Self Development Groups
Published in Eco Echo, May 2010

Joe Church is a counsellor and Zero Balancer who practices in Norwich.  Here he explains what actually goes on in the self development groups that he runs.

Take a moment to imagine a place you could go once a week that provided a safe, clear space in which you could be yourself in the knowledge that you would be fully accepted, however you are.  No judgement or expectation of how you should or shouldn’t be, but instead an atmosphere of trust born of a shared aspiration to honesty, openness and respect.

It is surprising how this experience alone so often gives rise to our energy, our aliveness, freeing us up from habitual responses that no longer serve us, and giving us the freedom to allow new parts of ourselves to emerge.  In the secure, confidential environment of these groups, often the very discovery of how we are experienced by others can illuminate out-dated beliefs that we hold about ourselves, and other ways in which we inhibit our well-being.  It can be very affirming and such a relief to realise that we actually no longer need to act from these beliefs or block our wellness in these ways.  

Not only that, but we come to realise that often the very things that we are shy of expressing are actually received with appreciation by other members of the group.  Being honest and open in this way helps bring us, and those around us, into closer and more authentic relationship - with both ourselves and others.  This experience is very rewarding and can give us the confidence and understanding to find new and more fulfilling ways of relating to the people in our everyday lives, especially where the relationship is not working in some way. 

These groups also provide an opportunity to witness others being themselves, which can bring valuable insights too, since it is often easier to see things in others before we can recognise and accept them in ourselves.  By resonating with others in this way, we can gain access to parts of ourselves which usually we might not find easy to connect with.  

Through these fresh perspectives we can be awakened to new possibilities.  If we are struggling with a problem or issue, our experience can be transformed into something more manageable and workable than we thought was possible, and we can begin to see new and more fulfilling ways forward in our lives.  

Everyone experiences difficulty at one time or another.  Whether you are dealing with a major life event, suffering anxiety or depression, or simply experiencing that something is not working in your life, participating in a group like this is an opportunity for you to step out of your everyday roles and usual ways of thinking, and bring non-judgemental awareness to yourself and others, in order to get to the root of what is troubling you or holding you back in your life.  

Equally these groups provide an opportunity to give focus to, and thus amplify, the wellness that is already in you.  We so often lose sight of our wellness in the ups and downs and momentum of the everyday, almost overlooking it instead of giving it attention and allowing it the chance to manifest more fully.  Whilst these groups can be used to look at issues that may be distressing or painful, they are just as much a place to experience being happy, carefree, and enjoy oneself – if that is where one is at the time.  It is sometimes surprising how much laughter there is in these groups, which often comes about as people gain more perspective and humour about themselves, each other, and the situations they are confronted with in their lives.

I run these groups regularly in Norwich.  Each group is usually mixed and has between four and eight people in it.  We meet weekly for five or six evenings and for one full Saturday in the last week.  As the facilitator I take responsibility for providing a safe and authentic environment where everyone can be as they wish or need to be, in the knowledge that they will be accepted and respected fully.  There are some short structures to help with self-awareness, but in general the way I facilitate allows the group process to unfold quite spontaneously, enabling each person to participate in whatever way they feel they need to at the time.  It is not unusual for someone to curl up and have a much needed snooze.

My particular approach to therapy and personal growth places great importance on the role of the body.  Therefore at certain points I introduce a body-focussed exercise or meditation in order to bring our awareness more into the body.  Synchronising the mind and body in this way can help us to connect with ourselves more fully and lead to important insights about ourselves.  It can also be a blessed release from being stuck in too much thinking, and can help us to access a deeper, more resourceful place in ourselves.  

For the same reason, for those who wish to, there is the opportunity on the Saturday to receive some Zero Balancing.  This is a clothed, hands-on body treatment which releases tension from the bones and joints, and helps us to let go of deep-held stress that may be holding us back from relaxing into our well-being.                                                                                                                                                                                           

Often people report feeling nervous about being in a group.  ‘I’m not good in groups’, is a remark I often hear.  It is true that for most of us groups do challenge us in a special way that most one to one encounters do not.  However, it is remarkable how quickly such nerves can disappear once they are voiced.  On closer examination one can see that this nervousness is often actually just as much based in hope or excitement as it is in fear: the experience of being in this kind of group is so rich and full of potential for meaningful and rewarding encounter with oneself and with others, and this is what so many of us actually want more of in our lives.

To contact Joe about self development groups, one to one counselling or Zero Balancing you can phone him on 01603 623498.