I am just about to start a new round of group therapy for codependency. I have been running them since the beginning of the year and I have enjoyed them. I believe the participants felt the same. It has brought up ideas of how these groups can be effective in helping codependency. I am looking forward to the next one. Let’s talk about this.
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Group therapy is often defined by stereotypes taken from television programmes, especially in the US, depicting recovering alcoholics starting the process by stating “My name is… I am an alcoholic”. This is often heralded by the rest of the group as the starting point of recovery and a round of applause and copious amounts of empathetic back slapping follow as the addict starts his journey. You can find therapy for all kinds of addiction in an age where there are many more things to be addicted to. Social media has driven generally a rise in such addictions as pornography and sex, even a love addiction exists and, of course, screen time is also seen as an addiction if it gets out of hand. All wonderful concepts and people will always find help for their issues, however obscure.
Group therapy has been practiced skillfully by therapists to great effect for many years. Irving Yalom, psychotherapist and author writes fondly about the joys of group therapy for terminally ill people in a cancer hospice, in “Staring At The Sun”, his masterpiece book about death anxiety. He said that he learned more about human nature in that group than years spent doing individual sessions. He, at one time, also said:
Members of a cohesive group feel warmth and comfort in the group and a sense of belongingness; they value the group and feel in turn that they are valued, accepted, and supported by other members.”
― Irvin D. Yalom
The value of bringing a group of troubled people together and allowing them through his mediation to help themselves as a group was not lost on Yalom and he used it to great effect. His books generally are inspiring but his work on group therapy stand out.
There are, of course advantages and disadvantages to group therapy that might well play into the notion that it could well be best utilized as a supplement to individual therapy. While it is not as focused as individual therapy on individual issues, (the group is the focus, not the individual), it makes up for this by creating a group dynamic which might aid healing in a way that members can hear each other’s stories and maybe mirror behaviour. They will also hear different takes on their own story and maybe a new perspective. One of the disadvantages and a major one, is that the bigger the group, the wider range of issues present. This could potentially affect the dynamic.
The key to this, in my opinion, is to ensure through filtering that you have a small cohesive group who are somewhere near each other in terms of issues faced. A good example is CODA, where many people who join have little in common with codependents. One of my clients lamented that of the fifty people present, only about twenty percent of the participants could identify codependent symptoms in themselves. The expectation was to hear and talk about codependency with someone leading the group who understood it.
The cohesiveness of the group and trying to match members with others is an important factor. Once again, a quote from Irving Yalom:
“In general, however, there is agreement that groups differ from one another in the amount of “groupness” present. Those with a greater sense of solidarity, or “we-ness” value the group more highly and will defend it against internal and external threats. Such groups have a higher rate of attendance, participation, and mutual support and will defend the group standards much more than groups with less esprit de corps.”
A small group of “similar issue” members can be very effective in treating codependency. In my experience so far of running these groups, members are generally amazed and find solace and empathy with another story that is similar to their own. Codependents can feel very alone with their issues, especially in relationships and the effects of acquiring toxic shame from caregivers. Many have had no experience of healthy connection and any that they find is often transactional.
Codependency, really is a mirror of early dysfunctional relationships and in group therapy, codependents can often form healthier relationships within a safe space where boundaries and limits are encouraged and set. This is done with other codependents, not just with the therapist as in individual therapy.
In short, codependency recovery does lend itself greatly to the notion that group therapy can be a very effective tool. There is often a comparison between individual and group in terms of effectiveness but maybe one very much compliments the other. There are many factors that play into the choice, cost being one of them. Group therapy is often cheaper than individual therapy and that plays a role. I work with the evidence I have seen running the groups so far is, that group therapy, with selected members who have similar issues, can be an extremely effective method of combating codependency.
Join me on November 7, for a new round of group therapy dedicated to codependency. For more information, please visit: