Importance of Peer Support for Psychotherapists and Counsellors

‘It’s terribly important for group therapists to become members in group therapy because you learn so much about yourself, receive feedback from others on how you relate to others, how you come across interpersonally to people…Thirty-five years ago, myself and others started a therapy group for psychiatrists. We later accepted psychologists. It has been going for 35 years! There is no leader; it’s a peer group.’

Irvin Yalom, Group Psychotherapy For The Psychotherapist: The Life and Wisdom of Irvin Yalom, M.D.

I am mildly obsessed with Irvin Yalom. Random way to start a blog I know, but it is true! Wikipedia describes Yalom as an ‘American existential psychiatrist’, but to me he is a therapy God. A person I have looked up to and admired for over eighteen years, ever since I was introduced to one of his books ‘Loves Executioner’ just after I started my first job in a therapeutic community.

I often bore my clients with talk of how important Yalom is to me. If I ever needed to go through the 12 step programme, he would be my higher power, the person I put my faith in to see me through the dark and difficult times. Yalom has very much been that person for me throughout the last eighteen years of my professional life. I have had some amazing supervisors over the years and worked with some inspirational and unnaturally wise therapists, but Yalom has been the most constant and consistent of all those that have affected and influenced me! I have lost count of the times I have reached for one of his books and read a chapter to give me a lift, or to inspire me, energise me and make me want to be as wise and wonderful as he is!

I am not though obviously. He has been in the field over sixty years and is still working as he approaches his ninetieth year. I am eighteen years in and counting, still a long way to go!

One of the things that has always been part of my interest in Yalom is the way he has always and still to this day, promotes group therapy and group processes as an important part of a therapists experience.

When I first started out I would regularly be part of some form of group peer support, whether it was a handover when starting or finishing a shift, or one of the regular groups where the therapy team could sit round and share their experience of the work and the clients and the impact of both on themselves. I would have at least one or two or maybe as many as four or five group supervision/peer support groups a week at that point in time and I loved the process. It was often challenging and difficult to be in as this kind of work often brings ones own issues into awareness, so having that safe space to talk to other therapists about my experience was amazing, important and valued.

Recently I have been very aware of the isolation of working in private practice. I have an amazing supervisor who I speak to regularly and I also have a valued group of supervisee’s who I enjoy supporting and talking about theory and the intricacies and challenges of therapeutic work. That said, I miss the group process, the challenge, the energy, the laughter, the tears, the emotion, the reassurance, the shared experience of what it is to work as a psychotherapist and all that comes with the role.

I have really missed it, so I decided to do something about it!! I talked to my supervisor about missing group processes and she agreed that I would do well to get a peer support group running with other male counsellors and therapists.

So, a few weeks ago I posted a message on Linkedin inviting  any therapists out there interested in joining a peer support group for male counsellors and psychotherapists. I have had some responses and I am about to ask the question again via Linkedin, but thought I would add a little blog as well this time.

I know how powerful and important these peer group processes are and I am really hoping to have this one up and running as soon as possible, as the quote at the top of this blog attests, they can be such amazing things and such a wonderful way to not just get support, but to learn and grow in all aspects of self and work.

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