It’s a vibrant sunny day and I’m sitting under my veranda overlooking my garden, which contains a nest of chicks. The mother bird has flown back to the nest, and instantly three grey fuzzy heads with pink beaks bop up crying to be fed. There is quite a commotion as the mother bird starts feeding each chick. Suddenly, the mother is startled by my dog , and she abruptly flies off leaving her frantic, unsatisfied chicks. I am particularly intrigued by one of the chicks perched motionless with an open beak, painfully waiting for the mother’s return They all must wait frozen with anticipation. Even at the very beginning of their lives, the chicks experience pangs of suffering.

Suffering can also be woven into the beginnings of human existence. We live out our lives finding ways to survive its ruthless randomness. Since a portion of our suffering originates in relation to another being, it makes sense that healing can also be found within the presence of another. Group psychotherapy grounds its success in this very principle. Group psychotherapy traditionally consists of a group of 6-8 people meeting once a week, facilitated by a single psychotherapist or alongside a co-facilitator. The group may have a theme, or be open to individuals who just want to become more insightful. According to Irwin Yalom, master group psychotherapist, group can instill hope, impart valuable information, allow for new socializing techniques and give people a chance to work through unfinished chldhood issues.

For example, Sara grew up in a family of seven siblings where she was unwanted by her mother and left to feel like a burdern for most of her life. She came to group because she was having difficulty maintaining intimate relationships. Within the first few sessions of group, if fellow members didn't make overt gestures of friendliness towards her, it would stir up old wounds of abandonment. These feelings triggered Sara to desperately try harder to stay connected. This desperate behavior caused her to overextend herself through helping others person at the expense of depleting herself. On several occassions she volunteered to drive some of the group members home when it was clearly not convenient for her. When there was no reciprocation by other members, Sara remained depleted, furious and let down. She experienced others as selfish and demanding. This pattern seemed to fit most of her relationships outside of the group. Sara went through her relationships without any expectation of being loved and accepted without having to work hard at taking care of other people's needs. She would enter most of her relationships only to end up at this same familiar and hurtful place.

The beauty of group is that these patterns became apparent through her interaction with other members. Sara could have read a bookstore full of self-help books, and none of them would have been able to give her the experience she needed to have in group in order to become more self aware. It was the pure act of being herself that held the key to her enlightenment. Over the course of a few months, Sara learned to tolerate and talk about her feelings of isolation and abandonment as it occured within group. Sara spoke about these painful feelings to the group, and was able to feel accepted by them. This helped Sara learn to accept parts of herself that she had difficulty accepting in the past. Other group members also shared their feelings and experiences of abandonment, which helped Sara to feel more connected and less isolated. Sara will never be able to get the acceptance she longed for from her Mother as a little girl, but she can certainly learn to feel loved and accepted in her current relationships. This acknowledgement forced Sara to deal with her grief and heartache over the loss of never having felt unconditional love by her Mother. She was able to move through this rough episode with the love and support of the other group members. Sara's journey required much courage on her part. The courage to allow herself to feel those dreaded feelings of abandonment, and the courage to trust the group process. She walked away from group with the insight she needed in order to pave the way for new satisfying relational experiences.

Even though the beginnings of life may have contained pain, we don't have to stay stuck in the darkness of the past. Group therapy allows members to have a second chance at reworking a lifetime of negative behaviors in a new and more satisfying way. It is also an economical way to get treatment for oneself when individual therapy may be too costly.

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