Same Day…Different Username :)

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Do you meet people in online therapy groups over and over that seem familiar?

 

People using online support often adopt online personas or “roles” within groups that coincide with an associated set of behaviours which can often appear unhelpful at the time. These sets of behaviours are referred to, in counselling terms, as “Games”. What I’ve attempted to do for the purpose of this blog is to identify some of these patterns of behaviours, using the Transactional Analysis Model as a loose framework to look at ways of working with them.

I’ve experienced a degree of psychological game playing in some of the groups I’ve facilitated and in one to one online therapy sessions over the years. They can be both frustrating and confusing at times, especially when I was new to all this :), because I might have had a sense of a game being played, but it felt like no one had told me the rules!

So….what I wanted to do was to blog about my perception of the kind of roles that seem to be reoccurring most often in my groups to see if anyone else had experienced similar things. During my group work I’ve spotted some of the following roles and the games they typically play, let me know if they sound familiar:

The Lurker – The lurker will spend most of his or her time saying nothing. Attempts to involve them in the group discussion will receive monosyllabic responses, if they respond at all. Whilst they may outwardly appear to avoid receiving attention their behaviour indicates a strong need for attention which others provide as they become “hooked” into the game and repeatedly attempt to elicit a response. The game usually ends when the lurker has received enough attention, positive or negative, when they will abruptly log out.

The apparently contradictory behaviour can be very frustrating so it can be easy to make numerous attempts to engage this person and effectively “play the game”. In order to manage the flow and dynamics of the group it’s important to fight this urge and ask only once or twice whether the individual has anything to contribute to the group.

What I’ve found is that if the individual isn’t getting the desired outcome they’ll choose to either log out, or engage with the people around them…of course we always hope for the latter outcome 🙂

Now, I KNOW that many people are shy and don’t really know how to use therapy groups when they first arrive and they’re not the people I’m talking about…of course it’s ok to be shy or reserved and all efforts should be made to encourage new people to feel at home. A Lurker is someone who carries out the above behaviour repeatedly over time without considering the impact it may have on others in the group which I feel is something completely different.

The Monopoliser – This person will talk (type) a great deal. They will often ignore what’s being said by others and carry on with their own train of thought regardless of any questions they’re asked. The aim of the monopoliser during this game is to receive collusion and sympathy. Ultimately to offload without being challenged in order to continue doing what they‘ve always done.

As no other comments have been made, or if they have been made they may not have been “heard”, the monopoliser can reassure him or herself that no one can help them to change their situation and there’s nothing to be done.

In order to counteract the game, the facilitator will need to involve others in the group by asking if they’ve ever been in a similar situation. The facilitator is required to manage the flow of the group to ensure that others all have a chance to share.   This might mean explicitly stating that time is limited and others in the group might be in need of support. If forums are available, it can be a good idea to direct the monopoliser toward them so they can share at length without being restricted by the group format. They’re then also unable to “block” responses from others by simply continuing to type.

The Joker – Diversion, distraction, smoke and mirrors are the currency of the joker. During this game the Jokers intention is to feel that he or she is working on their emotional wellbeing by attending the group whilst avoiding any meaningful discussion about the issues at hand. As their name suggests, the Joker will make jokes and potentially inappropriate comments during the group which can often derail the conversation and upset other group members.

It’s my job to tentatively challenge this behaviour by acknowledging that it can be very difficult to discuss emotional issues and making light of the situation can make it feel less intimidating.

Whilst we would like the Joker to engage on a deeper level they might not feel able to do so at this stage so we’re only able to manage their input to a certain degree and exclude them as a last resort if they become too distracting or offensive.   Terms and conditions, a contract or code of conduct are useful tools when it comes to challenging inappropriate behaviour online.

The Rebel – The rebel will appear averse to any suggestion. Ideas that the rebel is presented with by the facilitator or other attendees will typically be responded to with the words “Yes but….” before they go on to list the reasons why the idea wouldn’t work.

….”Yes but I couldn’t get to that meeting because….”

.…”Yes but I tried that and it didn’t work because……”

….”Yes but I would have done that if….”

My own experience of providing support online would seem to suggest that this is the most common game played by the people accessing online help. Individuals who are not ready to fully engage in recovery may use a site to “dip a toe in the water” but when faced with suggestions that could appear too difficult or even frightening they’ll discount them.

It’s important not to simply keep putting forward a myriad of ideas for the Rebel to discount as this leads to frustration on both parts. This could lead the Rebel to feel misunderstood or even bullied, potentially leading them to discount counselling altogether.

The facilitator can put an end to the game by reassuring the Rebel that recovery is a very personal thing and not all suggestions will suite everyone. The rebel should then be encouraged to take a creative look at their recovery and use groups to seek feedback on the ideas they come up with.

Online psychological games are common place, perhaps even more prevalent than during face to face support or counselling. The games people play are their way of confirming the facts as they see them whether that is that no one understands, that no one can help or that no one cares and our role is to attempt to show people that this perception is incorrect.

It can be frustrating when faced with any of the games I’ve talked about here and this frustration will only be exacerbated if we allow ourselves to be hooked into playing. With these, and many other psychological games, the only way to avoid frustration and hurt feelings is not to play.

The idea of psychological games is an integral part of the Transactional Analysis model for counselling. For further information on this please visit the following site: http://www.ericberne.com/Games_People_Play.htm

Thanks for reading 🙂

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Running Online Support Groups

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Making the move from musician to conductor

I love all of the therapeutic work I carry out online, the one to one interventions are both challenging and rewarding due to the speed with which they progress, and the forums allow for the intervention of a therapeutic online community which complements the support I, and my team, provide.   By far and away my favourite method of support and therapy online though is group work. For the purpose of this blog “group work” refers to a synchronous, text based, group of up to nine attendees and one practitioner.

I run a range of online groups from structured therapy groups to themed groups and groups for people new to me and to recovery from addiction. Each group has a different feel to it dependent upon the group type, who’s in it and how many people are there.

Small groups require a lot of practitioner participation…at times I find myself posing hypothetical questions or sharing something about my own experiences to get the ball rolling (so to speak). In other small groups I might find myself in a situation where I have to remind people that others entering the group (if the group’s access isn’t restricted in some way) may be able to see some of what they have typed in order to ensure they’re mindful of the depth of material they’re sharing. I do this because it’s easy for people talking about intense emotions online to lose track of “where” they are and get drawn in by the anonymity of cyberspace and the feeling of intimacy created when talking to only a few people. In these kinds of groups I feel like a musician in an orchestra…playing along and harmonising to make sure the overall effect is what it needs to be.

A larger group is a different beast altogether 🙂 it takes focus and fast fingers to facilitate a large group and keep them on track…at times it feels rather like trying to herd cats but most of the time it’s captivating. It’s my role to make sure the flow of the group makes sense and that everyone has the opportunity to share. Of course this is something that counsellors do in a face to face group but online we have the disadvantage of not being able to see who’s leaning forward…chomping at the bit with a desire to share…or who’s been upset by a comment and may need support or clarification. Part of what I do is to involve people and clarify what is meant and understood by comments throughout the session. At times I encourage people to explicitly state what their bodies are doing so the group can see a mental image of how a discussion is affecting them. It’s up to me to spot if someone has withdrawn from the discussion and involve them again if appropriate. I also have to manage potential group monopolisation in a sensitive way. Ultimately I have to make sure people feel safe and heard in groups and to do this I make the transition from musician to conductor as I view the group as a whole and pay attention to the nuances in the conversation to better direct the symphony.

If you’re a counsellor considering trying online groups I can’t recommend them highly enough but I would strongly urge you to ensure you have taken part in the appropriate training before hand. Training providers I used, and was very happy with, are http://onlinetherapyinstitute.com

Thanks for reading 🙂