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The group therapy program included three women, all of whom have been subjected to domestic abuse in the past. The program was structured into three separate sessions for using the benefits of group counseling for improving the self-awareness of women and providing a supportive framework to help women recover from abuse. The three sessions took place on May 2, 3, and 4 and were named as follows: session 1: Learning about being vulnerable and powerful, session 2: What is domestic violence to me, session 3: How to understand domestic violence. Women (aged 22, 27, and 31 years old) who participated in group counseling sessions were encouraged to reflect on their personal experiences of domestic abuse for evaluating their behaviors and making conclusions about group dynamics and process.
Summary of Individual Member Behaviors
First, it should be mentioned that all three women visited every session. For the purpose of anonymity, initials will be used as pseudonyms: JL, ER, and HC. Because domestic abuse is a traumatizing event in one’s life, making sure that women’s integrity is preserved and informed consent is given to share information about them and their behaviors.
- JL, twenty-one years old, white female. The client was in an extremely toxic relationship with an abusive and demanding individual who liked to show his dominance over others. The first incident that JL experienced with her ex-partner was him raping her without using contraceptives, which was a very traumatic event that the woman tries to forget. It is evident that JL tried to make explanations for her partner’s behaviors as well as was afraid of leaving him due to the possibility of making the situation even worse. During counseling sessions, the woman exhibited shifting perspectives on her experiences as well as extreme fear of being harmed again. It should be mentioned that the patient took some crucial steps for improving her mental condition. She visits a therapist to resolve her inner struggles and work through the heavy feelings of guilt about ever being in the relationship. Such feelings are extremely harmful to one’s mental health as well as may limit the patient’s success at group counseling sessions. The key goal for JL was using group support for improving her outlook on relationships with people and being cautious (but not afraid) when meeting a new partner. It is important for the patient to recognize her strengths and benefits to help her understand what partner will be appropriate for her in the future. When it comes to meeting program goals, JL got a deeper understanding of how to behave when getting into new relationships and for what signs to look for evaluating whether her potential partner can be abusive. JL made a solid decision to continue visiting sessions with her therapist to work on her self-perception and confidence. At the end of the program, JL made an important statement in which she expressed her gratitude for participants and the group’s counselor for empowering her as a strong woman whose opinions would not be disregarded. Overall, JL met the program’s goals in its entirety.
- ER, twenty-seven years old, white female. The client was in a relationship in which her partner seemed suitable for her at the beginning. ER reported that the man’s behavior changed from being attentive and understanding to being manipulative and controlling. An essential point to mention is that both ER and her former partner had a physical disability, which could be what bonded them in the beginning. A sudden shift in the man’s behavior toward only caring about the sexual aspect of the relationship made ER think that her life would not go as well as she would have liked. At the moment, ER is struggling with her self-identity because she thinks that nobody will love her for the way she is. It is important for the woman to explore herself as an individual through group therapy and discover who she is and what values she holds. Being a person with a physical disability, it is imperative for the ER to build a strong sense of character to prevent other people from using her. Group therapy can aid the ER in pointing out her strong individual qualities as well as help her to become confident when meeting other people and getting to know them better before trying to build any relationship. When it comes to meeting the program’s goals, there are some reservations left regarding the improvement of ER’s self-perception. It is evident that the woman’s disability has a significant influence on self-esteem and mental well-being, which means that she has a long road to go to become truly confident in herself. ER did not get rid of the vulnerability that makes her more likely to get into relationships with people who will not value her for who she is. On the other hand, the woman indicated that hearing about others’ experiences and discussing the problem of domestic abuse made her feel not alone. Overall, ER’s goals at the end of the program were partially met, which points to the fact that she is eligible for referral to a mental health specialist, a strategy that has shown to be successful for her fellow group member, JL.
- HC, thirty-one years old, white female. The client had a long history of being in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship for ten years. The most complicated part of HC’s story is that she and her former partner have a child together, which means that the woman sometimes had to sacrifice her safety and her happiness to keep her family together. HC was often manipulated and tricked into thinking that everything would change, which made her extremely insecure about the future as well as what she should do to protect her child. The woman said that she had deep feelings of anger and despair from being abused for such a long time. She even admitted to wishing her spouse to die so that everything could be easier from that point out. It is evident that HC needs a serious intervention into her life to make sure that she is away from the harmful environment in which she lived for so long. Group therapy can help HC to reflect on her mistakes and think about how she can change her life for the better in the future. Regarding her behavior, the woman lacks the strength to remove herself from a complicated situation due to the imbalance of power. For instance, when an extreme situation made her pull a kitchen knife on her spouse, he laughed and spat in her face, which shows that the man dominates the abusive relationship and does not leave the woman any opportunities to defend herself. HC is in a very complicated situation and will need the support of fellow women to empower her and show her that she is enough. When it comes to meeting the goals of the program, HC showed the most positive results compared to the other two participants. She showed determination to get out of the toxic relationship and make sure that her child lives a happy and fulfilling life. She indicated that the word ‘abuse’ would never be tolerated and that she would focus all of her efforts on building a family with her kid through the support of her closest friends and relatives. It is important to note that HC was vocal not only at reflecting on her experiences and mistakes but also was very compassionate toward other group members. She tried to advise the two younger women on how not to make the same mistakes that she made as well as encouraged them to find balance within themselves and be independent. Overall, HC should be distinguished for the most positive outcomes associated with the program’s goals.
Summary Evaluation of Group Dynamics and Process
In total, there were three sessions within the program, each of which had a specific theme. Despite the fact that each session covered as much information as possible, it should be noted that three days are not enough for helping women overcome their mental issues associated with being victims of domestic violence. In my view, three participants were the right number of people participating in such programs because enough attention was given to each woman and their story. Major themes that prevailed in group discussions included overcoming the fear of being abused, getting the strength to move on and learn from past mistakes, avoid self-loathing and guilt for allowing to be trapped in abusive relationships, as well as developing a strong sense of self-perception. Importantly, the mentioned themes connected participants to a great degree because, despite their differences, all of them struggled with getting the strength and walking away from toxic environments.
As therapeutic factors play an essential role in evaluating the dynamics and process of group therapy sessions, several observations concerning this point should be made (The American Group Therapy Association, 2007). The first therapeutic factor that was observed during the group program was acceptance (cohesion). The rationale for making such a conclusion is associated with the fact that the group of women showed a sense of belonging and tried to value the experiences of each other (Yalom & Lesczcz, 2005). Interactions between women were positive; they trusted each other and felt safe and accepted. Cohesion and acceptance as a separate therapeutic factor allowed to establish efficient group dynamics and facilitate a positive environment in which women felt safe.
Interpersonal learning was the second therapeutic factor observed during the group program as a key component in overcoming the psychological challenges that women faced (Anderson, Sylvan, & Sheets, 2014). It is important to mention that women improved their self-perception by getting feedback from their fellow group members (Gallagher et al., 2014). Interpersonal learning was especially relevant in the context of the program’s objectives because women struggled with separation anxiety. While all of them were eager to walk away from toxic relationships, they were anxious to face the possible consequences and become victims of violence again.
Forming and norming were the two stages of Tuckman’s group development model that were prevalent in all three sessions (Prendiville, 2008). Participants refrained from arguing or pointing out each other’s flaws because all of them wanted to foster a positive and safe environment. For example, when HC told her long story of domestic abuse, other women did not judge her for not leaving her abuser. Instead, they politely asked her about the reasoning behind decisions and gave their perspectives on the issue. It is possible that if the stage of storming was present during group counseling on domestic abuse, the interactions could have quickly gotten a negative tone and took away from constructive communication.
The sessions’ termination plan included asking women about what they have learned from the group therapy in which they participated. At the end of the second session, all of them were asked to give a brief analysis of the first two lessons and encouraged to ask each other questions if something remained unclear. At the end of the third session, the participants were asked to express their takeaways from the course as well as point out any unresolved problems on which they would work in the future. The strongest outcome of the group counseling program was showing victims of domestic abuse that their experiences can serve as learning lessons for themselves and for others, which means that they should not feel shame or guilt. The strongest limitation of the program was that three days were not enough to discuss each case extensively and provide women with valuable information that they could use in their future lives.
When it comes to solved problems, all three women recognized that their largest priority was focusing on themselves and what makes them truly happy. It was suggested to take time for self-exploration to foster self-love and acceptance before trying to build a new relationship. Another positive outcome of group counseling was recognizing that becoming victims of domestic abuse was not their fault so that they could relieve themselves from the burden of guilt. When it comes to unsolved problems, the three days of counseling did not resolve the issue of lack of self-perception and confidence. It is recommended for all women to visit a personal counselor to improve their sense of self and gain confidence.
It should be mentioned that member transference ranged between feelings of guilt and positive outlooks on the future. Women did not compete for the counselor’s attention; rather, they were more eager to develop an effective discussion between each other and interacted regularly. The counselor played the role of a facilitator and mediator, providing women with additional topics to discuss. At the end of the program, the women made plans to meet later and spend some time together as an independent support group.
In conducting another group counseling session, a maximum of three participants will be included to repeat the success of this program. However, some changes can be made. For instance, the program should take at least a week and include more illustrative material. A documentary on domestic abuse can be shown to participants to facilitate future discussions. Although the project was challenging, it allowed me as a counselor to develop facilitator and mediator skills. These skills can be extremely helpful for encouraging individual clients to participate in group counseling and becoming a preceptor for these individuals.
Designing and conducting a group therapy program was harder than perceived from the beginning because each participant’s experiences were unique and needed better preparation. At the moment, my facilitator skills are in the primary stages of development because more experience is needed to become a professional in the field. These skills can also be effectively used in a medical management role since it implies interactions with patients in their families, and each person has different views on treatment or medication choices.
The American Group Therapy Association. (2007). Practice guidelines for group psychotherapy. Web.
Anderson, M., Sylvan, A., & Sheets, R. (2014). Experiential group training: An exploration of student perceptions. Vistas, 35, 1-22.
Gallagher, M., Tasca, G., Ritchie, K., Balfour, L., Maxwell, H., & Bissada, H. (2014). Interpersonal learning is associated with improved self-esteem in group psychotherapy for women with binge eating disorder. Psychotherapy, 51(1), 66-77.
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Prendiville, P. (2008). Developing facilitation skills: A handbook for group facilitators (3rd ed.). Dublin, Ireland: Combat Poverty Agency.
Yalom, I. & Leszcz, M. (2005). The theory and practice of group psychotherapy (5th ed.). New York, NY: Basic Books.