I love support groups and group therapy.
They offer so many benefits:
- A feeling of togetherness with people sharing similar problems;
- Learning from the experience of others and from the way they cope;
- Learning to overcome your fear of talking openly about yourself (which can be extremely relieving);
- Experiencing that you too have something positive to give to others;
- Receiving feedback from others, including the group leader (in all the groups I participated in, this was either a social worker or a psychologist), which can help you grow, strengthen your self-confidence and your ability to cope;
- Improving social and interpersonal skills as a result from the interaction with the group members. This can include having to deal with people you don’t sympathize with and with being exposed to criticism (whether that is based on valid evidence, or on a personal issue of the critic – either way you can learn from it, especially if the other group members voice their opinion).
- Receiving additional information about treatments, relevant events & activities, etc.
Two support groups helped me function and stay sane during the bitter times of my son D.’s involuntary hospitalization, and the subsequent phase of his drug abuse. Divorced, having to work full-time, and without family in the country – I had to cope with my only son suffering from schizophrenia and smoking synthetic marijuana – a toxic drug with psychoactive effects: http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/spice-synthetic-marijuana
As if someone suffering from schizophrenia needed more madness!
This hellish substance completely detached D. from reality and messed up his senses: He would smoke in his bed and stub out the cigarettes on the bed sheet; he probably wouldn’t even have noticed the first flames if the bed had caught fire. (We still have souvenirs from that glorious time: shirts, sweatshirts, and bed sheets decorated with brown framed holes.) He would vomit a lot, didn’t shower, and his room was a pig sty. Speaking to him was pointless, the words didn’t reach him – it was like there was nobody home in his brain.
One stormy wet night D. left the house at around eight in the evening and didn’t return. Worried sick, I called the police after a few hours and asked them to search for him. They did a thorough job, but could not find him. Despite the tranquilizers I had taken I could not sleep. I pictured my son lying somewhere outside, wet and shivering, unconscious and dying of an overdose. (Just remembering this brings back the feeling of then…)
At five in the morning D. finally turned up, soaked from head to toe and water dripping from his clothes. His eyes were red and small, open but as if asleep. He was hardly able to utter an understandable word. Totally stoned, he had wandered around for about eight (8!!) hours, not able to find his home!
But those times are history. D. has returned to being his intelligent, philosophic, and very sensitive self, fighting his illness (and sometimes me as well – it’s not easy) with all his might.
And I’m in a new group, a therapy group (Free of charge – Hey, who says the Israeli healthcare system is all bad? [Israelis!]).
The group is great, but much to my chagrin, one rule is that the group members are not allowed to have private contact with one another outside the sessions. I don’t see the benefits of this rule and neither do most of the other participants. On the contrary, I think (therapy, support or other) groups can be an excellent place to meet new people and build meaningful relationships (as I have done with people from previous groups), because within this special framework you get to know the other very closely, with his problems, which is an ideal basis for any kind of deeper relationship. What do you think?