One of the most powerful and effective forms of psychotherapy for many people with personality disorders is Psychodynamic Group Psychotherapy.
Types of Groups
Today, there are many short term types of group therapy that serve useful functions. For example, there are support groups for those who have been through similar losses or traumatic experiences. Short term groups have a specific number of sessions for people to go through and then come to an end. New clients then begin a new cycle of the same type of group. These groups are lead by a mental health psychotherapist.
Psycho Educational Groups:
There are also short term groups for those who are learning about a disorder. These might be called psycho educational groups, are lead by a professional mental health professional and there is shared information about a diagnostic area. Examples of these are groups for Bulimia and Anorexia Nervosa, Bipolar Disorder and other diagnostic areas. Through group therapy one gains reassurance that they are not alone because others have been through similar types of problems. There is also the warmth and reassurance that comes from the other members.
Self Help Groups:
Then, there are peer lead self help groups. A classic example of this type of group is Alcoholics Anonymous. They are lead by peers who have been through the same problem and are now considered able to mentor people who are at the beginning stages of an illness, in this case, alcoholism.
Psychodynamic Group Therapy:
A psychodynamic group is a long term group made up of people with similar types of diagnoses, such as depression, dependent personality disorder, general anxiety disorder and etc. The group is lead by one or even two mental health professionals. The purpose for joining this type of group is to learn how to cope with relationships while learning about all the dysfunctional ways in which one has functioned until the present time. The purpose of learning about one's own dysfunctional patterns is to become self aware and begin behaving in ways that are healthier and satisfying so that the person can enjoy greater success in the world.
The premise this is based on is that we repeat or reenact, in the outside world, all the unhealthy patterns of behavior we learned in the group of origin: our family.
This type of group is usually made up of no more than eight to ten people with seven being the most ideal. People in the group learn how they behave in the outside world because they repeat their dysfunctional patterns in the group. In a way, the group is a microcosm of the world and an experimental family in which members take on their old and unhealthy roles until they are shed and they adopt new patterns of behavior in which they enjoy greater acceptance and warmth in the group.
The group leader is the therapist who sheds light on what is happening to the group or to an individual member. Emotions can become very heated in the group with hostilities rising high from time to time. This is when the leader intervenes to clarify and defuse so that members take a way from the meeting a greater understanding of how they are functioning and why it is or is not very helpful.
However, it is important to point out that the leader of the group is not the only therapist present. Each group member can and does take on the role of mental health healer. In other words, rather than a client having only the therapist to react to, in the group, there are the other members as well. This gives the client a wider range of people pointing out there areas of dysfunction.
The great psychiatrist, Irvin Yalom wrote the classic textbook on this type of group therapy titled, "The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy." He is a masterful psychodynamic group psychotherapist and his book, which has been updated, is as fresh and relevant today as it was when it was first published many years ago.
This type of group therapy has no end point. Rather, the group continues to live and evolve as people graduate and move on in their lives and are replaced by a new member. This gives members the chance to both celebrate and mourn the loss of one of the members, as well as something to aspire to: graduation.
People within a group such as this are not allowed to date or have sexual relations and are subject to censure from other members and or the leader if this happens. The reason is to focus on putting feelings into words rather than acting out. The main principle is that there are plenty of people to date in the outside world. This allows the group to function as a family with rules against "incest," and this often brings up important feelings that are discussed.
If you have comments, questions and concerns about this type of psychotherapy, please post them on the site and you will be responded to.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.