Psycho-Babble Psychology Thread 3

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Group therapy

Posted by Dinah1 on May 16, 2002, at 9:16:32

My therapist's new part time position(s) will be taking him out of town quite often. We've discussed the idea of group therapy now and again and it seems like a good time to revisit the issue. I've come up with some pros and cons.

Pros:
1) I am significantly lacking in interpersonal skills and my therapist thinks that a group setting would be a good one for working on those issues. In fact, at one point early in therapy he asked hypothetically what I would do if he required that I join a therapy group in order to continue to see him. (My answer was that I would miss him.)
2) It might be an additional resource me while he is travelling.

Cons:
1) I tend to pick up and absorb the "energy" of other people's emotions. Being in a group of upset or angry people would be extremely disturbing to me, and I'm not sure I could filter out the stimulus or keep from internalizing it.
2) I don't think I want to be "confronted" on my "issues", especially in a group setting. It seems like institutionalized middle school playground politics. I do not take constructive criticism particularly well.

My own instinct is to avoid it at all costs, but my mind keeps returning to the subject.

Does anyone have any experience with group therapy and with what type of person makes a good candidate for it?

 

Re: Group therapy

Posted by Alii on May 17, 2002, at 12:10:53

In reply to Group therapy, posted by Dinah1 on May 16, 2002, at 9:16:32

> My therapist's new part time position(s) will be taking him out of town quite often. We've discussed the idea of group therapy now and again and it seems like a good time to revisit the issue. I've come up with some pros and cons.
>
> Pros:
> 1) I am significantly lacking in interpersonal skills and my therapist thinks that a group setting would be a good one for working on those issues. In fact, at one point early in therapy he asked hypothetically what I would do if he required that I join a therapy group in order to continue to see him. (My answer was that I would miss him.)
> 2) It might be an additional resource me while he is travelling.
>
> Cons:
> 1) I tend to pick up and absorb the "energy" of other people's emotions. Being in a group of upset or angry people would be extremely disturbing to me, and I'm not sure I could filter out the stimulus or keep from internalizing it.
> 2) I don't think I want to be "confronted" on my "issues", especially in a group setting. It seems like institutionalized middle school playground politics. I do not take constructive criticism particularly well.
>
> My own instinct is to avoid it at all costs, but my mind keeps returning to the subject.
>
> Does anyone have any experience with group therapy and with what type of person makes a good candidate for it?

Dinah,

I am frazzled by no sleep but have tons of things I want to say about this post. Please bear with me until sleep allows more clarity. But for now based on chat time revelations you've told me I don' t think group at this time is right.

with care,
Alii

 

Re: Group therapy Alii

Posted by Dinah1 on May 17, 2002, at 19:33:08

In reply to Re: Group therapy, posted by Alii on May 17, 2002, at 12:10:53

Thanks Alii, and I look forward to your observations when you're feeling up to it. I do believe you are right and I think my instincts that it would not be a good idea have always been right. I guess I'm just grasping at straws because I feel like a reliable source of support is not going to be so reliable.

Take care of yourself.

 

Re: Group therapy

Posted by Mark H. on May 17, 2002, at 21:02:16

In reply to Group therapy, posted by Dinah1 on May 16, 2002, at 9:16:32

Dear Dinah,

I've experienced the value of group therapy first hand over a period of many years, and I can vouch for both the "fear factor" and the growth potential it offers.

I remember mightily resisting moving from individual and couples therapy into group some 20 years ago. For a start, I felt that "group" was going to mean carrying a lot of other people's stuff, which was too much like what I was doing for a living at the time. Also, I felt my own issues were sufficiently overwhelming to me, and I wasn't sure I had enough left over to offer much help to anyone else. Beneath those issues was the fear that I simply could not control other people's perceptions enough to feel safe, whereas in one-on-one therapy I felt my logic and verbal skills put me on a fairly equal footing with my therapist.

The first few sessions were a blur. I remember soaking my shirts from anxiety every week, and who knows what I actually shared about myself. For many weeks, my therapist would only talk about me in the third person, a way for me to "listen in" on discussions about what he saw as my issues without being directly confronted with them.

As I became (somewhat) more comfortable over time, I finally began to notice that just about everyone has the same basic issues, with variations based on differences in personality and life experiences. Pivotal points of growth came unexpectedly. I remember a middle-aged woman breaking through the barriers to her feelings of frustration in her marriage, and suddenly looking 10 to 15 years younger. I remember thinking, "If she can do that, perhaps I can too."

Likewise, there came a point when I understood that it was OK if some of the people in group didn't particularly like me. I worked hard every day to please others and to avoid criticism, and some part of me believed that I would die if people didn't like me. In group therapy, everybody is in their "stuff," and I learned to remain compassionate but not to take criticism so personally.

Sometimes months would go by where I didn't feel like I was making any progress at all, and then suddenly I'd have one session in which all the time and expense became worth it. Whenever my therapist started challenging me on some of my core issues, I would become extremely angry and defensive. Many months into group therapy, as I was turning red in the face and the adrenalin was pumping through my body as it had many times before, a part of me finally said, "Mark, this man is safe and wants to help you -- stop what you're doing and listen to him." And it changed the entire course of my therapy and greatly accelerated my growth.

In deciding whether a group is right for me, I look to see if the participants are assertive, well spoken, putting into practice in their lives what they learn in group, doing their "homework" assignments, generally enjoying their lives and dealing responsibly with their problems. If so, then regardless of the modality or style employed by the therapist, I rate the group as worth joining.

For me, it is important that people "graduate" from group therapy by mutual agreement with the therapist. I like to commit to a year or two of attendance, with some specific goals to attain, and then make a clean break when those goals are accomplished. I always leave open the possibility of returning at a later date, as needed, but I like having a clear agreement with my therapist that there will be a beginning and an end to the experience.

If there is one secret of success in group therapy that I wish I had known from the beginning, it is the value of asking lots of questions about how others see my issues and interactions. (Most people starting group, myself included, think they'll simply take turns getting advice from the therapist. However, the best advice and most useful information comes from other people in therapy -- people who are not your friends, co-workers, peers, relatives, therapist or spouse -- just ordinary people.) The therapist's job is primarily to provide a safe, structured place for those interactions to take place.

I trust that you'll know when (and whether) group therapy is right for you, Dinah. I think it's great that you raised the question and laid out your pros and cons. You can always tell your therapist that you'll commit to attending four sessions, for instance, before deciding whether to continue for another six months or a year. Maintaining control over the duration of your group experience can help make the rest of it feel a lot more manageable.

With kind regards,

Mark H.

 

Re: Group therapy - Dinah

Posted by Mair on May 17, 2002, at 22:45:30

In reply to Re: Group therapy, posted by Mark H. on May 17, 2002, at 21:02:16

Mark's description is great. I've never been in group therapy but thought sometimes that it might be beneficial. Without knowing almost anything about how groups work, I would think it might be good for me, and maybe for you too, because it might make you feel less isolated, and maybe make you realize that you're not as unique (in a bad way) as you seem to think you are.

PSB performs some of the function that I think group therapy might. I value the opportunity to connect with other people whose issues seem to be similar. I don't have that anywhere else, and I don't really have friends with whom I'm comfortable talking about depression-related matters.

Mair

PS this site is not easy to find!

 

Does whole group start and end together? Mark H.

Posted by jane d on May 18, 2002, at 11:27:52

In reply to Re: Group therapy, posted by Mark H. on May 17, 2002, at 21:02:16

> For me, it is important that people "graduate" from group therapy by mutual agreement with the therapist. I like to commit to a year or two of attendance, with some specific goals to attain, and then make a clean break when those goals are accomplished. I always leave open the possibility of returning at a later date, as needed, but I like having a clear agreement with my therapist that there will be a beginning and an end to the experience.


Mark,
Do you mean that everybody starts and ends at the same time? That would make sense to me. Is this what is usually done?

Jane

 

Re: Group therapy - way too long Mair

Posted by Dinah1 on May 18, 2002, at 18:11:54

In reply to Re: Group therapy - Dinah, posted by Mair on May 17, 2002, at 22:45:30

I sort of think that about groups sometimes too. But then I remember that therapy groups are not solely supportive in nature, and that, as Mark says, a lot of input comes from the other participants. And they may not be as skilled in confrontation as a professional. (How's that for putting something gently?)

I don't know that I'm unique precisely, but I do know that I have social deficits. Some of them (for example, lack of eye contact, appearing judgemental and rigid, etc.) might be something I could work on in a group. Others (for example, inability to convey emotions, flat affect) I think may just be hard-wired and anyone who wants to get close to me may just have to learn to live with them. Still others I don't want to change (for example, I often see things differently than others, but that's ok with me.)

I've tried non-therapy support groups such as Recovery Inc. and I always run into problems, usually with the group-speak involved. Recovery Inc. particularly requires that you phrase anything you say in a particular way. I understand the reasoning behind it, because I'm sure it serves to distance you from your emotions. However that isn't really my problem. I'm distanced enough, thank you kindly.

I agree that PSB sometimes serves a lot of the function group therapy might. And as I'm sure you know, I run into problems at PSB too. :)

I don't know. I value greatly the friendships I made on PSB and in chat. And I do see that there is in me a need to connect with others, however much I might not like that fact. And I don't do it at all well, particularly in person. And to the extent group therapy could help me do that I imagine it would be a good thing.

Since my best friend (my only friend really) died I have been aware of how little connection I have in my life. Except for the friends I made here, my only connections are to my immediate family and to my therapist. There is no one else now. Her death really made me aware of my emotional isolation. But isolation is safe too, so there is a push-pull attraction-repulsion thing going on with it.

So I don't know. And my therapist doesn't know either. He obviously feels even more strongly than I do that I need to improve my interpersonal skills with the goal of forming more intimate relationships. But he also knows that my isolation protects something real and that I am not terribly stable, and that group could threaten that stability. He was far more in favor of it before, I think, than he is now that he knows me better.

So I don't know. What does your therapist think of the idea of group therapy? Have you brought it up with her?

 

Re: Group therapy Mark H.

Posted by Dinah1 on May 18, 2002, at 18:22:16

In reply to Re: Group therapy, posted by Mark H. on May 17, 2002, at 21:02:16

Hi Mark,

I'm glad you responded to my post. I've actually been looking for you in chat hoping to ask the same question. :) There was a lot of useful information in your reply.

I wish I had your confidence that I will know when it is right for me to attend group. I don't think I'll ever know. I've read a lot about it, and tried to imagine myself in one. And my gut feeling is that the answer is that it will never be the right time.

If I may ask you one more question?

What characteristics in a person would make them a bad candidate for group therapy? You listed the characteristics you would look for in group members, but are there characteristics that would indicate that group therapy would be harmful to someone? I can stand not helpful. I don't want to do something that will be harmful to me.

Thanks again for answering.

 

Re: Group therapy Dinah1

Posted by Phil on May 18, 2002, at 20:09:11

In reply to Re: Group therapy Mark H., posted by Dinah1 on May 18, 2002, at 18:22:16

I was in group for a little over a year Therapist's have tried to talk me into it before but I didn't want anything to do with it.
I gave it a good shot but was the only one in the group with major depression. I had a few inspirational moments but no new revelations. I've done individual on and off for a long time. The total purpose of group is to get an individual to deal honestly and more effectively with others and, especially, being able to show ALL your emotions.
It was $45.00 a week whether you show or not.
There was no one in this group that I felt a close attachment to..like real life.
I went to a Recovery Inc. meeting last year and it was definately not for me. Kinda bizarre, IMHO.
I went to Al-Anon and ACA meetings for two or three years. I learned A LOT at Al-Anon.
In group I realized I wasn't going to really open up for anyone there and was sick of therapy in general. I was isolated for years and to hear the others and their troubles with lovers or spouses didn't mean anything to me. Felt like I was in the wrong room. At one point, I realized how lucky I was to not be in a relationship and I told them that.
I guess I left because of fear and a kind of hopelessness some of us depressives feel 24/7.
All the tools are there to get better and if one commits to improving their life, it can be very helpful. I do think that in individual, you can only get so far. In group, the therapist can say things more directly and the dynamics in the room
can change fast.
I would still recommend it to others and to give it 6 weeks. Everyone is petrified the first meeting or two but it passes when you realize that every human on this planet has hard problems to deal with and that we often make mistakes.


Hope this made sense.

 

It does. Thank you (nm) Phil

Posted by Dinah1 on May 19, 2002, at 8:37:04

In reply to Re: Group therapy Dinah1, posted by Phil on May 18, 2002, at 20:09:11

 

Re: Group therap*ist* Dinah1

Posted by Fi on May 20, 2002, at 7:19:35

In reply to Group therapy, posted by Dinah1 on May 16, 2002, at 9:16:32

Mark H has made a whole load of really useful comments which I would agree with (have to confess I havent read all the others yet!)

One thing I would add is that a lot depends on how skilled the therapist is, rather than all being down to the type of people the members are. They need to ensure the group is a safe environment (a bit like what Dr Bob does for these boards).

They also need to create an environment where there is safe space for some constructive feedback. I once went to a support group (no therapist) which got nowhere as every session there was a woman who would describe at length how awful her life was. Always the same problems. Other group members would try to help, suggesting ways (within her resources) she could deal with the problems. She never took any action, or made any sign of even having heard them. And next session we would have a rerun.... A good therapist would have either pointed out to her what had been said before, or made it safe for others to do so, and to maybe help her (gently) to see that she was choosing not to act, and explore why that was. And also focus on how she was feeling, rather than it being her just presenting a list of problems. And also allow the group to explore why they gpt drawn into repeatedly trying to offer her solutions, despite the obvious unhelpfulness of this to her.

There can also be all sorts of weird things going on at a concious or emotional level, so its a good idea to have a therapist skilled in managing those too.

So trying it for a few weeks sounds a possible option? It *is* scarey, but you can also learn a lot from what other people do, and the feedback and support they can give you.

But its not compulsory!

Fi

 

Re: Group therapy Dinah1

Posted by sid on May 21, 2002, at 9:32:58

In reply to Group therapy, posted by Dinah1 on May 16, 2002, at 9:16:32

I'm not sure what kind of person it takes for group therapy... The sad thing is that, no matter how commited you are to it, you don't control others' commitment. It can be frustrating.

I tried it once, for several months. There were rules we had to sign on before coming to the 1st meeting. I took them very seriously. Namely, if you leave the group, you come one last time to say goodbye and to say why you're leaving. It's simple a rule of cuvulity, it seems to me, since we all talk about personal things. Well, everybody left except 2 of us, and nobody bothered to come back to say goodbye. Most people came once, decided they would not come back and that was it. So I met God knows how many people there (very rapid turnover of participants), we never got to say anything much because we never got to know each other enough, and ultimately I quit too because I got fed up with this ridiculous process. The other person who stayed and I quit on the same day, we went to the "group" meeting (the 2 of us that day, and 2 therapists), we said we were quitting, as we had promised we would do, and that was it.

I do believe that the therapists did not enforce the rules enough. And most people don't want to go to group therapy. So they try it, hate it, and never go again.

So whatever group you're considering, ask for how long people have been there... is it running properly already? Going to a new group, like I did, is more risky I believe. Ideally also, find a group that has the same issues as you (e.g.: BPD, sex abuse, drug problems, etc.). Otherwise, you get a mismatch of all sorts of things and peopla can be too much into their own problems to even understand other's problems. For example, I was dealing with major depression during grad school while others, 10 years youger than me, were dealing with the anxiety of being out of their parents house (1st year college) for the first time in their life. The gap was so incredibly large between us that we had trouble feeding the conversation.

I think it can help, but if you try verify the two things I mentioned (how long have the people currently in the group been there, and is the group's objective close to mine).

Good luck !

- sid

 

Thanks Sid and Fi.

Posted by Dinah1 on May 21, 2002, at 10:35:40

In reply to Re: Group therapy Dinah1, posted by sid on May 21, 2002, at 9:32:58

Those are all useful suggestions. I will give some thought to committing to a short term to try it out, but also give thought to whether that would be disruptive to the group.

Perhaps what I really need isn't group therapy but social skills training. I don't suppose it's the same thing at all. Hmmm.

 

Re: Group therapy Dinah1

Posted by sid on May 21, 2002, at 18:43:10

In reply to Group therapy, posted by Dinah1 on May 16, 2002, at 9:16:32

Actually, Dinah, this is group therapy here. Except we don't have to meet every week at the same place, same time. But the experience here, I find, is in some ways similar. You simply log on and off when you feel like it, there's less commitment.

Also, about social skills, that an integral part of group therapy. You're with people and you're bound to be told if there's a problem. You get feedback all the time, or so that's how it's supposed to be, in a group that works well. Perhaps there are groups that concentrate specifically on social skills? Ask your therapist about it.

- sid

 

Re: Thanks Sid and Fi. Dinah1

Posted by Fi on May 22, 2002, at 4:15:28

In reply to Thanks Sid and Fi., posted by Dinah1 on May 21, 2002, at 10:35:40

I've not done social skills training, so dont know what its like. Sounds more superficial (as in its about learning ways of behaving, rather than exploring feeings), but that isnt always a bad thing!

Lots of luck, whatever you decide to do!

Fi

 

Re: Group therapy Dinah1

Posted by jazzdog on May 29, 2002, at 14:19:27

In reply to Group therapy, posted by Dinah1 on May 16, 2002, at 9:16:32

I spent some time in group therapy when I was giving up alcohol, and I found it really useful for working on precisely the 'cons' that you raise. I think part of functioning in the world is learning how to erect barriers that protect us from the emotions of others, and finding our sense of worth in ourselves, instead of in the praise/criticism of others. I found the group worked best for me if I thought of it as a laboratory in which to try on different ways of interacting with others. In a sense, we were all each other's lab rats.

- Jane

 

Re: Group therapy

Posted by riverrick on June 12, 2002, at 0:37:22

In reply to Re: Group therapy Dinah1, posted by sid on May 21, 2002, at 18:43:10

I have a lot of experience with group therapy and found it to be very valuable. A few short points:

1. If people criticize you in the group, it is an opportunity for a GOOD Therapist to work with that person as to what brought about those feelings of criticism and to work with you as to how you feel when you are criticized. All growing experiences. With a good therapist, that is.

2. I found that being in a group setting I can open up more easily. I feel the empathy and attention of the group and it feels more real to me than being just one on one in a room with a therapist. It is a group dynamic that I think is common. I do much deeper work much faster in a group than in individual therapy.

Good luck. I recommend a "closed group", one in which the number of individuals is limited and new people aren't coming and going all of the time. This way you can develop trust with the members, which takes time.

Rick

 

Apologies for Absence and Trouble Posting

Posted by Mark H. on June 14, 2002, at 20:01:44

In reply to Group therapy, posted by Dinah1 on May 16, 2002, at 9:16:32

Aaack!

We got buried in proposals at work, then I was off for a couple of weeks (one vacationing, the next with the flu), then I wrote a long and comprehensive reply to you all when I returned, and -- when I opened a new browser window to check a couple of questions and comments from Dinah and Sid before I posted my reply -- it wiped out my lengthy follow-up!

So rather than try to jump back into this thread in an active way at this late date, I apologize for my disappearance and thank you all for sharing your experiences and insights about group therapy.

With kind regards,

Mark H.


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