When you think of a group therapy, you probably think of AA meetings that you see in television and movies, “Hi, my name is Frank and I’m an alcoholic.” That sort of thing. I’m not saying that’s not how AA meetings are; I have no idea. I just know that my intensive group therapy I’ve been in since October is nothing like I imagined. I had no clue just how they would work, how you’d learn or speak, how I would feel about all the people there, if anyone would have my same diagnosis, nothing. I had no preconceptions other than AA meetings from various medias. Now, after almost three months of going to group 9 hours a week, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve learned and grown more in the last three months than I have my entire adult life.
Because I have my psych undergrad degree, I have a very small amount of knowledge of the principals of psychology and therapy. I have a base understanding of how it works and what it does. I know a lot of the biases and personality types and disorders. I can tell you a lot of disorders and what their symptoms are. Small things. But enough to know I don’t know much. The first day of my group, I got to see what everyone’s diagnosis was, in a shorthand version. I felt like I was stepping into my abnormal psych class, because I’ve never met anyone that had a disorder like mine before. I’d never known a person with schizoaffective disorder. Someone with electric shock therapy (ECT) was something I’d only read about before. There was someone with my same disorder as well (Bipolar 2). Dissociative Identity Disorder (previously known as multiple personalities) and a lot of anxiety and depression. I was thrilled. I’d found my people. People who would understand how it felt to be stuck in bed for days with no hope of moving. People who couldn’t stand themselves, just like I felt. Someone who was used to and practiced at managing bipolar and all that comes with it. I knew I was safe. I would be heard and not judged. I would be accepted just how I was.
My first day, I was beyond terrified. Not knowing what to expect, I showed up 30 minutes early and just sat in my car outside of the building, pumping myself up to go inside. Once inside, I sat down on the only empty spot, and immediately one of the girls turned to me and introduced herself. Allie was a spunky and kind woman who made everyone feel welcome and loved. She always was happy and silly, and just brought such a fun vibe into our room. Allie was bipolar as well, and had a planner where she journaled and kept her moods and mania symptoms written down to track. I had no idea that was something to even do at that point. I thought she was brilliant, and I tried to emulate her (I never remember to actually write, though I did for the first 2 weeks). The next woman to speak was Annie. Annie was one of the most beautiful women I’ve seen. When I first met her, she was new in the program too, only having gone 2 more weeks than I. She was suffering with intense anxiety and depression after having a few injuries where she couldn’t do her previous work. She was always anxious and sad and worried that she always would be anxious. She just graduated on Wednesday and is happy and healthy and not anxious at all. She’s lively and silly and lights up the room when she walks in with her purse/pit. I won’t go through any more people as it’s a confidential group, but those two are no longer in group, as they graduated, so I felt okay describing their personalities, if not their real names or distinct things about them.
Anyway, so I walk in and sit down and Allie chats me up. She asks me about myself and where I’m from and tried to make me much more comfortable. She explains the format and how everything is structured. There is a form we fill out in the beginning of group that numbers our symptoms from 10 as the worst and 1 as the best. Things like suicidality, anxiety, depression, drug/alcohol use, motivation, appetite, sleep, and more I can’t think of right now. So I went through and filled it all out for that day. I think I had mostly 10s except for drug/alcohol and delusions. I can’t remember, though I am sure I still have that one in my giant Hogwarts binder (really, it’s a 3 ring binder with the Hogwarts’ seal on it). I honestly don’t remember a single other thing of that group. I know I didn’t speak, and I know I was shaking the entire time. I was a ball of anxious nerves.
I was anxious for a good 2 weeks of group, then my therapist challenged me to start speaking up during group, for what good was it if I didn’t use it? What’s the point of going? So one day during check in, I spoke up. I don’t know what I said or why or what was happening, but I opened my mouth. I started talking and didn’t ever stop until this day. I’m able to work through so much anxiety and depression through this group. I know they’re there for me and genuinely care about my welfare. They are great at giving advice and the therapists themselves are some of the best therapists I’ve seen (and I’ve seen and known quite a few). We laugh and cry and laugh until we cry in there.
There are 3 hours in group and it’s separated into 3 distinct parts. First hour is check in, where we fill out the form and talk about pretty much anything we want. We can go over what’s on our sheet or we can talk about what has been going on. Whatever floats our boat. The second part is a learning section. A lot of times it’s a worksheet for one therapist, or for the other, she’ll write the information on the board, just like a professor would. I remember one class was about personality types. Others have been about toxic people. It varies wildly and will sometimes be something that we’ve requested to learn about. The third group is usually something that is application based. So there will be a worksheet or questionnaire that we put the principals we just learned into our own lives. We’ll go around and answer the questions and the other members will challenge what we’ve answered (“don’t should yourself!). The first and third groups are usually my favorites. That’s where we often veer off topic and where I tend to learn more. I’ve learned so much during those sections where we weren’t even trying to.
Well I’ve been blathering on for longer than usual at this point. My basic thoughts are: group therapy is amazing. I’m going to move to NAMI groups, which is a free group in the area after I graduate from the intensive group. I can’t imagine where I’d be right now without it. I’m so grateful to every one of my group members (if you’re reading this, I adore you guys!). I look forward to groups every day and am dreading not having it for the 9 hours a week.