Anyone interested in joining one of my therapy groups is asked to agree to the following guidelines prior to joining. (Guidelines will also be discussed in person prior to joining a group to ensure that each member understands and is able to ask any questions he or she might have.)
1. Group members agree to maintain the confidentiality of other group members.
This means that members not only agree not to share any information about other members’ identities (names, occupations, etc.) but also that they agree not to share one another’s stories outside the group, even with their own family members. Group members are welcome to share with their loved ones things that they have learned about themselves in the group, but they agree not to share even de-identified information about other members.
2. Members wishing to join a therapy group will commit to attending at least 4 sessions before deciding to discontinue their group membership.
I ask for this commitment because joining a therapy group can be daunting at first, and it can take some time to settle in and see what the experience might really be like. (It can also be disruptive to other members to have a new member join, only to leave shortly thereafter.) I believe that after 3 sessions, members should have a sense of whether or not the group is right for them. If they decide not to continue after that 3rd session, they are asked to let the group know of their decision and to return one more time to say goodbye and to allow other members to process their reactions to the members’ leaving (see number 3 below for more information about leaving a group).
3. If a member chooses to leave the group at any time, he or she agrees to give the group 4 weeks notice if possible and no less than 1 week’s notice prior to leaving the group.
This allows time for the group to prepare for the member’s departure and wrap up unfinished business with this member. If a member simply disappears without warning, other members often worry about them (far more than they would imagine!) and may have concerns that the member’s sudden departure was in reaction to something they did or said. In order to ensure that other members are not left with unanswered questions like this, members commit to returning to say goodbye and allowing as much time as possible for others to respond to and process their leaving. Many people have had bad experiences with endings in the past, and allowing time to process and share feelings around endings in the group can make room for corrective experiences — for both those leaving and those remaining in the group.
4. Members agree to refrain from actively cultivating relationships of any kind with other members outside of the context of the group.
While sometimes those close to us are the best people to talk to about difficult or vulnerable issues, at other times our relationships can actually get in the way of our feeling comfortable sharing openly and honestly because we worry about how doing so could impact the relationship. If members become friends outside of group, they may feel less able to speak openly about their difficulties or to share honest feedback with one another. Furthermore, if members were to become friends outside of group, others might feel left out or worry that they are being talked about, thus diminishing the trust within the group. For these reasons, members agree not to cultivate friendships or other types of relationships with one another outside of the group to keep the group a therapeutic space. If members do have interactions outside of group, they agree to bring these interactions back to the group and discuss them openly with the rest of the group.
5. Members agree to make group a priority in their schedules.
This means that they commit to attending group each week, to being on time, and to remaining for the duration of each group meeting. When a member arrives late or leaves early, this can be disruptive to other members and can detract from the sense of security and dependability in the group. Obviously, we all understand that life happens and there will be times when members must miss a group or arrive a few minutes late. However, members commit to doing their best to minimize such occurrences (e.g. not scheduling other appointments during group time if avoidable). If they must miss a group meeting, they agree to let the group know in advance if possible. If regular attendance becomes a problem, a member may be asked to leave the group at least until he or she is able to commit to attending regularly.
6. Members agree to share their feelings and reactions using words as much as possible rather than acting them out — especially through physical contact with other members.
To ensure that the group remains a safe space for everyone, members agree to refrain from physical touch with other members. While most people can understand why any sort of aggressive touch would be prohibited, it may be difficult for some to imagine why more friendly forms of touch (e.g. a hug, a pat on the back, a comforting hand on the shoulder) might also be discouraged in a therapy group. However, everyone has a different comfort level with physical contact and a different sense of personal boundaries, and even more “friendly” touch can be experienced by some as unwelcome or intrusive. If a member feels compelled to touch another member, he or she is actively encouraged to share this feeling in words rather than acting on it. There is nothing wrong with feeling the desire to touch in group — we just agree to talk about it rather than doing it!
7. Members understand that food will not be permitted in the group (water and other beverages are fine).
Food changes the dynamic of a group, and members are asked to refrain from bringing any food in order to keep the group a therapeutic space.
8. Members commit to attending group sober (not under the influence of controlled substances).
Hopefully this is self-explanatory.