Right Brain Learning in Group Psychotherapy

First I have had a number of very life-giving group therapy experiences myself. These experiences influenced me in the belief that group psychotherapy works very well to influence our ability to connect with others, increase self-awareness, and increase the ability to deal with emotions. Group therapy helps us get the kind of relationship that we want. When starting a group, it takes some time to figure out what is the most effective way to take on membership in a psychotherapy group. One way to explain Group Psychotherapy is by looking at differences in learnings in the right brain and in the left brain. Most people understand and know the existence of both conscious and unconscious mind or right and left brain. For most of us, the conscious mind dominates the unconsciousness. Experiencing relationships, meditative states, trance states, relaxed states, daydreaming states, a present moment, are experiences of being in the unconsciousness. For example, in a hypnotic trance, a person can function completely in the unconscious level. Group Psychotherapy also generates an experience and learning in the right brain, being in relationship with others and experiencing group dynamic allows us to learn on an unconscious level.

In a group, much of the learning that we do is in the right brain, interpersonal level, in the unconscious. When one has had a successful experience in the group, sometimes one has a difficult time articulating what exactly has occurred, but the improvements are evident in one’s life. Such as less social anxiety in situations that were frightening before, increased ease to say no, much more comfortable with difficult emotion, not as bothered by what others think, experiencing joy more freely, be able to think more freely, and able to access common sense with ease. Learning that occurs in the right brain is at an implicit level. Learning occurs at an implicit level is shifting of states and experiences, our inner code has shifted and the way we attach to ourselves and to others has shifted. We do this through the experience of relating to others. It is far more desirable to learn in the right brain – such learning is far more permanent and lasting. Our conscious mind can tell us all day long we must do this and not do that but the unconscious mind does its own thing anyway. When we go directly to the unconscious then we make more permeant changes. For example, we can tell ourselves all day long and perhaps a lifetime that smoking is bad, but we continue to smoke, our unconsciousness does its own thing. However, when we enter the unconscious realm and tell ourselves the truth, such as smoking is fine for me but is a poison for my body and I must protect my body, and unconsciousness learns this and accepts the change.

Right Brain Learning

The right brain dominates early development (the first two years), and is strongly involved in stimuli appraisal, holistic and emotional understandings, implicit emotional regulation, establishing attachment patterns, and mapping body awareness (Schore 2010; Siegel, 1999).
The right brain has stronger limbic connectivity, is more inward-looking, and more oriented to withdrawal and reflection. The attention of the right brain is more to the whole than the parts, to the context, the relational, and novelty. (McGilchrist, 2009).

Left Brain Learning

The left brain is more linear, logical, literal, and language-dominated (Siegel & Hartzell, 2003), and more outward toward the world, with an approach orientation that focuses on how to create systems that will facilitate getting what we need and want (McGIlchrist, 2009).
It creates a meaningful narrative from the input of the felt experience from the holistic right hemisphere.
Anxiety is a right brain experience, our left brain tries to explain the right brain experience. Usually, the explanations itself create additional anxiety. Ambiguity, contradictions, and redundancies in communications represent left-brain adaptation to right-hemisphere dysregulation.

What are the inner components that make the group work?

Just like under the hood of a car, or inside the computer server, or inside our body, or inside our family there are parts, processes, ingredients in place that make the system work. Inside a group there are ingredients that make the group work. Here are some of the parts:

Individual Selves:

Our personal history, memories, experiences, culture, emotional capacity, right-left dominances, relationship to the group leader, family experiences, sibling experience, physical health experiences, life experiences, career experiences, relationship to death, defense structure, our attachment style, our impulse control, our beliefs about the world, and introverted v. extroverted styles all make up our unique individual selves.

Survival protective mode:

  1. The first rule in any system, it must survive. The system has gone into battery saving mode and shut down everything else but survival. A very important task, yet a traumatic state for a system.
  2. In a panic, trauma, despair, angry, physically ill, fight-flight-freeze physical state
  3. Inability to self-regulate, boundaries are closed to new information, to change, to growth, producing energy, having goal-oriented goals.
  4. Inability to take on any roles in life or only limited roles: no energy to self-care, to be a parent, to work, to play, to be in a relationship, etc.
  5. This is from System-Centered Theory developed by Yvonne Agazarian

Goal-oriented energy-driven mode:

  1. Our survival self boundaries are open.
  2. Our physical and emotional self in a calm/pleasant state able to open boundaries to information, to differences, to energy, able to be goal-oriented.
  3. When survival mode is open How we take on the member roles in groups:
  4. Group Task Roles: initiator, information seeker, opinion seeker, information giver, opinion giver, coordinator, elaborator, coordinator, energizer, procedural technician, recorder.
  5. Group Building and Maintenance Roles: encourager, harmonizer, compromiser, gate-keeper, standard setter, group observer, summarizer, reality tester,
  6. Counterproductive Dysfunctional old roles/patterns: aggressor, blocker, deserter, recognition-seeker, self-confessor, playboy-playgirl, dominator, and help-seeker.

Ingredients of any group:

  • Individuals
  • Survival
  • Goals/Tasks oriented
  • Energy-driven
  • Boundaries
  • Differences/similarities
  • Destructive and deviance