By Michael Angelo, LPC

No group can act as if it is comprised of individuals alone. Unlike individual-centered activities, teams—whether in business, sports, or elsewhere—achieve victory together, as an assembly of unified people with one unrelenting purpose: defeat their opponent—whoever or whatever it is—through coming together, in sync, not remaining apart, disjointed in their thinking, actions, or effort.

Without the T-Factor, or the element of working together in harmony, there is no chance of success. Psychotherapy groups are nothing without a strong sense of togetherness, either. This is not every person for himself or herself. Without the encouragement, insights, and sometimes admonishments of members toward one another, forget about obtaining successful outcomes. The Togetherness factor has to be there or victory—the V factor—won’t happen.

No “T” equates to no “V.” Period.

Consider a group of anxious individuals who meet twice a month for an hour and a half in a therapy setting. That they could even be around other people also suffering from anxiety is a marvel in itself, since anxiety tends to breed anxiousness in others and those around them. But members sit there anyway, even though they are afraid someone may ask them to speak. A few may pipe up, sharing what’s on their minds, even if it raises their stress level to a high degree. As they do, something wonderful starts to happen: “me” melds into “we,” as an almost unreal feeling of togetherness begins to surface. Before long, they start to draw closer and feel more comfortable telling of their own struggles with their particular nemesis: fear in the ugly form of leaving the house, for example, or obsessing about something that happened years ago but remains stuck in their head, or the unbelievable stress social situations cause, or the suffering they continue to experience from abuse, war, or other trauma.

Or they may simply have a case of the worries. And they don’t know what to do about it.

Whatever the problem is, group members experience emotional support, empathic understanding, and authentic encouragement from one another. Group therapy is instrumental in healing their emotional and psychological struggles, including anxiety but also depression, anger, fear, shame, etc.

“Participants learn to accept support from others,” said Jack Corazzini, Ph.D., director of Counseling Services and a professor in the Department of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Members feel less alone in the world through understanding other people’s lives. Understanding other people’s problems, goals, and solutions helps members clarify their own.”

Corazzini’s research on and theorizing about the dynamics of therapy groups has helped to confirm what other researchers in this area have also reported, namely that attending a group gives purpose to members’ lives, much like athletes feel when their team does well and they have contributed to the overall effort. Even when the team does not do its best, each person—if he or she is truly committed to the cause—learns to develop a sense of responsibility to the group because their participation impacts other team members. The same phenomenon happens in group therapy. The group environment provides the opportunities to transcend individual life struggles as everyone experiences them in the moment.

“When people learn to interact freely with other group members, they tend to recreate the same patterns of interactions that have proved troublesome to them outside of the group,” Corazzini said. “The group therapy environment provides a safe confine to experiment with alternative ways of treating yourself and others that may be more satisfying. Many people feel they are somehow weird or strange because of their problems or the way they feel; it is encouraging to hear that other people have similar difficulties, and can grow past them.”

Another important similarity exists between an athletic and therapy group: feedback is encouraged, whether positive or negative. In a group setting, it is important to tell people what you expect of them. Unexpressed feelings are a major reason people experience difficulties. Revealing feelings—self disclosure—is an important part of group and affects how much you will gain from the group experience, according to Corazzini.

“The most useful disclosures are those that relate directly to your present concerns,” he said. “How much you talk about yourself is your decision; it will depend in part on your own comfort level and how much you are committed to change in a given area. If you have questions about what might or might not be helpful, you can always ask the group.”

If you are interested in learning more about Move—Heritage Counseling Center’s new and excitingtherapy group that helps those struggling with anxiety—visit our Group Staples page on our website.

Anxiety can keep people in a constant state of disorientation with just about everything that goes on in their lives. It can be paralyzing and crippling, while they watch the world around them continuing to move like business as usual.

The truth is, more than 40 million Americans suffer from some form of anxiety. But a genuine sense of hope and healing can occur through MOVE.

Take one small step to Move and you will receive the support and coaching necessary to stay moving—to where you want to go. Go team!