- Men’s Therapy Group
- Women’s Therapy Group
- Poems Written After Group Therapy
- “I Don’t Want to Talk About It”: Addiction, Depression, and The Loss of the Relational in Men’s Lives
- “Trapped in the Mirror”: Women’s Therapy Group for Adult Children of Narcissistic Families
Group Therapy in Nashville, TN
Group therapy has been shown to have many benefits, and to be as beneficial, or in some cases more beneficial, than individual therapy. We live our lives in groups. Our first group experience occurs in our families, and most of us participate in various types of groups our whole lives, be they familial, social, academic, or professional. The ability to build healthy personal and professional relationships in these groups has a substantial impact on our level of fulfillment in life. Group therapy assists us not only with feelings of isolation and loneliness, but also with with depression and anxiety as well. As the renowned group therapist Louis Ormont stated, “The successful group member finishes not simply with a superior capacity to relate to others, but also with more inner comfort and with a far better ability to realize his or her own potential.”
A common refrain among group therapists is, “Those who do well in group do well in life.” This is because the ability to develop, nurture, and maintain healthy interpersonal connections not only leads to increased levels of life satisfaction but has actually been found to help us live longer. Because the therapy group is a microcosm of our day to day life, the challenges we experience in relationships outside of group play out in the group itself. Group therapy gives us the opportunity to slow down and examine the interpersonal dynamics we are creating as we actually create them. This, in turn, helps us develop insight and creates the opportunity for us to practice engaging in different and more effective ways.
Group therapy is particularly effective in helping individuals to overcome shame and low self-esteem. I sometimes say to a patient, “In childhood you were brainwashed into believing that there was something wrong with you.” Implicit in the excruciating feeling of shame is the sense that “others see me as flawed or damaged.” Group therapy offers a wonderful opportunity to “test out” this belief, and over time I am able to let go of the “brainwashing,” by experiencing through others reflections and feedback that I really am okay and not the flawed person I believe myself to be.
For the past 25 years, I have led and co-led an ongoing women’s therapy group for “Adult Children of Narcissistic Families.” In these families, the needs of the parents took precedence over the needs of the children. A child in this type of family is asked to provide and/or be whatever the parent needs in order to feel whole. As a result, this child becomes an adult with such personality traits as a lack of self-confidence, a chronic need to please, difficulty being assertive, a vulnerability to depression, and she often has great difficulty identifying and acting upon her own feelings, wants, and needs. Group therapy can be of tremendous help in recovering from such a childhood and in building self-esteem and a sense of self.
For over 20 years I have also led and co-led men’s therapy groups. The current group, which has been going for 3 and 1/2 years, in entitled “Men in Relationships.” As men, we continue to struggle in our relationships with women, as Peter Marin observed 40 years ago, in part because we are isolated from the support and nurturing, in Marin’s words, of “a community of loving male comrades.” Often, absorbed in our roles as worker and husbands and fathers, we don’t even know how to locate such a community.
As men, we were not socialized to share our struggles and our “quiet desperation,” in Thoreau’s words, with other men. Terrence Real, in his book, I Don’t Want To Talk About It, writes, “Men are not supposed to be vulnerable. Pain is something we rise above.” (p. 22). As we encounter problems—often in the relationships that matter most to us—we are hesitant to voice our pain, and lack a community of comrades who can resonate with our situation and provide us with much needed support and encouragement. Most of the men in the current group have been dealing with such issues as affairs by themselves or their spouses, or with divorce or the consideration of divorce. The group provides a much needed sounding board as each member grapples with these life challenges.
My work with men in groups has been very much influenced by the work and writings of Terrence Real. As he says, only recently have we begun to understand the ways in which the male role socialization process in our culture is inherently traumatic. The definition of manhood involves “standing up” to discomfort and pain. Linguist Deborah Tannen, who analyzed women’s “rapport talk” versus men’s “report talk,” found that a vital component of conversation among women was what she called “trouble talk,” which invites the listener by opening up about one’s own difficulties. For men, however, the cultivation of a stance of invulnerability, and shame around exposing weakness, together conspire to cut men off from the potential healing that is found in sharing and in community. A men’s group offers the opportunity for men to explore our shared dilemmas rather than continuing to manifest such behaviors as irritability, dominance, and emotional unavailability, which push away those whom we love and need.