By Jagger L. Hernandez LPC Intern, Supervised by Jeanette N. Lira LPC-S
Group therapy or individual therapy, which one is right for you? Both have their pros and cons but, what makes group therapy helpful? Group therapy may sound intimidating at first but, from my personal experience it is not as scary as one can imagine. I am grateful to have had the chance to participate in a group session for social anxiety and run group sessions for teenagers and parents of children in the juvenile justice system.
My experience as a participant
I had a college advisor recommend me checking out group counseling that was held every month for my social anxiety. For someone who experienced social anxiety, group counseling sounds like a complete nightmare and I kind of brushed it off like it was no big deal. On the next morning, I thought, “what the heck,” so I visited the group counseling webpage to see what I can discover and with the intention that I will somehow sign myself up for the following meeting. I read through the entire webpage, but I wasn’t paying attention to any of it, it felt as if I was just staring blankly at the screen. I found the “sign up” button and I moved the cursor right on top of it and paused. I was beginning to feel warm and my mind felt like it was racing all of a sudden, I quickly clicked on the “x” in the corner of the window for an instant relief. For the next few hours, I didn’t feel happy, I felt bleak and maybe even disappointed in myself; the next day just seemed to repeat itself and the social anxiety I experienced remained. In the following days, I thought, “who am I kidding?” I hadnautomatically decided that I was not going to give this opportunity a chance and nothing changed. This one particular day, I was sitting in the lobby in the residence hall waiting for a friend to meet for breakfast, I overheard someone talking on their phone and they said, “…the only way to make change happen is for you do something about it.” I don’t know who they were talking to, but it spoke to me and gave me the extra push to “do something” about my situation without making excuses. I pulled out my phone went to the universities’ counseling services webpage and signed myself up for a group session the following day. It all happened so fast that I did not give myself time to talk myself out of it; it was a like a leap of faith. The first group counseling experience was painless, I was nervous at first but, I got comfortable when everyone shared their personal experience with anxiety. It was something about hearing similar experiences from others that eased my mind. We talked about different techniques and methods to lower anxiety levels and the way we shared a common goal helped me be accountable for taking action to make change happen. We supported each other and always discussed how we can help each other out; the group session gave us time to practice meditating as well. By signing myself up for group counseling, I was taking control of the social anxiety and it felt good; I felt happy. I continue to carry forward what I’ve learned in the group session till this day as I am constantly meeting new faces and I feel encouraged to help others who are also struggling with anxiety.
My experience as a facilitator
The first hour spent in a group session is usually awkward because you’re sitting next to others you don’t know. Once we got past the introductions, there was a change in the group’s energy; there wasn’t that much tension in the room anymore. I remember one teen specifically that did not speak until towards the very end of the group meeting. This was during an open-round where each member would tell us what they felt they have gotten out of the session that day. When it was this teen’s turn to speak, he wanted to acknowledge that he did not feel alone in relation to the personal problems he is experiencing. It was great to hear from him and bringing that level of awareness to the group discussion. I can’t say that he got the most or least out of the experience than the others that was present but, letting yourself share your story can create a bridge for another person to relate psychologically, spiritually, or emotionally. There are rules in group therapy such as, being respectful when others are speaking and giving other’s the opportunity to speak. With group rules set in place our teens started to share a little bit more and used different words from their vocabulary than just “I don’t know.” The teens that didn’t know each other’s names when they sat down were starting to build connections with each other through their shared experiences.
There are many pros to group therapy that includes knowing that you are not suffering alone in this world. You can experience comfort from hearing another’s experience similar experience or you can be the voice that other’s need to hear. Not all groups function the same and there are topics to help guide which group might be a best fit for you. If you are interested in group sessions, send us an email with your information and what topic you would be interested in.