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Group Therapy

What is a psychodynamic process group and how does it typically work?

A process group typically consists of eight individuals who agree to meet regularly for a specific period of time, depending on the kind of group being hosted. Rules and expectations are agreed upon prior to the beginning of the group, and maybe discussed by members during the group if and when the need arises. A common purpose among those individuals who join a process group is in their wanting to find out more about who they are and, what it is perhaps that they would like to see change with-in their personal lives and in their relationships with others. In essence, a process group is expected to increase emotional awareness and relational understanding between self and others. The work of putting emotional experiences into words can give an individual the cognitive and emotional tools that lend to self-learning, insight and the potential to function with an increased sense of freedom, and with increased sophistication.

The premise of a process group draws from a psychodynamic perspective and is based upon developmental theory. The group is not apt to be influenced to change from 'outside' social pressures and cultural values making it a very specialized and unique psychotherapeutic method of healing. The group as a whole shapes its own unique culture, common values and norms thus, creating a meaningful context upon which it can evolve and grow at its own pace.

The life of a process group from the beginning to the end parallels different developmental stages of growth and maturity. As a group moves forward through its natural stages, the members and the "group-as-a-whole" are assisted with guided feedback and process comments from the leader and or co-leaders. As a result, the group inherently knits together with an abundance of experiences forming and emulating a social microcosm that bears its own unique culture and identity.

A most remarkable and natural phenomenon in the earlier stages of a process group is the way in which individuals, and sub-groups alike repeat the many characteristic ways once developed to survive the stressors and strains in the very first group...the family. Members may remind each other of significant others in their past or present circumstances bringing feelings, thoughts, ideas and fantasies to the fore.

One of the most important keys to a successful process group is when all group members feel sufficiently relaxed and safe to talk as openly as they possibly can about any aspects of the group experience in which they choose to respond. By engaging with one another on different emotional levels, individuals will hopefully gain wider perspectives about the various ways they relate to their inner world and understand how this becomes reflected in their relationships with others.

As awareness increases individuals may begin to recognize newly found aspects of themselves. Individuals and 'the-group-as-a-whole' may actively and unconsciously attempt not to become aware of various emotional aspects of themselves, to avoid uncomfortable and perhaps painful feelings. This is a common phenomenon of human behavior. It is within the supportive and relaxed atmosphere of the group experience that such feelings can be recognized, acknowledged and replaced with conscious, uncontaminated choices in social behaviors and verbal attitudes. The courage to allow these kinds of meaningful connections to take place can help to resolve emotional conflicts and difficulties with feelings of mastery and empowerment.

Once the group members feel more trusting with the leader and other group members, channels of communication are opened, allowing for a genuine and profound sharing of emotional experiences to take place. Thus, feelings of trust and support as well as other identifying therapeutic factors assist in creating room for innovative and creative risk taking with in the group. For each individual the rewards of creating such a place that is their own can be a place that is very real and fully connected. It is a place to be fully who they are without the need to 'fit-in' to a pre-determined pattern.

In summary, being in an experiential process group all members has the opportunity for considerable personal gains, 'corrective emotional experiences' and 'intrapsychic' change that can last a lifetime. Just as individuals bring old learned behaviors and attitudes into the group they may take new ways of inter-relating outside the group. This may enable individuals to cultivate healthier interdependency with others, as well as increased expressions of mature and authentic intimacy.

References:  The Practice of Group Therapy. S.R. Slavson. International Universities Press, 1947 and Analytic Group Psychotherapy with Children, Adolescents and Adults. S.R. Slavson. Columbia University Press, 1964.

Author: Deborah Reeves, MGPGP, LPC, CGP Deborah Reeves is a licensed professional counselor and a certified specialist in group psychotherapy. She has a private clinical and consulting psychotherapy practice in Philadelphia, PA, and is a spokesperson/group leader for ANAD (National Association of Anorexia/Nervosa and Associated Disorders) for the Philadelphia Region. For additional information, visit her Web site at

Reviewed by athealth on February 5, 2014.