Reflections on Group Counseling
I wanted to write about some of my thoughts after completing my group counseling class, not because it's going to be so interesting to everyone out there, but because it really was probably in the top two or three of the most interesting classes I have ever taken (the only others in that rank would be the couple classes I took on neuroscience, which I just find completely and totally fascinating). I can't go into incredible detail about what was discussed in the class, but I do want to write up some of my reflections about it that aren't particular to what was divulged by specific people.
Just a little bit of background before I start - this class had a theory component and a practicum component. We spent two hours each week discussing the theory behind group counseling and leading a group therapy session, and then we spent two hours engaging in a group session with each other. We each took turns leading the group. We had no real supervision - our instructor sat in on a few sessions, but not all of them, and he never participated.
- It was interesting to see how two people can have such dramatically different reactions to each other. There was another Orthodox woman in my class; she's a Chasidish woman from Brooklyn. I have to admit that I was very uncomfortable having her as a participant in the class. Because of my own insecurities, I held a lot back due to the fact that she was present; fearful that I would be judged by her and looked upon as a bad example of what and Orthodox Jew is, looked at as "not frum enough." Her reaction to me turned out to be completely opposite than what I had imagined or expected. She was drawn to me because I was a fellow Orthodox Jew. And she admired me because she was so impressed that I seemed so comfortable with who I am, that I was my own person, regardless of what others thought. When this was revealed, I felt a little bad that I had imagined her judging me, when it wasn't the case at all. It was also interesting to see the fascination the class had with the different details of the Orthodox faith - they were mezmerized by my classmates description of her daughter's dating rituals, and they were puzzled to know that this woman and I had known that the other was observant from the first moment we saw each other (well, I knew she was from the first moment I saw her - she was wearing a wig). It really was an interesting dynamic to have someone in my group that had so much in common to me; but so much different as well. In some ways, we had a "secret club" where only the two of us knew the code, but in a lot of other ways, while I knew what she was talking about, I couldn't imagine actually living in such a way.
- To the last session, there was a discrepancy between group members about the focus of our group. Some of my classmates felt it should be a therapy group, some felt it should be a training group. This discrepancy caused a lot of problems the entire semester, as we argued over what the focus of each session should be. When we started discussing the work of leading a group and the therapy surrounding it, some people were bored and thought we weren't being real. When we discussed our life events and problems, others felt we weren't being students. Even when this discrepancy was finally openly discussed in the last session, there was no agreement.
- Related to the above, we were given virtually no instruction about how our group should run, what our goals should be, and what our focus should have been. I think this made it much more difficult. It definitely taught me a lot about how the beginning of a group should go and how important it is for everyone to be on the same page. There was also a lot of difficulty because we took turns leading the group, there was no consistency, and no one leader to look to when things became difficult.
- The dual relationship issue between being classmates and group members together was kind of confusing. On one hand, we were working together in a class, on presentations and papers. We might even have other classes together. On the other, we were looking to each other to be therapists and to divulge personal information. There was an unbalance in doing this, as there was in switching off between leaders each week.
- The group dynamic is extremely powerful. The feeling of all those eyes watching you, that there is a group of people listening to you at once, that they care and want to help, and that they are trying really hard to understand you, really has a great power. I was very skeptical about the ability of groups to help a person, but my mind has been changed.
- You get out what you put in. There were a couple members of the group that didn't enjoy the experience or feel like they got a lot out of it. They were also the same members who didn't divulge very much and who didn't speak that often.
- It felt really good when a group member shared something positive that had happened in her life. I felt a very strong pull together by the group in that moment. Just like having a whole group care about you and feel bad for you, the added dynamic of a whole group being happy for you was a very moving experience.
- When it was my turn to lead, I think I actually did a decent job. It's not my normal nature to lead a group of people; I prefer being behind the scenes. I am also not particularly forceful, preferring to allow others to say what needs to be said, or to take the lead. But when I had to, despite my nervousness, I did lead. And while it was difficult, I think with more practice, I could be good at it.
Those are my thoughts about group counseling. While I definitely have a better understanding of what goes on in a group now, I think it will be something entirely different to actually facilitate a real therapy group in the future. But I look forward to it, and to growing and building my helping skills and repertoire even more.