July 23, 2024
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Interpersonal Process Groups: The Therapy You Didn’t Know You Needed

“I want to invite you all to notice the feelings that come up for you right now in this moment.”

This was my first experience of group therapy and I had no idea what was going on. “In this moment? What could she possibly mean?” I remember thinking to myself. I was at the beginning of my career, and was attending a group therapy training where they asked for volunteers to join a demonstration group as part of the training experience. The topic of the training was “How to deal with the difficult group member,” but I didn’t know that the training would have an experiential component.

I happily volunteered, having no idea that I was about to be in a therapy group in front of 40 other people.

My fellow volunteer group members began sharing how they were feeling in that moment, and one of the members (who had been assigned the role of “the difficult group member”) chimed in with negative feelings towards the group. He evoked all sorts of feelings in me and the other group members and enabled us to tap into how it feels for us in the world when confronted with people who act like him.

That experience piqued my curiosity around this type of group therapy, which I later learned was called an Interpersonal Process Group. My understanding until this point was that group therapy focused on supporting members with specific challenging situations, developing social skills, and/or providing emotion-regulating coping skills through various therapeutic modalities such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.

An Interpersonal Process Group, though, is open to anyone who wants to work on themselves and the outcome that group members gain from these groups is the deep understanding of oneself; deeper, in my opinion, than what you get from individual therapy.

I tell all my new group members that their task in group is to be open and honest about their feelings as they come up, to let others affect them emotionally and to be affected back by their fellow group members. It is a hard task but one I help them with during the process.

Since my initial group experience, I began attending more group trainings and multi-day conferences, and enrolled two years ago in an ongoing weekly therapy group for therapists.

A new group member recently joined the group that I participate in and he said to us the other week, “I’m not totally sure how talking about myself and my feelings in this space can help me,” which is a valid thing to wonder about when new to the group! I chimed in and said, “Come back in a year and you’ll be able to let us know how it’s helped.”

In the two years that I’ve been in this group, I personally have noticed massive changes in my own people-pleasing tendencies, assertive communication skills, and I am better able to identify how I feel in the moment, which has deepened my relationships. I attribute this personal growth to my experience as a group member.

I have seen the clients in both our teen and adult process groups improve in the same areas and more.

The teenage girl who came in struggling with social anxiety and speaking her thoughts unprompted is now the first one to share at the beginning of group. The self-identified “people-pleaser” actively works on pleasing his fellow group members week after week (and the group holds him accountable for that). The college student who struggles to make meaningful connections with others and jumps to surface level small talk in group when feeling anxious now pushes herself to stay with the harder, more vulnerable feelings. These are just some examples of how I have directly seen the power of Interpersonal Process Groups.

Group therapy is so much more than a support group, and I’m excited to be able to help you, and others, experience that.


Sara Schreiber, LCSW is an individual and group psychotherapist in Teaneck, NJ and is the founder of Collaborative Minds Psychotherapy LLC. Sara specializes in working with teens and adults and is licensed in NY, NJ, CT, FL and MA. Sara runs an Interpersonal Process Group for College Students and will be starting a virtual Adult Interpersonal Process Group next month. Sara’s practice also offers Interpersonal Process Groups for teen girls, an Interpersonal Process Group for men, a DBT skills group for teens, a new body image group for teens, a social skills groups for teens and young adults, and a Going to Seminary Group. If you are interested in individual or group therapy with Sara or someone on her team, contact [email protected] or visit www.collaborativeminds.net

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