The first few sessions of a process group, also known as personal exploration groups, usually focus on the establishment of trust. During this time, the group therapists and group members work towards establishing a level of trust that allows them to communicate openly and honestly. In a climate of trust, people feel free to care about and help each other. New members are often amazed at how much their contributions help other members. Group trust is enhanced when all members make a commitment to the group.
During the group meeting time, members are responsible for talking about what is troubling them. Emphasis is placed on the “here and now.” That is, these groups function best when their members talk about their experiences within the group and between members instead of the past or outside relationships. Discussion flows according to what members would like to talk about — the group leaders do not, for the most part, assign topics for the group to discuss. Members are encouraged to give support and feedback to others, and to work with the reactions and responses that other members’ contributions bring up for them. Group members and group therapists may serve as models for effective communication, offer problem-solving strategies, and promote self-acceptance and self-support.
As individuals begin interacting freely with other group members, they usually re-experience or recreate some of the interpersonal difficulties that brought them to the group in the first place. Many of the reasons people seek help with personal issues usually stem from difficulties in their relationships with others. Under the skilled direction of a group therapist, the group is able to point out troublesome interpersonal patterns by providing feedback and support and offering alternatives, and in such a way that the difficulty becomes resolved.
Unexpressed feelings are a major reason why people experience difficulties and distress. Sharing your thoughts and feelings in a safe and supportive environment is an important part of group therapy and strongly affects how much you will be helped. The climate of trust provided by the group promotes an environment where members feel safe to share their struggles and work collaboratively to understand one another. As individuals increase their self-awareness, develop new ways of relating to people, and learn new adaptive behaviors, they make progress towards their personal goals that brought them to the group.