groups

Why Group Therapy Works, Part 4

by Sam Bearer, PLPC

We’ve already looked at how group therapy is a great way to help individuals make changes in their lives by choose to be radically vulnerable with the other group member, fostering in himself or herself an outlook of unconditional positive regard, and allowing the very personal, negative feelings about himself/herself or others to be shared and eventually challenged by the other group members.

This final piece focuses more on how the group can invest and intervene in the individual member’s life. Following the individual work of being open, the group now has the opportunity to disrupt radically the emotional foundations underlying each member’s coping behaviors that got him or her into therapy.

As the group gently and slowly does this work of disrupting the members’ coping behaviors, the internal dynamics of personal guilt and shame frequently rise to a conscious level.  At this point, every man I have seen who comes through our groups retreats back into his comfortable style of relating. It is nearly impossible in the early stages of work for the man himself to see this happening and do anything to stop it.  Often, he can no longer differentiate his personality, style of relating, and identity without an outside perspective or help.  It is no longer a conscious choice.  He may not have even noticed it happening.  But, I am willing to bet 99 times out of 100 that some other member in the group noticed.

The group is meant to be that outside reference point.

Once again, vulnerability comes into play here, because the group member who noticed should be willing to appropriately, with unconditional positive regard, call out his group mate.  This reintroduces all the dynamics of the personal work from part one: vulnerability, maintaining unconditional positive regard, and personal investment.  It also adds to it the gut check of interpersonal conflict. The group members are doing exactly as they should when they can reflect back both the positive and negative they experience in relating to each member.  This work engages members both internally and externally at once.  This may seem obvious, but it is so important, not to mention difficult.  We do this kind of thing in our lives all the time.  However, we are rarely fully engaging our awareness of both pieces simultaneously.  It takes hard work to build up this new skill.  Like learning a new language, we have to take many fumbling attempts to communicate this new way, and we usually struggle at it for a while.  The safety created in the group should promote and celebrate these attempts as well as normalize the experience as something everyone in the group is fighting to do better.  It takes time as well as higher levels of concentration, self-awareness, and intentionality than we generally are used to.

It needs to be said here that this process, in therapy as well as practicing these skills in life, will take some time to sink in.

This is especially true when you consider there are years if not decades of reinforced acting out behaviors that a client wants to change.  It is likely to require a proportionate amount of time and effort for this new way of relating or sense of self to take shape.  Other factors that might increase the length of time and work to be done might be connected to and complicated by experiences of abuse or trauma.  Though the progress may be slower than an individual may like and expect, small changes over time add up to big changes.  These small steps along the way should be highlighted and celebrated as part of the greater changes each client wants to see in his or her life.

 

Why Group Therapy Works, Part 3

 by Sam Bearer, PLPC

Group therapy is a great way to help individuals make changes in their lives.  There are several aspects of group work that help make these changes possible. The first two I’ve talked about focus on the client’s investment in the group process. The first is for each group member to choose to be radically vulnerable with the other group members. The second is for each member to foster in himself or herself an outlook of unconditional positive regard in which it is safe to share, feel, learn, and empathize within the group setting.

The next piece focuses more on how the group can invest and intervene in the individual member’s life. Following the individual work of being open, the group now has the opportunity to disrupt radically the emotional foundations underlying each member’s coping behaviors that got him or her into therapy. This is one of the most difficult parts of group work, but as is usually the case with therapy, it is essential for change.

Each member must allow the very personal, negative feelings about himself/herself or others to be shared and eventually challenged by the other group members.

These negative feelings are both bound up in and displayed by each person’s style of relating.  Almost without fail, these negative feelings have been activated within the first few sessions of group work because of conflicting expectations, styles of relating, radical vulnerability of some members but not others, etc.  However, they most likely have not been fully expressed.

This is so difficult for many reasons. The most common roadblock is that the learned responses to emotional stressors, also known as styles of relating or coping patterns, are so ingrained and automatic that slowing the process down into separate phases or component parts can be daunting.

Individuals often identify themselves as inseparable from their comfortable style of relating.

In our next blog, we will conclude this series on why group therapy works.

Why Group Therapy Works, Part 2

by Sam Bearer, PLPC

In the first part of this blog series, we looked at how vulnerability in a therapy group is key to unlocking positive change in our group members’ lives.  The second way group therapy works is by offering the experience of unconditional positive regard of the group for each particular member, both in a single instance of intentional vulnerability as well as consistently over time.  This experience becomes an emotional touchstone for a reality fundamentally at odds with, and outside of, the negative emotional experiences that so often serve as the foundation for addictive behaviors.  If we didn’t have these negative emotional realities, or had a better way of coping with them, we would not have to resort to our numbing drug of choice. 

The trouble is that at some point we learned to survive the negative emotional storm by using something to numb, and we became hooked. 

As a result, we have lost the internal resilience to be able to handle it.  This dulls our awareness to such a degree that we are no longer conscious of the emotions that drove us to use in the first place.  One unique way that group work helps to uncover these emotions and simultaneously provide an experience of unconditional positive regard is through playing out the relational patterns and dynamics that an individual learned in his family of origin.  However, because the group is not that same environment, the members of this “new family” will respond differently to an individual’s usual style of relating.  For many, this brings up all sorts of anxiety, but it also brings the possibility of learning different ways of coping with these anxieties in the here and now.  Each member experiences the other group members reflecting on how they are affected by each other’s stories and then learns how more accurately to process, reflect, and self-evaluate openly with the group. 

A person may never have considered the questions or perspectives that are shared by others, or he may receive empathy from the very kind of person he assumed would regard him as weak or unimportant.

 The way group therapy ties both of the dynamics of vulnerability and unconditional positive regard together is a safe environment.  This is in part created by the therapist but must be maintained and reinforced by the group.  If safety is not a common value of the group, it won’t be possible to adequately support members or appropriately challenge them, which I will talk about more in the next part of this blog.

Why Group Therapy Works: Part 1 

by Sam Bearer, PLPC

There is a lot of research out there evaluating the efficacy of group work to address lots of different issues. The evidence is clear that group work is tremendously effective in helping individuals make positive changes in their lives.  But why?  For the past two years, I have volunteered with a local ministry that runs men’s groups to address sexual addiction and acting out.  I have had the chance to observe and think about what makes these groups work.  This experience has helped me identify several different components that I believe are key to unlocking positive change in our group members’ lives.

The first is choosing to be vulnerable.  Every man that has come to our group has felt ashamed, isolated, and singled out by the experience of feeling trapped in his addiction or by being exposed in it.  The terrible discomfort of this experience may be enough to get him through the door and into therapy, but it doesn’t mean that the therapy will be effective.  The work each person has to do is to risk being totally open about his struggle in therapy.

Within a therapy group context, there is little room to shade the truth or hide parts of it.

One of the easiest and most prevalent ways of avoiding vulnerability is to share only the parts of the struggle that we have shared before, or can be framed as something that we used to struggle with or happened in the past.  So often, these past struggles are also very much present ones, but by placing it in the past, it puts convenient barriers up which it is easy to hide behind.  We have all tried to hide our struggles at one time or another.

At some point in our story, we learned it wasn’t safe to share and be vulnerable because someone close to us would exploit our weakness.

Group therapy is intentionally confronting this emotional reality and seeking to do the opposite.  Again and again, I have seen group members gently confront each other about whether or not individuals are sharing all of the impact of the story or just the safe parts.  When a group member deliberately and consistently chooses not to hide in this or other ways, it becomes possible for the other group members to empathize, connect with, and enter that individual’s experience in the present.  This willing vulnerability is a sign that change is already taking place in the group member as well as opening the door to the possibility of deeper, positive change.

Our Latest Newsletter…In Case you missed it!

Below is our latest newsletter.  If you would like to be added to our e-mailing list please shoot me an email and let me know!  You can send it to [email protected]

-Enjoy!

Lianne Johnson, LPC

   avenue
spacer.gif
    Like Us On Facebook                Check Out Our Blog
Our New Office Space!
Avenues Counseling Office
Avenues Counseling is moving into our new office space in May.  We are excited to join the Richmond Heights community and to continue serving all of St. Louis in our convenient central location with our counseling services. Easily accessible from Interstates 64/40, 170, and 44, our new location allows us to provide a comfortable setting for the many people who come to us seeking healing, change, help, and support.  Thank you to all who donated your time, financial support, or your various household items to help us make this next step a reality.  We are looking forward to seeing how our new building allows us to continue toward, and even expand, our mission.  To read more about our mission, click here.  
The Avenues Blog
Parenting Our Children
perfection-sign
“Parenting my children has been one of the hardest things I have ever done.  The role I have taken on as “Mom” is daunting at times when I realize that it’s my job to teach them how to be people – regular ole’ human beings, it can often feel like one of the hardest tasks I have been given….”  To read more click here.
Welcome Melinda!Avenuesmelindafiltered_sq 2Melinda joined our team in February.  Melinda works with adults and teenagers dealing with issues related to eating disorders, depression, self-image, anxiety, grief and loss, family-of-origin, marital conflict, perfectionism, and anger. Learn More

Did you know Avenues is a non-profit?  
donate

In 2013, our team donated
over $60,000 of counseling services to individuals and families throughout St. Louis. Please consider joining us in serving those with limited resources by becoming a financial partner with Avenues Counseling, as our scholarship fund allows us to extend the vast benefits of mental, emotional, and relational health to all who seek it.

Services We Offer

relationship-counseling
Could you or someone you know benefit from seeing a counselor?  Find out what services we offer.
At Avenues Counseling, we offer avenues of care to our community for those seeking healing from the pains of life, as well as those seeking personal growth. We exist to offer you a safe, trustworthy place to ask difficult questions, share your life story, and walk with you as you seek restoration.
Contact Us | 1612 S. Big Bend Blvd, Richmond Heights, MO, 63117 | Phone: 314-529-1391  [email protected]

 

Click here to forward this email to a friend

 

Why can’t I handle it on my own?

By: Andy Gear

When I think about life before the Fall, I don’t think of people going around lonely. But that thought comforted me because I realized loneliness in my own life doesn’t mean I am a complete screwup, rather God made me this way. You always picture the perfect human being as somebody who doesn’t need anybody, like a guy on a horse in Colorado or whatever. But here is Adam, the only perfect guy in the world, and he is going around wanting to be with somebody else, needing another person to fulfill a certain emptiness in his life . . . I wondered at how beautiful it is that you and I were created to need each other. The romantic need is just the beginning, because we need our families and we need our friends. In this way, we are made in God’s image. Certainly God does not need people in the way you and I do, but He feels a joy at being loved, and He feels a joy at delivering love. It is a striking thought to realize that, in paradise, a human is incomplete without a host of other people. We are relational indeed
Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller
I often feel like I should be able to handle all my problems on my own. Images of John Wayne and Bruce Willis float through my mind as I suck up my pain and try unsuccessfully to pull myself back up by my bootstraps. If only I just relied on God more, all my loneliness would just melt away. But as I read the first chapters of Genesis, I begin to question this assumption. Adam walked in the garden in perfect fellowship with God, and even then God said that Adam needed other people. He didn’t create us to be lone wolves. He created us to need each other, and He doesn’t call this weakness. He calls it being made in the image of God. We are relational, like our Father.

Growth in maturity doesn’t mean learning to solve all our problems on our own. Seeking caring, empathetic, and authentic relationship is not a concession for the weak. It is the wisdom that comes from realizing who we were made to be. We were not made to ‘stick it out’ on our own. In the Old Testament God called a family and a nation. In the New Testament He called His church to do life as a community of brothers and sisters. He wanted us to understand our need for help in this journey. Why can’t I handle it on my own? It’s not because there is something wrong with me. I was never meant to do it alone.  

I would like to introduce you to…



Lianne Johnson, LPC

As humans we struggle with many things.  Some struggles are easier to talk about, while others cause us to hide.  Mention the word sex and most of the time people shrink back from the conversation.  Mention the struggle of same-sex attraction or sexual addiction and more often than not, people will find another conversation of which to become a part. 
FirstLight is a not-for-profit ministry organization seeking to make these types of struggles and conversations better understood and easier to talk about.  They focus on walking alongside, those struggling with same-sex attractions and sexual addictions.  Recently they also began offering support groups for family members, spouses, and others walking intimately with an individual struggling in sexual ways. 
Sean Maney, the Director of FirstLight since 2010, has greatly expanded the ministry.  When he arrived, FirstLight had 2-3 volunteers with 2 groups, and now there are 20 volunteers who are running and developing 13 groups!
I had the opportunity to sit with down with him over a good cup of coffee and discuss the ministry of FirstLight.  I asked him some questions, which he kindly answered.  Here is what he had to say…

Q:  Lianne:  “Tell me about the ministry of FirstLight.”


A:  Sean:  “FirstLight ministries began a little over 10 years ago when a group of pastors and counselors saw a need for there to be a more compassionate response to homosexually within the church.  They desired to create a loving place for people struggling with homosexuality to be supported.  This group of pastors and counselors prayed for roughly 4 years about creating a ministry to support this identified need.  From this desire and faithful prayer came FirstLight. 
In 2003, FirstLight became a not-for-profit.  FirstLight desires to walk alongside the church and support its ministry to those struggling with homosexuality.  While initially FirstLight sought to solely address the struggle of homosexuality, now we have expanded our ministry to include sexual addictions, same-sex attraction, pornography addiction, and support for spouses & parents who have family members struggling with these issues.  Overall, our focus is to be a safe place for those in the community and in the church who are facing these types of issues. 
FirstLight also aims to teach and train within the community about these issues.”  

Q:  Lianne:  “What groups are you currently offering?”  


A:  Sean:  “Currently we are offering 6 groups for men with sex addictions, a group for men with same-sex attraction, a spouse & parent support group, and a group for women with same-sex attraction/addiction.”

Q:  Lianne:  “Are these groups confidential?”  

A:  Sean:  “Yes.  The groups are kept small and are led by trained facilitators.  We place a high priority on keeping identity and stories confidential.  We have had leaders in the church (including pastors) in the program and are very aware of the need to keep our work confidential.” 
Q:  Lianne:  “Are there areas of FirstLight’s ministry you hope to grow in the next year?”  


A:  Sean:  “Of course!  We would love to see all of our areas grow.  Specifically, we would like to see our ministry to women grow; our groups for women who are struggling with same-sex attraction and sexual addiction.  Statistics say 1 in 4 porn users are women.  In this next year we hope to raise enough funds to hire a female director to help me lead these ministries. 
Also, we would like to continue growing our partnerships with churches in the area.” 

Q:  Lianne:  “Does FirstLight have a ‘Wish List’?”  


A:  Sean:  “Our first and most immediate wish would be for us to raise enough funds that would enable us to hire a female director. 
At this time, our groups are held all around the St. Louis area in churches and counseling centers that partner with us.  Although we want to continue having our groups offered all throughout the St. Louis area, a wish is to have a ministry “house” that would allow for centralized offices and groups. 
A third wish is to have someone come on staff who can nurture our community contacts and donors.  Part of this is helping churches talk about these issues.  We are a voice for people who are struggling with these issues.  We have found the support we receive from the community, whether that be financial or prayers, to be a great source of encouragement for those we serve. 
Expanding our base of supporters is another big wish we have.  We need individuals and churches to financially support us, and to support our ministry within the community.  Frankly, we need many more people to give financially to our ministry.  FirstLight is a donation-based ministry; churches and individuals in the area support us.  We hope to be a blessing to people, and as they are able we hope that people are able to bless us in return.
We don’t want anyone in the church or our community who is struggling with these issues to not get the help they need.”

Q:  Lianne:  “How can someone find out more about FirstLight?”  


A:  Sean:  “The best way is to go to our website www.firstlightstlouis.org.”