Richard Harvey - Psychotherapist, Author and Spiritual Teacher

Richard Harvey

connecting psychotherapy and spiritual growth for human awakening
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Interview about Group Therapy

Richard Harvey answers questions about group work and group therapy on workshops and courses.

How does group therapy differ from individual therapy?

Well, there are more people involved! The dynamics of group work are powerful in many ways. First, issues can be stimulated that may otherwise take time to surface in individual therapy, without the catalyst of some group interaction, or a certain individual or exchange in the group. A look, a remark, someone you like or dislike may be enough to re-stimulate repressed inner issues.

The group also provides emotional support and encouragement; you get the feeling that you are not the only one grappling with inner work and its challenges. You can see that your struggles are shared by others and you learn from each other’s experiences and share in each other’s successes. The group intensifies relationships. You go very far comparatively quickly, because of the nature of sharing deeply. People become close in a short time.

So which is better, group therapy or individual therapy?

Workshops provide a very good introduction to therapy. And individual therapy can be tremendously enhanced by group therapy. But group therapy is not for everyone. Some people are private about their inner work, some feel intimidated about openly sharing their issues, or feel possessive about their relationship to their therapists when he or she is the group leader.

The public revelation doesn’t always serve the individual process, which is profoundly intimate and private for many people. It is a matter for sensitive discussion between the therapist and the client. Sometimes it is an issue of timing, of knowing when the challenge is going to enhance your inner development.

What is the difference between your workshops and your seminars?

Workshops involve more experiential work and seminars are geared to teaching. In my workshops I am concerned with meeting people where they are and addressing their needs as individuals in a collective, mutually helpful process, while in my seminars I am concerned with encouraging a deep, living understanding of the subject matter

What do you mean by “living understanding”?

Understanding usually means ‘intellectual understanding’ or accruing knowledge. With the material we address in my seminars we are speaking about how it is to be human: what it means, how we experience it, what deepening layers of truth we can reach, what is our true potential, that kind of thing. The discussion of these matters requires wisdom and insight that is ‘felt’ deep within us. Knowledge is not wisdom. So we strive for living understanding, a wisdom that is alive and vibrant and points the way to expansive enquiry into life and our true nature as human beings.

And “living understanding” in relationship to group work therapy?

Sometimes such understanding is not the common understanding of how things are or how life works. The group provides acknowledgement and a testing ground for new insights. With a group of likeminded souls you can stretch out, expand in imagination and vision, and risk thinking in new conceptual frameworks. All of this is integrally connected to change and transformation.

Is there anything else you want to say about working in groups?

The depth and breadth of emotional experience in groups is hard to compare to any other. In friendships, relationships, intimacies of all kinds we so often have an investment in the relationship being a certain way, stable and firm, so we defend and maintain it and ourselves in ways that so often become limiting. In groups the relationship is subordinate to our desire to grow and change. So relationships can be uncertain because everything may be risked.

The privilege of being allowed into someone's life in such an intimate way, to glimpse how they live, what they feel, what really matters to them and how their lives take shape around their core concerns, beliefs and passions is precious and irreplaceable.

In times of great peril or unusual stress people may come together and benefit from similar insights, immediate closeness and emotional connection. This happens to people enduring incarceration or inhuman treatment together; it happened in the two World Wars and in the aftermath of 9/11.

Today, for most of us (in the advantaged “first world”), such perilous intensity is unlikely to happen, because the circumstances of life are relatively comfortable and easy; a lot of us have got enough, financially, creatively, and leisure wise. It is an opulent time for many, some of us have even got too much!

But in groups and workshops I experience something of that intensity and edge of risk and fear. Today the edge of initiation and hazard are internal, not external, and groups are where we meet this edge, through exploring anxiety, dreams, fears and desires, unresolved childhood. The parallel is justified, I think: witnessing people’s work in groups sometimes recalls terrible injustices, torture of the soul, and distress, as well as spontaneous rushes of pleasure, outbreaks of joy and warmth, tenderness and intimacy. In group workshops we encounter the agony and ecstasy of life.

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