How to Get the Most Out of Group Therapy

Like so many things in life, the more effort you put into something, the more you get out of it. This is certainly true of group therapy. Whether you are in a 12 Step meeting or any other type of session filled with people dealing with common challenges.

Ironically, the success of a “group” comes down to individual evaluation. And each participant may come away from the “group” with a different impression.

I know that for me, a good group (or a “good meeting”) is usually one that I was actively engaged in. Here are the steps I take to do this.

1) Actively Listen

Being actively engaged doesn’t always mean I have to share.

We all have days that we’d just prefer to sit and listen, just as we have other days where we just want to talk, talk, talk. But being engaged when I am not sharing means active listening.

Perhaps I am thinking about what others have to say and I am considering applying their solutions to my own issue(s).This introspection and self-assessment are essential elements of our recovery that largely rely on good listening.

However, I have found that when I can listen AND share during a meeting, I usually come away from that meeting much more fulfilled.

2) Share Honestly

“Sometimes it is less about what I say and more about the act of simply expressing myself honestly.”

All of us are subject to being up or down on any given day. Vocalizing where I’m at in my own head can be a very cathartic process where I simply get validation from sharing my experience with others.

Coming into a meeting one morning . . .

In a former town where we lived I would go to a regular meeting where the format is wide open for anyone to volunteer a topic and then to share on it. After this person shares then the person sitting to the left of that person would share next and so on.

Usually we get around the whole circle of seats before the hour is up. There would be an occasional “pass” but that was ok too. In this type of meeting, I am more likely to share because I feel that I am more obligated to do so.

I recall coming into this meeting one morning not quite knowing how I felt. Maybe I was still waking up, but I certainly was not in a positive mood. I shared that I had been somewhat subconsciously taking an inventory of things that weren’t going the way I wanted them to, and it was causing me to start out my day with a sour attitude.

“It was in that process of sharing what was going on inside me that I found my own answer as well.”

I told the group that I thought that what I needed to do as a counterbalance was to take an inventory of all the good things I have in my life.

By vocalizing this, I was also (in a way) committing myself to the solution. That process of openly sharing how I felt reset my attitude for the rest of the day, and all I had to do was share honestly.

A Balance of Give and Take

Sharing in group can be more akin to giving just as listening in group can be more akin to taking. Each of us get the most out of group when we have an equilibrium of give and take.

Two-way participation between ourselves and group is most successful when we can listen without judgment, feel compassionately, and share honestly.

To get the most out of your next group or meeting, remember to

Actively Listen—think about how the speaker’s experience compares to your own and what lessons can you take from it.

Share Honestly—make the most of your own share by asking yourself three questions:

  • Is what I have to say necessary?  (Am I contributing to the conversation or topic?)
  • Is what I have to say truthful?
  • Is what I have to say kind?

Give and Take—listen without judgment (principles before personalities), empathize with compassion, and engage in two-way participation.

Author: Tom W. is a recovering alcoholic.