I was recently asked what it was about my group therapy that I loved so much and that I believed was the most helpful in group work. That is a problematic answer for me, as there was such a huge benefit for me in so many different areas. It took me from a shy, anxious, depressed and newly diagnosed wreck into a relatively stable and (dare I say it?) happy person. Of course, it wasn’t all group, I did a lot of work myself, but I wouldn’t have known what work to do had I not gone.
I am in general a chatty person and don’t have issues making friends. I do however have a hard time getting really close to people and opening up entirely. I know that I am very naïve and only look at the good side of people, so I tend to not let myself get too close until I can see the true person, or finally see the negative in them that will harm me. In group therapy, you’re encouraged to be completely open about things you would never tell strangers in a million years. It taught me rapidly not to be trusting of everyone, but not to be afraid either. I’m still my introverted self who needs to recharge alone, but when I’m out in public, I’m not quite as terrified to interact with people. I’m not as ashamed and worried about what they will think of me.
In the beginning when you are admitted to what’s technically called “intensive outpatient therapy” you begin going 9 hours a week. 3 days of 3 hours. That’s a LOT of time in a room with strangers and it was very intimidating. It’s absolutely shocking how fast you get comfortable with doing it and disclosing your secrets and fears to these people. There are people from all walks of life and different stages going through completely dissimilar issues. Some I’d gone through and could offer suggestions to the others. A lot of times people would be able to help me through things. One thing that I see as bad and good, is they tease me about being a natural leader. I will chime in and “take over” often and I will usually start the conversation because I know nobody else wants to. Why wait, just get it over with, I have nothing to be afraid of now. Now I know my natural “bossy-ness” is a blessing and a curse. I did not know I had that skill however, and would never have believed anyone who told me otherwise.
There is something about being in a room with the same 6 people for so long and getting to know them so deeply that what they say to you really does rock you to your core. You believe them, and you know they mean it well. It also helps yourself to be able to reach out and care for and guide other people through traumatic issues and bad days. Being able to say that someone came into group in a terrible mood, and yet we walked out together laughing is quite a feat and happens most every day.
For most people, I believe the guided learning would be the best and most helpful. Our therapists will pick a subject and teach us about it. I have every worksheet we’ve ever done and will keep them to look at forever when I’m having either a hypomanic or depressive episode. They’ve taught me so much on assertiveness, confidence, anxiety calming, and just countless other skills. Because I have my psychology degree, I thought I knew a teeny bit about therapy and such. Turns out, I know nothing (thanks Dunning-Kruger effect!). Without these amazing therapists taking the theories I know and helping apply them to ourselves and our own problems, I would not have learned skills that I’m going to be using for the rest of my life. Without them, I would still be a scared, timid, self-deprecating hot mess. I’m grateful every day for the woman who suggested I go to group. It has essentially saved my life. It also isn’t a bad thing to have a set-aside time to color for a few hours.