As therapists, we know the pain our clients suffer during and after divorce. It’s not easy for anyone to recover from the strong emotions that get activated by the divorce process, such as shock, sadness, anger, fear, and guilt.
An aspect of divorce that often gets overlooked is loneliness. This loneliness is really a combination of loss and grief. What’s missing is the family and friends that surrounded us and the routines and habits that gave meaning to our lives.
Alone with our losses, without the love and understanding we need, our emotions can spiral into self-destruction. Grief becomes debilitating. Anger becomes all-consuming rage. Fearing that we would burden family and friends, we isolate ourselves, reinforcing the feeling that we have nowhere to turn and are all alone.
But through our practice, workshops, and research over the last 20 years, we have discovered that group therapy is a powerful way to help people overcome and recover from the difficulties of divorce. More importantly, when used in combination with individual therapy, we have found that clients heal faster and make more successful transitions to healthy and rewarding lives after divorce.
Group Therapy and Divorce Loneliness
A therapy group offers the guidance of an experienced therapist who can provide a safe haven in which the healing process can take place. The group therapist facilitates a learning environment along with offering guided techniques. The therapist keeps the group on task and helps to create connection between group members in a healthy way.
Certain dynamics emerge in a group setting that individual therapy doesn’t always reveal. For example, we are often blinded to the way that our family of origin dynamics show up in interactions with others. The group offers an opportunity to experience old patterns of interaction, in vivo, and get feedback from the group and therapist in a supportive, constructive, healing environment.
The group process provides clients the opportunity to realize that they’re not alone, that other people have similar experiences and issues. That helps to normalize and validate the variety of emotions they’re experiencing in the wake of their divorce.
Helping Each Other Recover from Divorce
In a divorce recovery group, since group members are in different stages of divorce, those who are at a more advanced stage of the divorce process can provide hope to other members who are just at the start. This is beneficial to both members, because the people who are farther along feel like they’re getting something out of helping another individual with similar issues that they’ve already been through.
What they’ve learned and experienced can be of value to other people. This offers them a perspective on how they’re moving along in the recovery process, and therefore, enhances a feeling of hope. Hearing first-hand from real people about their situations in group sessions creates a special kind of empathy that leads to many kinds of personal insights.
Learning to Overcome Divorce Loneliness
Within the context of the group, conversations emerge about how people handle their issues, offering different perspectives and ideas on how they used techniques they learned in the group, further enhancing the learning.
This is a very powerful tool for healing!
Divorce is a heavy burden for anyone to bear alone. The pain that comes from it can become overwhelming and can be amplified by a sense of loneliness, which can lead to a spiraling loop of despair and self-destruction.
From our experience, the group therapy process offers a solution to the heavy burden of divorce loneliness, providing support, a sense of connection, practical advice, and shared healing and hope.
Barbara Bennett is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist trained in Body-Centered Gestalt Therapy and Internal Family Systems Therapy. She has worked extensively with individuals both during and after divorce, and she runs divorce recovery and transitions workshops specifically for women in New York and Connecticut. [email protected]
Dr. Carol Shilliday is a Clinical Psychologist with over 25 years of experience helping people rebuild and recover from a variety of life’s challenges. She is a certified Internal Family Systems Therapist. She works with individuals, couples, and families; she also leads Divorce Recovery Groups in West Hartford, CT. [email protected]