How to Make the Most of Group Therapy as an Introvert

An introvert in group therapy

When my therapist suggested group therapy, I panicked. As an introvert, it didn’t seem like the right fit for me. I was wrong.

I have always enjoyed one-on-one sessions with my therapist. The room is quiet and calm, and it smells like lavender. When speaking with her, I feel like I am conversing with a trusted friend in a safe space. I know what to expect.

That is why, when she recommended that I try group therapy, I felt my heart skip a beat and my palms began to sweat. It didn’t seem like it would be the right fit for me.  

You see, as an introvert, I am most comfortable being able to plan for upcoming situations. However, at the time, I had no past experience with group therapy to draw from, so I began to speculate. I pictured myself sitting in a circle with a group of strangers, being prompted to answer various challenging questions as if I were giving a mini public speech. (It’s no surprise that introverts are not fans of public speaking!) I envisioned awkward team-building exercises and practicing leadership skills. 

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What I Thought About Group Therapy Was Wrong

But… my preconceived notions about group therapy were incorrect. Fortunately, my very sweet and patient therapist answered many of my questions beforehand. By the end of my time with her, I had decided to challenge myself and attend one group therapy session, which would later turn into many!

Every person is unique, so not everyone will prefer the same types of therapy. I learned that being an introvert does not automatically mean group therapy wouldn’t work for me. Introverts can thrive in group therapy as much as they can in one-on-one therapy. I picked up some helpful habits during my group sessions that helped me along the way, and I hope they help you, too.

3 Ways to Make the Most of Group Therapy as an Introvert

1. Treat it like a learning environment vs. something you have to be “good” at.

Group therapy is a place to share, and it is also a place to learn. I realized that sharing was only one part of the group therapy experience. It was so much more than just the mini public speaking forum that I had been picturing. 

Often, I would find myself scribbling down helpful notes or quotes from my peers. The therapists who led our group sometimes gave us reading materials to look up at home if we were interested. (I’m sure I’m not alone in being an introvert who loves to read.) We would even work on coping mechanisms, such as journaling in real time, and only speak aloud what we wrote about if we felt comfortable. There was no pressure.

It’s easy for introverts to fall into a pattern of overthinking. In my case, I found that I could relax my mind and enjoy my sessions when I realized that group therapy was a tool for me to learn from and not something for me to try to be “good” at. The environment became far less intimidating in my head when I saw that the group was there to learn from each other and the therapists, and sharing was not met with judgment. 

Over time, I began to talk more often in sessions as I felt more confident and comfortable, and I learned a lot from sharing, as well! Speaking of being comfortable…

2. Check in with yourself and make sure you’re comfortable.

Becoming comfortable sharing my thoughts and feelings with a group of other people — in essence, strangers — seemed daunting at first, so I eased myself into it. Not all group therapy sessions are identical, but for me, our sessions would usually start with a simple warm-up question. Fortunately, it was nothing open-ended and stressful for introverts such as myself to answer, like “What is one fun fact about yourself?” 

These questions were gentle and specific, and didn’t involve much brain power. “What is your favorite restaurant?” was the question on my first day. I was relieved to see that one-word answers were perfectly acceptable. Even saying, “I don’t know” was okay; just the fact that we showed up and were trying was enough. (See? Non-judgmental!)

Do you ever struggle to know what to say?

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For the more personal questions, everyone was allowed to pass on sharing if they did not feel comfortable answering. Many questions were open-ended, so only those with something they wanted to say needed to answer. 

But, I found that adding my input gave me an even richer experience during my group sessions. Many of our discussions were conversational, and all were safe and respectful. I was surprised by how often I felt like speaking up, so I checked in with myself to ensure I was doing alright.

I would do this by mindfully checking in with my body when I found I was too wrapped up in my thoughts. I would check to see if I was experiencing any symptoms of anxiety — if I felt tense, had a headache or nausea, or felt jittery. If my body was reacting stressfully to a particular conversation, I would take deep breaths (almost like meditating) until it was over and pass on the questions. And if I felt too awkward to answer an interesting question in front of the group, I would write it down to discuss later during my one-on-one session with my therapist. 

3. Take comfort in your shared experiences with others.

During one group session, a peer mentioned his struggles with irritability. As he told his story, a strange feeling came over me. I related to his words so much that he could have been retelling a story from my life. I had never made a connection between anxiety and irritability before. Soon, several other group members were chiming in in agreement. I thought I was alone in that struggle, but it turned out that the group members understood a lot of what I had been going through.

As I realized I was not alone in how I felt, that relief and support was one of the most valuable things I took away from those group sessions. The group members listened to me in agreement as I shared my story. It was nice to have a sympathetic, and empathetic, ear from someone with a shared experience; many of them even had tips for making my struggles a little bit easier.

It is essential for introverts to have a community of understanding and supportive people surrounding them. That community can even be found in group therapy! Even if the idea seems intimidating at first, trust me, it’s been a game-changer for me.

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