxiety might spike. So, when you hear the words group therapy, it might not seem appealing at first. And yet, group therapy is a widely-used therapeutic modality. So why does group therapy exist? What makes it helpful? And why do we use it in our Genesis model of counseling?
What is Group Therapy? What does it look like?
Group therapy can look different in different therapy settings. At Genesis, our groups focus solely on the experience of domestic violence, from providing information about what domestic violence is, to how it affects women and children, to coping with the feelings that result. Our counselors use group therapy to provide support and resources to groups of women with some difficult, yet common, experiences.
Our first phase of counseling consists of open groups. These are groups that our clients can drop in on (connecting via Zoom) weekly to receive education and resources. In this first phase of counseling, clients learn about domestic violence as a form of trauma, how to cope with the effects, how to safety plan, and practice deep breathing with our masters’ level counselors. In these groups, clients are not expected to share their innermost thoughts and feelings because it can feel very vulnerable and scary to share in the beginning. Clients are more likely to participate in coping exercises or dialogue on what they find is helpful and grounding for them.
After completing the intake process, our clients are placed on a waitlist to participate in what we call phase 2 of counseling which consists of process groups. Irvin Yalom (2005) states that process refers to the nature of the relationship between interacting individuals – members and therapists (p. 143). In these groups, our clients receive support and information from our counselors, but also have the space to share and process their own experiences with a safe group of women who likely share similar experiences of domestic violence. In these groups, clients often feel more open and prepared to progressively share their thoughts and feelings regarding their experiences, which can often feel liberating and connecting.
Group therapy is unique and powerful in that it provides connection and support to women who often feel alone, isolated, judged or misunderstood. The most common reaction I hear from women who have participated in group therapy is “It feels nice to know that I am not alone in this.” Irvin Yalom (2005) explains that some therapeutic factors of group therapy are instillation of hope, universality, imparting information, interpersonal learning, group cohesiveness and catharsis.
Genesis understands that group therapy is especially helpful for women who have experienced domestic violence because isolation is often used intentionally by their abusive partners as a tactic to control them or keep them in the abusive relationship. Therefore, no matter where our clients are in their own process, they can experience empowerment by sharing a safe space with other women who will not judge them, but rather support them, and provide validation and words of encouragement along the way.
Written by Amanda Matos, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor Associate, Bilingual Women & Children’s Therapist at Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support.
Yalom, I. D., & Leszcz, M. (2005). The theory and practice of group psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.