The culture around us is pretty dysfunctional. So more and more for me, groups are the treatment of choice for many issues—a place to build and heal in a group culture that supports one’s growth. In a group, people are there for a common purpose, which is to grow beyond where they are now and the problems they bring to group. In a group, they can see that what they bring is reflected in everyone else. Anxiety and depression are not the special problems of a few people, they are part of the human condition. Depression is a physiological state and usually it is related to other things— sadness, loss, despair, loneliness; and mostly those things are what everyone feels at some time or another. Depression particularly is correlated with lack of social connection, isolation. And what happens in a group? Lots of connection.
My personal experience of the power of group was attending a Gestalt workshop at the Cleveland Gestalt Institute. I was going through the end of a relationship. A woman also going through the end of her relationship volunteered to do some work. She said her goodbyes to her spouse in a Gestalt “empty chair” exercise that helped her release the feelings she was holding. I, sitting in the circle watching her, was working through those same feelings with her and through her.
As a group leader, I remember one woman in particular doing some significant work. It may also have been about ending a relationship. As she worked through her feelings, she began to sob and as she felt the support of the group through touch and presence, she sobbed even more. Afterwards, she felt released from the feelings and the support of the group increased the power of the release. She was smiling, relaxed—at peace.
Anyone who has meditated, with others, has felt the power of the group presence, as one has settled into stillness and the silence. On a cognitive level, we may think of ourselves as all separate, but on a physical and energetic level, we are synchronizing with each other, like waves on a lake As a group facilitator leading meditation, I have actually noticed, when a group gets to a place of deep peace together, many people’s breathing does appear to be in rhythm. There is physical harmony within the room.
In a therapy group, a person becomes more than the problems they bring to group. They can become a support to another, a teller of a story of a similar experience, an intimate sharer of similar feelings; and all of this moves them beyond themselves and the problem they brought to group. And moving beyond one’s current self into a larger self is growth. As we grow beyond our old self, our ego, and make connections with others, we settle into the ground of spiritual growth—that vague ambiguous word that gets tossed around.
Spirituality, if I have to define it, is growing into a larger self more identified both with one’s deepest self, the self that is a part of everything else, and a growing identification with the world, through greater connections with others. So groups can be, with the right focus, a tool for growth, a tool for learning to live more fully in the moment, and tool for connecting and giving of oneself to others. And these are the tools that help heal people’s lives and hopefully the larger world, which is in sad need of healing.