Typical Challenges of Process Groups
Following on from my blog on ‘The Function of Process Groups,’ I wanted to discuss some of the typical challenges often encountered in process groups.
According to Marriage and Family Therapist, Shalini Mongia, in process groups trainee counsellors typically struggle with issues pertaining to the pressures and stresses of their courses, challenging clients, issues with supervisors or the supervision process, preparing for tests and exams, handing in assignments, dealing with countertransference issues, and facing the difficulties of undergoing the emotional changes inherent in counselling training (Mongia, 2014). They are consistently exposed to so many variables that leave them feeling vulnerable as they confront their own insecurities, meanwhile knowing that they have to come out in one piece at the end of it all. No matter how beneficial process groups are for trainees, it’s also a scary affair, observes Clinical Psychologist, Ryan Howes: it’s not easy sharing one’s struggles and uncertainties with fellow students who, though sharing similar experiences, are nevertheless by and large strangers (Howes, 2014).
Different people come to process groups with different experiences and attitudes towards trust and confidentiality. Not everyone is, or could possibly be expected to be, on the same page regarding these issues. Furthermore, although participants tend to verbally commit to respect the confidential nature of the process, many problematic dynamics that emerge later in the group point to breaches of trust and confidentiality.
It could be argued that it is inevitable that issues occurring within group sessions will spill over to the outside, affecting relationships among a few or everyone in the group – negatively or positively. Also, problematic interactions between members outside the group often find their way into group sessions. It’s understandable that personal battlefields will shift depending on where trainees find themselves, and how this impacts the rest of the group’s functioning in and outside sessions cannot be predicted.
Fears and Vulnerabilities
Not everyone is comfortable revealing aspects of themselves that generate fear and anxiety; most people avoid acknowledging, let alone talking about, their own shadow selves. One upshot of this psychological reality is that initially, group participants tend to avoid talking about issues that are really troubling them about one another. Typically, they will talk about the stresses of getting through the course, often using these topics as veiled references to other group members they perceive as problematic. When this pattern goes on for too long – the group facilitator will likely notice and comment on it.
Frustrations inevitably arise, leading to awkwardness, and eliciting varied responses from individuals. This scenario is common to almost all process groups, and is one of the most difficult hurdles to negotiate for everyone. A typical, unspoken question that emerges in the beginning, and that remains constant throughout the life of the group might be: “How much of myself can I reveal without falling victim to overwhelming anxiety, shame, or ridicule?” It’s also not uncommon for participants to re-experience fears relating to childhood fantasies and experiences of loss and abandonment (Lenehan, 2004).
It usually takes a while for some people to express themselves with honesty in a group setting where openness and feedback from others is encouraged. Revealing joyful emotions of personal triumphs can be easy, but this is often not the case where negative or uncomfortable emotions are the main focus. Although issues of trust, confidentiality, and the value of sharing thoughts and emotions are encouraged and talked about, it does not mean trainees will have an easy time expressing themselves.
Some people will find the courage to open up after a number of sessions, and this may frustrate others who make more of an effort in talking about their misgivings and shortcomings. In successful process groups, the actions of group members tend to have a knock-on effect; when reticent members observe that others are consistently taking the plunge to reveal themselves amid feelings of vulnerability, they feel encouraged to do the same. However, it takes a while for everyone to play ball, which can hamper the effectiveness of the group.
In my next blog, I will provide some process group survival tips.
Mongia, S (Marriage and Family Therapist). MFT Intern, Trainee, Student Process Group. Counseling and Therapy Blog. Weblog [Online] Available from: http://shalinimongia.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/mft-intern-trainee-student-process-group/ [Accessed 27th January 2014]
Howes, R. What about Group Therapy? In Therapy: A user’s guide to psychotherapy. Weblog [Online] Available from: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-therapy/201305/what-about-group-therapy [Accessed 27th January 2014]
Lenehan, L. Becoming a Counsellor – a Trainee’s Perspective. Inside Out[Online] 2004; 42 Available from: http://iahip.org/inside-out/issue-42-spring-2004/becoming-a-counsellor-a-trainees-perspective [Accessed on: 27th January 2014]