Dealing with anger and conflict in group therapy
by Deborah Cole, Ed.D., CGP

Many people who come to me for group therapy say that they have problems dealing effectively with anger and/or conflict. This is a barrier to intimacy in their lives, because it prevents them from communicating in an open, healthy way about things that are bothering them.

Problems with conflict are often a result of how anger and conflict were dealt with in people’s families growing up. In some families, there is a lot of conflict and inappropriate anger that can be terrifying. Children growing up in these homes may learn to withdraw in response to conflict. In other cases, angry behavior may be copied by the children, causing them to have problems in their relationships with both peers and authority figures. In other families, anger is never expressed, even when it would be appropriate, and a person is left not knowing how to deal with angry feelings. So people may have only three reactions in the face of anger and conflict: withdraw, attack, or avoid. All of these ineffective learned reactions can be worked on and resolved in group therapy.

In a group conflict sometime arises between two or more members. These situations can be most helpful. First of all, the members who are observing the conflict have an opportunity to see people work it through. The members involved in the conflict have an opportunity to test out new ways of handling it in a safe environment. Other group members may offer alternative solutions to the conflict and help those involved to deal with it in the most productive way.

I welcome conflict in my groups. Everyone learns from the interaction and everyone is a winner because they learn that conflict and anger need not be frightening or overwhelming. People learn where their own reactions are coming from and how to handle them more easily. A group is a “ workshop for life” where people learn new tools to apply in their other relationships.