“Without community, there is no liberation.” - Audre Lorde
Group counseling can be an approach to mental health support that many are apprehensive about. Sharing intimate details, tapping into vulnerability, and taking up space with not one but multiple other people in a room may seem daunting and give rise to anxiety when just thinking about it. The LGBTQIAP+ population and women-aligned individuals have long-since been told to hide, be small and unproblematic, blend, and ask for less. Creating and protecting queer spaces and tapping into the strength of expanding and claiming space for oneself and one’s community is a courageous reclamation of power.
Groups provide a warm, shared environment to provide and receive mutual support and harness the strengths our community has to offer. They are invaluable containers to practice skills and ways of being, think deeply and critically about oneself and the ways of relating to others, and carry these personal developments into each individual’s outside life. Humans are inherently social creatures, and relationships are some of the most formative and valued components of the human experience. Groups are facilitated to maintain safety and intentionality between and throughout its members while providing that room to learn through interventions used and relationships fostered in each session.
The LGBTQIAP+ population is often affected by the phenomenon termed “Minority Stress.” This describes the interactions of discrimination, prejudice, and abuse experienced globally, community-wide, and individually. These repeated injustices often have impacts on the individual and all aspects of their health as their identities and experiences link them to the harm. Related is both the potential for and reality of resilience in these communities. Bonds within one’s community help build that resilience and combat the effects of Minority Stress. Through connection, isolation and distance are overtaken by pride and empowerment.
Group members can benefit from the powerful insight, supportive energy, co-regulation, honest disclosure, and shared experience that others in the room can offer. The rewards from the process are dependent on the individualized and united energy and intention put into the group itself. It is a genuine representation of how the individual and the collective combine for change. Each individual comes with their own stories and unique fabrics. The opportunity to direct one’s own narrative amongst others, highlight their details and create their voice, and be met with openness, celebration, and understanding in a group is freeing and healing.
When planning and constructing a group, my approach is to create a curriculum filled with activities, processes, discussions, and interventions that help build group cohesion, facilitate learning, and encourage understanding from all other group members. A large dose of fluidity is built into this ‘structure’ to allow for the members to create the group experience that they desire. Choice and empowerment of each member’s voice are prioritized, with freedom to change the course and input ways to meet their needs in the group. You can find more information about our "Queer Womxn Supporting Queer Womxn" therapeutic and peer support group and submit your questions here.
Liv Wolfenden is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern at Cypress Wellness Center. She works from a trauma-informed, social justice-oriented, holistic perspective. Her specializations include LGBTQIA+ population, poly/non-monogamous relationships, anxiety, and mood disorders.