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Self-understanding in a process-oriented psychotherapy group for gay men

13 December 1996


This case study researched a 25 session process-oriented psychotherapy group for gay men. Relational psychodynamic theory and interactional psychology were used to analyze group processes. It was proposed that gay men experience a sense of isolation related to living in a stigmatized social environment. The group therapy setting provided these men with an opportunity to interact with each other and come to a deeper understanding of themselves. The willingness and ability of members to interact with each other was expected to be contingent upon the level of safety experienced in the group. How the sense of safety developed in the group was expected to have an impact on the willingness of members to interact and engage with each other. It was proposed that the interaction between the members of the group, and reflection upon this interaction, would result in an expanded sense of self and enhanced satisfaction with life. Three factors from MacKenzie's Group Climate Questionnaire- Short Form were correlated with independent ratings of self-understanding, one of which resulted in a positive correlation (engaged/ self-understanding r = 0.64). Graphical trends in each factor and self-understanding, as well as the relationship between the variables are analyzed chronologically. Over the course of the group engagement and self-understanding were found to increase. Group members initially focused on their similarities as gay men; however, with increasing knowledge of each other had to grapple with their differences. Content analysis was used to identify recurring themes in the group. The most prominent of these included: 1) identification of members with each other, including experiences of inclusion or exclusion and personal value in the group; 2) feelings of insecurity or anxiety and perceptions of threat; 3) relationships among the members; 4) experiences of being similar or dissimilar to others; 5) self-disclosure and visibility; 6) issues of group trust and cohesion; and 7) self-derision related to internalized stigma. In two-year follow-up interviews some of the members attributed positive changes in their lives, particularly in terms of gaining more power in their relationships, to their group experience.


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