I asked Matt Fried to write this post because I found his experience with group therapy to be both helpful and interesting. I’ve never been to therapy myself, so I was curious to hear more about it, and Matt provides a great narrative. You can read more about Matt’s journey on Fried’s Blog.
•I don’t need group therapy.
•I don’t want to sit in a circle with a bunch of crazy people and talk about my feelings.
•Maybe I’ll go see a therapist one-on-one, but no way am I going into a group.
•What are we, all gonna cry and hug at the end? Whoop-dee-doo, how sweet.
•I just want to lie in my bed and not move, please stop bothering me and I won’t bother you.
•I would rather be dead right now.
In the end, I was finally convinced to scrape my body out of bed and drag it to my first group meeting. I think it was the orderlies who convinced me to attend, but my memory of that week is unclear. I probably thought attending the group would serve my sinister intentions, which were to escape the psychiatric. Maybe it was a little bit of both. Whatever the motive was, I went.
Despite all of those thoughts about how there was nothing a group therapy session could possibly offer me, I relinquished, and sat in the circle. Guess what? In hindsight, attending group therapy sessions were a critical part of my recovery from depression. They were such a vital component that I am not confident I would have made a full recovery without them.
It should be stated that medication, individual sessions, work, friends, and my family all played a role. Group therapy alone would not have led to full recovery. Group therapy does offers several unique benefits that you would do well to try: Real Stories It’s not a pity-party, or a competition for worst suffering tale. The simple act of listening to other people’s real stories will make you more comfortable in dealing with your own.
The First Days
When I think back to the first few days after my attempt and hospitalization, I was a zombie. When I finally got up to walk around, I was a walking half-dead person without the fancy movie makeup. I wanted to be dead. I wanted no part of talking therapy.
One of the first people who took a liking to me from our group was Jackson. Jackson was older than me at the time; he was married, with a young child, about thirty-five years old or so. (I was twenty-two.) Come to think of it, Jackson about as old then as I am right now. Which makes me wonder what he saw in me. He shared the story of his horrible relationship, destined for divorce, full of hatred and violence. He was bipolar, and addicted to drugs, and didn’t have much of a support system in place to cope. He approached me after group to chat. He asked why I was inside, but he never probed. It was much closer to two friends having a cigarette during a lunch break than anything else.
Mostly I would listen to him, as I wasn’t particularly gushing with words that week. Thomas was alright with that; perhaps he just wanted someone to listen. Someone who was not wearing a white coat. Someone who was locked up inside an institution alongside him. Well, after a few days of this, suddenly we were friends. Zombies don’t make friends, but I did. In hindsight, after about two weeks I started to regain the will to live. If it was the medication and professional therapy which got me to crawl, then it was the unintentional act of making a friend which propelled my first baby step.
Anonymity Jackson and I never spoke to each other after discharge. (And that is perfectly normal.) Then, you also know that, as the end grows near, there looms an inevitably awkward goodbye conversation. Each party will promise to call or email the other one, but they most likely will not.
That’s part of the beauty of group therapy. In group sessions, you can just walk away. You are not obliged to keep in contact with anyone. You will sit face to face with five or ten people, who may know your real name, but nothing more. They are complete strangers with whom you will most likely never cross paths with outside of group. For that reason, you will be able to speak freely. You will be able to talk to them in a way that you cannot to your oldest friends. There is a chance that you might exchange phone numbers with someone, if you are ready. Maintaining a connection with a person who knows what you are going through can be a life-saver – literally – during a rough patch.
Why I Spoke Up
Volunteer-Basis In group therapy, there’s no pressure. You share only when you are ready to share. You can go and listen, without speaking, for weeks or months at regular support group meetings. You will share only when you are ready – and you’ll never be asked to. The exception to this rule would be if you are hospitalized or incarcerated; in those environments you might be asked to share, eventually, in order to demonstrate progress.
Do not be fooled though – the ultimate goal of volunteer-basis group therapy is for you to share. So, it’s not really that different from a hospital. The difference is that nobody will require you to speak. I remember listening to everyone’s stories for a few days, and then finally hearing the story that triggered me to speak. A young mother named Bailey, who suffered from postpartum depression, was in the group. Bailey was quiet in group like me – she never shared. She sat like a mouse, barely making eye contact with anyone for days. I wasn’t even sure if she could talk; I thought perhaps she was traumatized to the point of being mute.
Well, one day Bailey decided to share. She told the story of how she was abused by her own father as a child, and how she wanted to kill her own newborn baby, and … it was excruciating. I felt so bad for her. This poor, sweet girl hadn’t done anything to land herself in the hospital next to me; she’d been dealt a terrible hand in life. She had suffered a hundred times worse than I had. I didn’t feel so bad that I couldn’t talk the next time around.
Types of Groups Peer support groups exist on the internet; these are good. I partake in several. I want to be clear that these do not take place of getting help from a real live person. In many places, you can locate a peer support group that is free to attend. Depending on your condition, there is a chance that one matches exactly what you need, such as ‘mood disorders’, ‘spectrum disorders’, or ‘drug addiction’.
Peer support, in my opinion, is not meant to replace professional help. Rather it is an integral component of your recovery. Professional group therapy includes a licensed social worker, therapist, or doctor; these sessions are not free, but they may be covered under your insurance plan.
None of these are meant to replace your own individual path to recovery, which hopefully includes individualized professional therapy, medication, and a detailed support plan in place for relapses. In other words, it’s a good idea to make a group outside of your house part of your weekly (or monthly) routine, in addition to your regular therapy sessions.
*** I’d like to thank Brittany for giving me to opportunity to write to you today. She is a very special person, doing important work, and quite frankly, I am honored to be asked to write on her blog.
*Jackson and Bailey are pseudonyms written in to protect the identities of the individuals in this post.