November 3, 2003
There are many types of groups that can assist us in the growth and healing process. If a group can offer emotional safety, support, and responsible expression, its value is tremendous. I would caution, however, that certain emotional challenges may require the support of a professional therapist in an individualized setting.
If you are choosing or starting a group, it is important to understand the different types of group formats available. The following is a list based on groups currently in operation.
Group membership is often defined by gender or a specific subject. There are men's groups, women's groups, trans-gender groups, and mixed groups that are open to both men and women. Specific issue groups are based on a particular topic such as eating disorders, depression, anxiety, anger management, grief, alcoholism, drug addiction, etc.
Though there are many groups that gather at a physical location, more and more groups are offered on-line and can be accessed from anywhere in the world.
It is usually helpful to group members if a structure is created and followed. Sharing groups allow members to talk about their issues, and although they are open to some feeling expression, these groups do not usually encourage deep emotional work.
Classic primal groups start and end with a brief sharing ("go-round") and allow for a period when members simultaneously get into their own deep feeling expression. Sometimes members will "buddy up" and work in teams. This "feeling together" format is useful in giving permission for expression, and for evoking hidden feelings. Classic primal groups may be too emotionally intense for those who need more quiet and stimulus safety.
Individual-focus groups give each member some time to work on feeling issues while the other members listen and support. Depending on the size of the group, members will not always have an opportunity to work during each session.
Peer groups are leaderless groups created and run by the members themselves. Sometimes leaders "emerge" to deal with specific problems, but the intent is not to rely on the direction of any particular member. Leader-supported groups are managed by one or more leaders, who are often trained therapists or facilitators.
Drop-in groups allow anyone to enter or leave the group at any time. Committed groups consist of people who have committed to stay for a certain period of time. Drop-in groups offer flexibility and the stimulation of new member input, while committed groups offer the greater confidentiality and personal safety necessary for deep sharing and expression.
A free-form style allows for anyone to share or express themselves for any length of time. The intention is for the group to self-regulate according to the changing needs of the members. Structured sharing involves a number of different sharing methods and different ways to manage the length of individual sharing. Circular sharing starts with one member and moves around the group. Talisman sharing involves a special object or "talking stick" which members hold in order to share.
Some groups are formed for a specific amount of time that all members commit to. When the agreed upon period ends, the group either disbands or renegotiates another period of time. On-going groups continue indefinitely.
Groups gather according to the members' need for frequency. In intensive or institutional settings, groups will often meet daily or bi-weekly. Most other groups meet weekly, fortnightly, or monthly. Greater frequency tends to allow for closer connections and a greater sense of continuity.
If you are interested in being in a group, it may be worth the effort to find one - or create one!