Counseling for Women in Redwood City


“People come to individual therapy to talk about their problems. People come to group therapy to have their problems.” - Anne Alonzo 

Psychotherapy in a group format can be very powerful. It can occur as stand-alone therapy or it can be an adjunct to individual therapy. Because it is cost-effective, it is a very useful option.

But first let's put that into perspective. Take a moment and think of all the groups in which you have been a part: family, classes, work, friends, organizations, etc. The fact is that all of us are/have been in many different groups already. How has that experience worked for you? Some better than others, perhaps. What are some things you would like to change? And as your own life changes, do the relationships in any of your groups shift? For the better? More difficult? Drift apart? Would you like to know how to re/connect with others in a more meaningful way?  

The journey to more satisfying relationships involves knowing yourself better. And one of the ways to do this is to experience similar situations in a safe and supportive environment to learn and practice new behavior - that just may be more satisfying.  

There are many different types of groups that serve an array of functions. Some examples are:

Self-help:  These are typically leaderless or peer-led meetings open to anyone who wants to join. They are usually on-going and a place where one can drop-in as needed. There is no pre-group screening and it's often free or on a donation basis. Example : AA meetings
Support: These groups are generally facilitated by a professional or someone who has completed training for this role. These could be time-limited or on-going with a possible minimal charge, if not free. There is a specific focus and possibly a screening before joining. This type of group is usually held at a facility, such as a hospital or an organization. Example: breast cancer or grief support groups.

Psychotherapy-education ("Psych-ed"):  These would be professionally led, closed (once members are confirmed, no one new joins the group) and are time-limited with a specific focus. There would probably be a screening to determine suitability, a structure (i.e. weekly topics), a fee and a commitment to attend all sessions. The structure would include process (insightful discussion integrating the material presented) and education. Example: parenting or depression groups.

Process:  A professionally led, usually on-going, closed group requiring a screening to determine suitability, a fee and usually a minimum commitment. Structure is often minimal and the focus is usually on interpersonal relationship exploration and growth. There can be a general focus, but each member typically has their own unique goals. Example: a women's or men's group (or a mix of men and women). This is the type of group I facilitate.
The therapist's training and style determines the way the group is facilitated. I incorporate some education, initial structure (which can later be changed by the group members) and occasional exercises. In the beginning, I will be more involved. When the group becomes more experienced in negotiating challenging interactions, I will be more of an observer, making sure that issues are resolved in a healthy way.  
It is also important to provide safety so that members can open up to one another in a meaningful way (i.e. allowing oneself to be vulnerable). I do this by asking each member to sign an agreement outlining expectations and commitment before they join the group. That way, everyone has the same expectations. For instance, I ask for a minimum time commitment and provide a structure for leaving the group to minimize unexpected change or at least provide the opportunity to explore the effects of change. As in our lives, adding or subtracting people can have a big impact – and we often haven't figured out how to manage change and loss effectively in our lives.  

Group work can replicate life outside the therapy room. We all enter with our own histories and behaviors and this will show up in group. That's where the "rubber meets the road" and if there's conflict as a result, that's where the real learning takes place for all. Members are encouraged to identify behavior that hasn't worked effectively in the past and try out new behavior in this safe environment.

For instance, one woman grew up in an alcoholic family. As the oldest child, she learned to cope with the lack of parenting and chaos by filling in for the missing parent for her and her siblings, therefore learning how to control her environment. This behavior was an effective coping mechanism at the time and this become her norm. But as an adult, her attempts to control others led to a pattern of unsatisfying relationships. The result was anger, inability to take responsibility for her actions, and isolation. So when this behavior showed up in group, others were able to give feedback so she could identify her negative impact – and later give her kudos for trying new, more functional behavior.  
This is why I help my groups to work in the "here and now", looking at the dynamics unfolding in the room at the moment.


Here is the process: I offer a complimentary brief phone call for us to exchange initial information. If we agree to move ahead, I will want to meet with you 1-2 full sessions (at my regular fee) to help set your goals and explore how group can meet your needs. Sometimes it is in the best interest of the client to do some individual work before joining the group. (I can offer that if you are not already seeing a therapist.) An important part of the process of entering a group is thoughtful preparation to ensure that each group member has the best chance of benefiting from the experience. 

Come join others who are growing in this rich and potentially very rewarding experience.

Deborah Dowse Runyeon, MFT, CGP
650-363-0249 x111


  How would you, as an adult, like to play in a therapy session? You may, and the 
  technique is called sand tray. It can actually serve as an important bridge between the individual's inner world (unconscious) and their outer world (conscious). The result is the creation of the client's own unique language. As a supplement to talk therapy: It can be a way to illustrate dream material, discover and explore trauma memories, or give one who intellectualizes too much that sensate experience to help them open up. This tool can be used effectively with individuals, couples, families, or groups.

  It often works like this: In the therapy room there is a tray of sand which can be used wet (to facilitate molding the sand), dry, or flooded with water. The builder chooses from a selection of miniature objects (images of life, i.e. feathers, soldiers, buildings, etc.) to be placed in the tray. The builder is given a period of time, about 20 minutes, to create their world in the sand. During the process, the therapist silently observes. When the builder has finished, they reflect on the experience and then describe it to the therapist. The process and the use of the sand are just as important as the end result.

  Here is an example of a client's experience: A woman chose a male doll to place in the sand tray. The doll fell down several times before she could finally stand it up. Afterwards, she didn't mention this. When I asked about it, she was puzzled and thoughtful. Finally, with a look of surprised recognition, she stated that she feared her fiancé "couldn't stand on his own two feet" financially. This helped her understand the uneasy feeling she had but couldn't identify. This woman's play became a very effective tool in her therapy.

Deborah Dowse Runyeon, MFT, CGP
650-363-0249 x111