Why did I decide to try group therapy? How did it help? The following vignettes are a fictional compilation of individual’s experience and are representative of the type of issues and challenges worked with by those who have taken part in long term groups. They illustrate that when we feel troubled, it is often because personal patterns or events interfere with what we are trying to do.
Jane – age 28 in the second year of study for a PhD
I was finding studying for a PhD really challenging and I just hadn’t anticipated how lonely it could feel at times. After the initial excitement of choosing and researching my subject, settling into a new area and meeting new people, I began to feel overloaded and struggled with the ongoing research. The harder I tried, the less motivated I became and I began to lose confidence, not just in my work but also in my relationships. It became difficult to find a balance between work and social activity and I began to think about my work constantly, becoming more and more anxious and unable to relax.
The group helped me to get things into perspective. I learned that others can feel the same and I began to feel more confident as I learned more about myself. I stopped comparing myself with others all the time and I now feel freer to express my opinion, worrying less about what others are thinking of me.
Cesar –age 24 in the second year of study for a PhD
As an overseas student I was finding living and working in a new country very difficult. I had thought very carefully about my postgraduate study and it had been a positive choice to study abroad. However, I was surprised at how challenging it felt and I was finding it difficult to settle. I went to the GP as I was feeling tired and run down and it was he who suggested that I might talk to a counsellor. At first I was quite reluctant as I didn’t know anyone who had been for counselling and I thought I should be able to work this out on my own. I had two ‘one to one’ sessions with a counsellor and I was able to make more sense of how I was feeling. Coming abroad to study had triggered some early insecurity for me. My family life had always been challenging but it was not until I left home that I could understand more about how difficult it had been. My counsellor suggested that working more long term in a group might be helpful.
The group helped me to feel much more positive about myself. Sometimes it was a painful experience, in that the group sometimes ‘replicated’ family life. As I settled into the group and felt able to express my true thoughts and feelings, there were times when I felt misunderstood and this made me angry. However, it was helpful to look at my experience in the supportive setting of the group. I was surprised at how others in the group seemed to really care about me and I certainly found myself genuinely interested and concerned about others in the group. My circumstances haven’t changed but I now feel much more able to manage them and because of this feel happier and more settled.
Katie - age 25 in the third year of study MB ChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery)
I studied Biomedical Science and graduated with a First class degree. It had been a challenging time for me as my mother suffered a short illness and died just before I started university. My ‘A’ level results were lower than I had hoped and I worked very hard to get my First. It is what she would have wanted. I was so pleased to be accepted onto the course here in Warwick and I really enjoyed my first two years finding it very interesting. Like my first degree it has kept me very busy. This year I have started my first placement and whilst I am enjoying it I am finding it tough working with patients and find myself thinking about and missing my Mum. I am worried that I’m preoccupied and not giving patients the attention they need and that it might affect my ability to pass the course. I’ve always felt I have to give a hundred and ten percent!
I joined a group for post graduates recently and already I am finding it helpful. It has felt good to give myself time to reflect and to hear about how others handle stressful situations. I’m beginning to question why I have to keep so busy all the time, learning to find time to relax, and to get more balance in my life. The first three weeks, as I settled into the group, felt quite difficult but I had been prepared for this by the group facilitator. There were times when I felt like leaving the group and found that it was so difficult to share how I was feeling. I was surprised at this as I do not have problems talking in seminars or social groups. It took me some time to share this with the group and I found their response encouraging. Even those who didn’t seem to have any problem talking in the group were very understanding and supportive. I think I had expected that if I showed any weakness I would be judged for it. Working with patients can still feel challenging but I understand more about why that is now and I am able to ‘look after’ myself rather than judge myself for it. I feel more in touch with my feelings and more able to express them. Being in the group can still feel a bit daunting but the benefits outweigh my fears.
James age 22 Masters Student
I joined the group quite early in my Masters year. I had a few counselling sessions as an undergraduate which I found helpful. I was intrigued by the idea of working in a group and thought that it might help me to understand more about myself and how others see me. I tend to be ‘the life and soul of the party’ but actually I know this is a ‘mask’. Being a bit of a joker covers up my shyness but means that others don’t always take me seriously and that can be frustrating.
Early on in the group, I took my familiar role of the joker but they soon sussed me out. It was reassuring to hear that whilst others could feel shy also, they had found different, more constructive ways of dealing with it. The group has given me a space to try out different ways of behaving in a supportive environment. I do still feel shy in social situations but I am learning to accept this in myself, giving myself permission to be quieter in groups, to feel less self conscious. People react differently to me now and I like that. I still revert to being the ‘clown’ if I’m particularly nervous but that is ongoing work and I am learning to be patient with myself.