The Lonely Wave: On the Failure of Group Therapy


Whoa, whoa, I can’t, I just can’t,” the early thirties man said, doing a cutting motion across his neck with his hand. We were sitting in a group of about ten, performing the usual round-robin of sharing our trials and tribulations of the week. The momentum, as it tends to do, came to a stall: a woman got on a roll speaking about her problems and did not stop.

She spoke for a clear ten minutes before people shifted in their seats and looked at one another, hoping someone would stop the claustrophobic experience of being held verbally hostage. Fifteen minutes in, the man, appearing more and more uncomfortable by the minute, boiled over in anxiety and spoke over the woman to the volunteer hosting the group: “I just can’t.” We were all at our wit’s end and thankful he spoke up.

Mental “illness” is lonely. No matter the diagnosis, we feel isolated, which is why treatments involving human interaction are often recommended. Even readily used concepts, such as I just used with the words illness and diagnosis, are hazily defined and thus problematic. I explored various therapy groups for years, from informal ones on to hospital-sanctioned ones. No matter who ran the group, it always turned into a giant mess by the end. I am not sure if I have ever had what I would call a “good” group experience.

It is, in a sense, glaringly obvious. If you put anywhere from five to twenty mortally desperate people in a room together, what do you expect? Emotions will spill over and people will jostle for time and topic. In my groups, even the most kindhearted had attempted to either become the center of attention or slink away into silence, often leaving early with a silent nod or a whispered “sorry” and a quick shuffle out of the room. They had attended, after all, to find a balm for their psychic wounds — not to become the audience for someone else’s therapy.

Therein lies the problem with group therapy, and in a wider sense the problem of the mentally distressed banding together to attain a sense of camaraderie: the focus is on discussing something that is just too deep, complex, chronic, and painful. Sufferers need a space to air their emotions and find connection, but we are talking about depression or schizophrenia, not basketball or finances. A weekly meet-up is a framework that does not handle this discussion very well.

I think about my close friends who suffer as I do, and how we connect with each other, how we leave the conversation feeling better off. A large factor, I think, is that we barely speak about our pain at all. We simply know that we suffer, and the knowledge that we are going through a similar struggle flows out into how we interact. If I say to one of these friends, “I’m sorry, I don’t want to do that, I just want to go home,” he does not ask why, or wonder out loud if I am okay, or chastise me for not having as much energy as himself. He just says “okay, sure,” or perhaps suggests something calming, like sitting silently at a cafe as we sip our drinks and listen to the sounds of the city.

In the end, the therapeutic effect we get from human connection may be less about discussing our problems outright and more about matching wavelengths with someone, so to speak. One could argue that this is what it means to not be lonely. It’s feeling that how we view the world is justified, or accepted by others. With group therapy, even though I was in places bursting with people suffering the same fate as myself, I never felt as though anyone’s wavelengths were matched as we sat in chairs, in a circle, waiting our turns like fourth graders, in a room that I found was often unpleasant and poorly lit.

It seems cumbersome to create a group for the mentally distressed centered around an activity — lest we exclude anyone who dislikes ping pong, or bird watching, or sci-fi movies — but I wonder how well that would work. In a group therapy circle, the pressure is on to perform; it is a stage of a terrible kind. The high-pressure environment encourages everyone to judge your story and compare it to their own, like an open mic night for mental illness. But if you are, say, a severely depressed person birdwatching in a park with a group, what conversations, both verbal and nonverbal, would come about? What kind of camaraderie would be felt? Would wavelengths be matched, would you feel less alone?

The suggestion reminds me of the now famous Rat Park experiment. The Canadian psychologist Bruce Alexander, while studying drug addiction in the late ’70s, built a giant cage for a community of rats, filled with balls and running wheels, and gave them two bottles of liquid to drink: one of water, and one of morphine. He compared this to rats living alone in cages with the same choice of liquids. The solitary rats fell into a deep morphine habit, while the citizens of Rat Park chose to drink water. Some of the solitary rats were moved into Rat Park to test dependence; they quickly moved away from the morphine solution and drank water.

The difference, of course, was the community. There were other rats and things to do. I doubt that the new citizens of Rat Park created a therapy group for morphine users and discussed the constant craving for another hit. No, they simply had a place to belong. After dealing with my severe depression and anxiety for over a decade it has become my tacit belief that, after a couple years or so have gone by and we have succeeded in understanding the m.o. of our suffering, a great deal of the pain comes from the isolation others force upon us because of it. Even though we are not caged physically like the rats, we are caged psychically.

An interesting book called Loneliness by John Cacioppo details just how dangerous chronic loneliness can be. Roughly speaking, chronic loneliness puts us into a 24/7 fight-or-flight mode, which moves massive amounts of energy away from repairing our bodies and into vigilance for danger; over time, our bodies do not get the repairs they need and deteriorate. The chronically lonely have a twenty percent chance of an early death, all the while suffering the crushing sadness of loneliness. And of course the lonelier you are the less appealing you are to others, continuing the downward spiral of isolation.

If we add the social effects of mental health distress together — chronic loneliness, career difficulty and instability, unstable friendships, difficulty telling friends and loved ones how you actually feel for fear of misunderstandings, a culture not designed with your mode of being in mind, et cetera — we see that these social effects can easily be much more of a problem than the mental distress itself. This is what we try to combat with our inadequate idea of group therapy.

I did, I must confess, have one moment of camaraderie in group — well, right afterward. I was walking out of the hospital with an older man, and I posed a question. Where does most of the pain come from: our mental health struggle, or a world that is not set up for us? He did not hesitate. “Oh, about 80 percent of it comes from the world, I’d say.”

Ask yourself, how much of the pain is in me, and how much is outside coming in? I was surprised by the answer when I asked myself, and surprised when the older man gave the same answer. I would not press a button to magically get rid of my issues, and anyone I have asked that question to says the same (Stephen Fry made the same point in an interview about his bipolar diagnosis).

I have found that my mental health issues become, at times, pleasurable. The abyss of depression, for example, is a fantastic place to feel just how weighty existence truly is, and what that means. It provides a meditative quality that can be existentially peaceful. This is extraordinarily difficult to achieve normally, and yet if I do things right, I can experience this profundity every day. This is, of course, not to say that the mentally distressed are actually just regular people who are “misunderstood,” or that living with mental health issues is not a terrifying, powerfully damaging existence, only that the full story is complex. Another example: Borderline personality disorder causes my friend great suffering, yet if she hears a song she loves, anyone can tell that she feels the meaning of the song with an unmatched clarity. Even in our dark worlds there is numinous beauty, but if I tell someone who is neurotypical that “sometimes I enjoy depression,” that will not go over too well.

So much of our suffering is simply being lonely, wavelengths left unmatched. I often feel like I am in a foreign country. I do not seem to speak the same language as neurotypicals, their work schedules seem strange, and their cultural practices seem bizarre. If I imagine being forced to live my whole life in a foreign country that views me as, at best, someone to be pitied unless I learn their language, adopt their culture, and admit that my previous language and culture were objectively inferior, it is simple to see why I and the mentally distressed struggle to survive.

The neurotypical and the mentally distressed, if I may chance such a bold statement, have separate umwelts: an ethological term for the way an animal experiences the world (e.g., what it is like to be a bat; how someone views and feels about reality). Forced to live in this foreign country, this foreign umwelt, I am angry. Furious. Yet, what can I do? What can we all do as, perhaps you could say, “a people,” or a tribe? Should we not view ourselves that way?

Group therapy does try to solve this issue, but we need something better. What we truly need is for society at large to rework its idea of mental health issues — but until then, it would serve us well to create a better bastion for our weary souls. If not, we will continue to be a lonely lightwave in the dark, our shine swallowed by the vast emptiness that surrounds us.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


Mad in America has made some changes to the commenting process. You no longer need to login or create an account on our site to comment. The only information needed is your name, email and comment text. Comments made with an account prior to this change will remain visible on the site.


  1. Group therapy is like making people dance at funeral.
    And people are still wondering why there are so many suicides among the patients with psychiatric diagnoses.
    I have a picture, which seems to me suited to this topic, it was made not by me, but by a child diagnosed with schizophrenia, in the middle of the 19th century, i processed it a little.

    Report comment

  2. My group is al-anon, although not at all centered on mental health (well, not directly!), people share their lives in what feels to me like a meaningful way. AND no psych professional leaders, which is a lot of why groups have problems in my experience (which is by no means representative). I get a lot out of the community feeling there, am accepted, whether I just need to sit there or share what’s going on. Sometimes we go out for dinner. Nice. If I miss, they notice. Diversity of people and perspectives and experiences with what has worked. Obviously al-anon is not for everybody. The most important thing is that I have my caring community and am less isolated. I am not generally a community-seeking person, but this works for me. I wonder if a diverse group with clear ground rules and common goal, even if it’s rescuing dogs or recycling or whatever might serve a purpose … sort of goes with the Rat Park idea. Any ideas or experiences from others?

    Report comment

    • I believe that you’ve got the right idea. I believe that a diverse group with clear ground rules and a common goal, no matter what it’s purpose, is probably much more productive than group therapy. I believe that people profit more from getting together to rescue cats and dogs or recycling than ever happens in a therapy group. It’s good just to get together and do things rather than rehash all the terrible things going on in our lives. The rehashing gets us nowhere and we accomplish nothing.

      Report comment

  3. One thing that I’ve always hated is the fact that people who’ve been labeled as “mentally ill” are always expected to be doing therapy in everything that they do. I’ve never been able to express this adequately but will try to explain. Why is it that if I, labeled as mentally ill am seen at the movies it’s interpreted as me doing something therapeutic. I can’t go to watch a movie simply because I am interested in what it deals with. If I garden someone wants to call what I’m doing therapy. I can’t just dig in the earth simply because I enjoy the experience of smelling the moist earth and the texture of the soil on my hands. No, I’m gardening for therapy. And if I walk my cat in the neighborhood in his harness and leash I’m doing therapy for myself. Unlabeled people, I guess what you refer to as neurotypicals, are never seen as doing therapy when they go to the movies or dig in the garden or walk their dog. They are just doing things that they enjoy. But we who’re labeled are doing it for therapeutic reasons. I am tired of this bull shit.

    I also have never been in group therapy that was ever beneficial. One of the few groups that I’ve ever found helpful was something called a process group. This is not a therapy group. I work in a state “hospital”. A number of staff from different departments in the “hospital” decided to use our lunch hour to come together and talk, to process ideas and feelings and emotions. It was extremely productive for all of us involved and helped us do better work in each of our areas. It gave us a chance to talk about the toxic atmosphere that permeates this place and how we might go about doing something about the toxicity. We talked about how the “patients” were the last people considered in any discussion. And then the gossip started about the group among the staff in general. Discussing ideas and philosophy was much too radical for the staff in general. They wondered what we were doing and what we talked about during that hour. Rather than come and find out, the group was always open to anyone in the “hospital” who desired to attend, they preferred to gossip and cause trouble for those of us who went regularly. In the end it died an untimely death.

    Report comment

    • Stephen, Workplace process groups are likely a good idea, because from my observation, almost all workplaces lack effective communication. I find it especially true that communication is shunned when it goes from the bottom up, that is, the lowest caste workers have very little say in the workplace rules and policies and how they are enforced. Communication from the top down is usually bossing around and that, too, is ineffective.

      Report comment

      • Agreed. It’s usually the low people on the totem pole who actually know what’s going on and who have some ideas as to what can be done to make things better. I’ve found that those from above have little practical understanding of what people truly need.

        Report comment

  4. I agree about group therapy. It is largely ineffective and mostly harmful. I was part of a day treatment program where the therapists were overly involved in the patients’ affairs. I believe this was the reason why one patient there committed suicide. I have written some funny pieces about Group Therapy that are in my book This Hunger Is Secret. There are several scenes in there. I also replicated Family Therapy, which in my opinion was the most comical chapter of the book.

    Group therapy is unnatural. Even now, I hate sitting in a circle. If I were teaching I would not demand this of the students.

    In Group, there was so much pressure to bear your soul to these folks, and if you did not, it was a disorder. Too much self-disclosure becomes a habit. I believe my group-induced “talent” for self-disclosure is what made me a better memoir writer. The downside of therapy is that you invariably become far too self-absorbed…which in turn, will worsen depression.

    All in all, it was a huge waste of time for me. I should have been in school or working. After all, isn’t showing up 99% of the battle? We showed up. We could have been doing something more fulfilling. Later, I was denied the privilege of the more meaningful groups and told I was only good for Bingo. This was so insulting to both my intellect and my emotional intelligence that I refused to go to groups.

    Report comment

    • I don’t concur Julie. I often said I don’t want any friends. After work I say that phrase to get me motivated to attend a fabulous group in the community. Getting situated they have a board there with photos and getting there I often look at that direction and think that inspirational phrase as the group is going on.

      At the group I didn’t meet a buddy. I met a truly wonderful individuals. I went there just tonight. That’s the total and all encompassing crux of this thing.

      Report comment

  5. The whole concept of “Mental Health Day Treatment” is profoundly insulting.

    “You’re all alike.” Despite what those godlike shrinks said we were vastly different people thrown together with no common traits except being drugged out of our gourds and segregated from everyone else.

    The “classes” were dull and so stupid they would insult anyone who wasn’t too sunk in their own self worth to get upset at being talked to like an 8 year old at age 38. 😛

    Btw, that’s my experience. I’m not trying to bash Cody or anyone else in that circumstance. I’m mad at the folks who run those centers/groups. And that’s always been a patronizing “Normal telling us how hopelessly sick and crazy were. In my experience.

    Report comment

    • “Normal telling us how hopelessly sick and crazy were.” I was only forced to do group therapy for a week, but I found it a worthless experience. We were not allowed to question or disagree with our so called ‘mental illness,’ which left me with nothing to discuss. The group was nothing more than a “mental health” worker, whose goal was brainwashing the group members, into believing in their “invalid” DSM disorders. It was absurd.

      Report comment

  6. I had one really good experience of group therapy and one mediocre one which I walked away from. I think it depends on the group and the skill of the person hosting it, same as one to one therapy.

    Often it is seen as cheap but that doens’t work well if it is not run well.

    I once went to a hearing voices group with a friend. He went a few times after that and said it was the best thing he had ever got from services.

    So I think we can’t generalise, but I do think bad group therapy is just the pits, boring and stressful.

    Report comment

      • Wow say more! I am in peer-led 12 step which is great, so I was making the (incorrect?) assumption that peer-led was in general better. Of course, each group would be different. I went twice to DBSA peer-led which was actually led by a NAMI counselor because, she said, we were incapable of leading ourselves, and she was a disaster, but then it was NAMI so that’s what you’re going to get. Over-medicated people and heavy religious tone. But I would like to find out more because all I’ve heard is how great peer led is supposed to be.

        Report comment

          • Great article and comments.

            What resonated with me: It does seem like peer groups have a generally better rep, but based on what I hear from the people I work with, and my own experience, some peer groups are far more effective than others.

            In the 12-step domain, I’ve rarely been to a bad AA meeting, I only rarely hear people complain about Alanon and ACA meetings. Feedback about SLA meetings is a bit more spotty, I hear more scattered complaints, but they generally get outstanding reviews as well. I will never stop going to AA.

            I’ve never heard someone say, however, that OA changed their life. I get indifferent feedback about OA a lot, like, “I went for a few months, didn’t do much for me.”

            Some other programs, however, just do not seem to fit the 12-step model, and I rarely hear good things about them. UA and DA get pretty bad reviews– often some decent CBT-type interventions are sprinkled in with the worst kind of free-market “The Secret”-type ‘wishing will make it so’ self-help blather. The homework assignments from “PRGs” often seems shaming and dangerous.

            My takeaway from Cody’s piece is: It’s easy for me to forget, as primarily a 1:1 therapist, how much mediocre or bad feedback I get about some groups, and probably what I’m hearing is only the tip of the iceberg. Therapists should probably NEVER refer people to just any group on a list provided by an insurance company or hospital, and ONLY refer to groups that have a well established track record.

            I have heard a lot of bad things about therapist-led groups recently, particularly in IOP, inpatient, or HMO settings– brain-dead, checklist-type interventions with faded handouts that have been copied many times. When therapist-led groups work well, the facilitators pre-interviewed group members very carefully to see if the group was for them, they had really clear boundaries (particularly for DV or anger management groups), and the groups had been running a long time, with members and facilitators who were deeply committed to making them work. At their best? They were, essentially, peer-led groups with the therapist just there for intake, to make sure no one felt pressured to speak or not to speak, to provide structure, to consolidate what had been done the previous week, or ask some questions to kick start the process if needed– or bear witness if people simply wanted to sit in silence with each other.

            Personally, I find facilitating groups exhausting– it requires razor sharp reflexes; for example, if someone is dominating, or being dominated, it’s critical to intervene quickly. I ran a six-week grief group, and got very good feedback, but it kicked the crap out of me. Part of the reason for this, I think, was because it COULD have been damaging if all of us hadn’t been on top of it. I think at the end, we all had a sense of, “That was great, but holy crap, it was scary, too.” If I ever lead or co-facilitate another group, it will only be at a time when my caseload is light.

            Report comment

          • Many people have told me that OA didn’t work for them. It will work for overeaters sometimes, but not usually. I am not sure of the exact track record but from what I can tell, it’s not very good.

            We have a very strong, powerful diet industry in the US. These folks will sell you anything and make you think it will help you. There is the addictive nature of dieting to take into consideration also. I have known many to take the first step and then, end up trapped. The diet industry has many potential candidates!

            OA isn’t a for-profit institution, and there aren’t any particular leaders. It tends to be run in a democratic, though somewhat haphazard way.

            In OA, they have different factions with different beliefs. Perhaps you have heard of “Gray Sheet.” I don’t know if this still exists, but those that follow ‘Gray sheet” follow a very restrictive regimen. The problem with any of these restrictive programs is that the rigid mentality often harms people, making them worse.

            There are looser-run groups but these often consist of people who never quite get over overeating.

            Groups have formed based on OA or based on other 12-step groups such as GA. Some spin-offs focus on anorexia or bulimia. I imagine that by now, there’s one for binge eating also. There are a number of these. Some meet by telephone. I have not been too impressed with any of them, but some people derive benefit.

            When my friend was married to an alcoholic she used Weight Watchers as her escape from him. She told me that many of the women who went there were also escaping bad marriages temporarily. She tells me that the WW group was like a lifeline for her, her safe time away from her husband. I think this is quite valid since the husbands aren’t likely to suspect anything.

            Report comment

          • I’m not a huge fan of 12-step groups. I attended AA pretty regularly about 20 years ago – but never identified as an “alcoholic” (I was using alcohol as a coping mechanism), which, if I made the mistake of saying this outloud elicited one of the many unhelpful and often shaming “slogans” (“your best thinking got you here”, “stinking thinking”, etc.). I also met some of the sickest people I’ve ever met in my life in the “rooms” – and these were the folks with years and years of “sobriety” under their belts.

            As for non-alcohol related 12-step groups…I attended a couple geared towards CSA (holy crap that was a nightmare) and OA (I didn’t overeat, but had an “eating disorder”). I think the problem was trying to force fit trauma-associated symptoms into a pathological framework (not sure if I’ve captured that thought fully).

            I did try a therapist run group – she was my therapist and, in the long run, extremely damaging to me. It was very “new agey” and pretty uncomfortable (in an “icky” way).

            Personally, I agree with the author of this blog (and some of the commenters) in not finding “therapy” groups helpful.

            Report comment

          • AA worked for my late boyfriend. He got sober through AA and then, later on, was a role model for many younger people who were newly sober. He and I did not share much about AA because it was his turf, but it was my understanding that many picked him as a sponsor or mentor. He was what others would say “solid in his sobriety.” He also liked that the group is faith-based. AA helped him get back to his spiritual roots and gave him a lot of confidence and pride. But as I said, it was not my turf and I didn’t pry into his business.

            Report comment

  7. I’m referring to group dynamics things may get uncovered. Even the upper echelons world over appreciate the value of this.

    With I it hit, well simply shouldn’t be described in a single paragraph. Shouldn’t that’s all. We are here to enjoy our time but also so many profound reasons why. Group support is a guardian of civilized and productive mental aid. Natural community groups that’s what I have passion and gets me up from the aspect of connection. Natural groups are huge and I definitely appreciate.

    Report comment

  8. The mind having many parts, each one like a member of a committee, when we work on ourselves, we’re having group therapy. You try to get all the parts to assume more cooperative roles. People working in groups would have so much complexity, no one could tell what was going on, unless they were all aware of their parts, and what each part was doing relative to others’ parts.

    Report comment

  9. Diverting back to crux of this. Well if you meet the right person they can heal or contribute to personal growth.

    I am actually a huge fan of Katie Mottram emerging proud campaign that interviews women and men in Spirituality. I actually do feel that my faith is strong and if people that are bullied consider my journey they can get on a better path. I don’t need to do anything. Sometimes talking incessantly is a problem and hindrance.

    That’s something really important Peers can help others with life struggles. I’m saying such as you can view someone going at it with everything they have. I mean of course not everyone on their journey although I can support some people.

    My faith if choice is Christianity Protestant background. I follow the guidance of Edgar Cayce with my Christian Faith. Also he is respectful to other faith denominations. His guidance is supportive to other faiths as well. All in all he is my spiritual guide versus church practitioners. I attend each Sunday and some practitioners are more supportive and this and that. On the edge of 25, I was hit with an issue from my hero Edgar. Then with constant homage to him as a mentor I start to learn the humor in the quick beat to America. The metaphor is that America moves fast that it’s difficult in this land.

    Report comment

  10. I’ve been a member and a leader in group therapy over my career and the most value I found in the experience was when the focus was on the here and now experience of members where those who could resonate with the person’s experience spoke and those that couldn’t would not engage. It was called subgrouping and it was called Systems-Centered Therapy. The group’s goal was to develop and mature as a group such that it could contain and fully explore the broadest range of personal experience. It had no room for opinions about individuals, no diagnosis or pathologizing and was strictly adherent to the idea of exploration not explanation of experience. The fact that there was no analzing or judgment of others or engaging around differences before sharing similarities created a very different ethos and cultural norm in the group that supported safety and inclusion and a genuine acceptance of difference.

    Report comment

  11. The session begins with members managing distractions that are limiting their ability to bring their full energy and attention into the group. Once this is handled, the group then explores whats happening in the group at the moment. The members are encouraged to join with other members around sharing their own resonant experience and thereby helping to deepen each person’s exploration of their feelings and awareness. The focus is never on individual problems or ‘issues’ outside the group. the work continues until there is no more to be explored and then the other members bring in their different experience which may be the other side of a conflict, e.g., feeling fear around relating more authentically compared to feeling excitement at the prospect of being more self disclosing and open.

    I think that a group like this would be valuable for PD and other health issue communities as it removes the sense of being singled out and also it removes the judgments (positive or negative is irrelevant), interpretations and other forms of ‘helpfulness’ that often is anything but. The work is around engaging wtih other members in first understanding what it means to be a member of a group which is distinct from being a person in the world. This distinction is quite important in the future growtih and maturation of the group-as-a-whole. I’d sugest checking out for more on this approach.

    Report comment

    • That sounds outstanding, MH. I think skill-based groups sometimes can focus on ‘issues’ — like, “that guy cut me off, I want to block his car, get out of mine, and smash in his window with a tire iron. What do you guys do when you feel like that?” And someone else will disclose their own outside-the-box technique that’s helped them get a handle on their road rage– that can work, BUT…

      Yes, the real growth is the in-the-moment interactions between group members– working through an impasse, or difficult feelings towards other people, or the chills-down-your-spine experience of really being heard. Even in a tool-based group, the most enduring change happens in process with the other group members.

      Report comment

    • I would respectfully disagree. This sounds very much like the kind of group that the article questions.

      Also, the label PD has serious issues. I would invite you to read more on how it stigmatizes women in particular (I realize some men are dx PD) that The System is impatient with, and often is interpreted by both patients and professionals as hopeless. The group sounds patronizing to me: “You don’t know how to have good relationships so let’s practice.” It may be that if I saw the group it does not come across that way at all, but it sounds a little off. Input from participants to leaders cannot be relied on: There are many reasons participants would give positive input when not feeling positive about it. That is not to insinuate that the groups are not helpful — they may well be very helpful. But participant response to the leader or on questionnaires is not the best measure of that.

      I am on “the other side” — so it is easy to disregard my experience, but maybe problematizing it will give you insight that will make groups even more effective. I wasn’t actually dx PD, but just about everything else in the book. I have seen the damage those words can do. Perhaps you could do a companion piece to this article to explain your ideas more deeply.

      Report comment

  12. The only group “therapy” I found helpful was a time limited DBT skills group that was run like a class. I know a lot of folks have had less helpful experiences with DBT groups – I went in with the mindset that I was going to learn “skills” – and the group “leaders” kept things from veering off the proscribed agenda.

    The most dismal groups were those with “encouraged” attendance during several involuntary hospitalizations. These were typically run by younger, “in training” social workers who “knew what was best” for the “patients” in their group – probably based on reading the case files and assuming that the “diagnoses” assigned fully described the human beings sitting with them. I was “encouraged” to attend “occupational” therapy to help get a job once I was released (ignoring the fact that I had a job patiently waiting for me), “art” therapy where we colored in coloring books (no pencils or pens, of course), and (my favorite) – morning check-in group, where we outlined our “healthy plans for the day”. Of course, they tried to bill me (or my insurance company) for these groups.

    I remember one particularly awful group where a very young social worker was quizzing every “participant” on “how you got here”. An older woman explained that she was caring for her grandchildren because her daughter was drug addicted and could not care for them – she was tired and overwhelmed and tried to kill herself. The social worker piped up in a very cheery voice – “Well, then, this must be like a vacation to you!”

    Years later, I was in a similar situation to the woman in the hospital – single parent, three kids, working full time, no friends or family support – and I was overwhelmed and suicidal. There is no respite for this, at least not where I live. When I reached out for help, I was deemed a danger to myself and forcibly hospitalized. I was never asked about my environment (well, only if I had a gun in the house) – instead I was given several diagnoses and a handful of prescriptions.

    Report comment

    • Yes, and these children as therapy leaders took notes on our participation … so if you didn’t play along they would report your lack of cooperation to the p-docs … so the whole group in my situation was a bunch of people trying to look like they were good little patients so they could get out more quickly. It was like made-for-tv psych ward therapy. What was most astounding was that the leaders couldn’t see we were all just saying what would get us out. They thought they were so talented they were curing us all. Who was deluded.

      Report comment

    • Group for me was useless, unstimulating, unmotivating. Bingo games and filling out elementary-school level worksheets. When I complained I got labeled even worse. I did not need that. It made me worse to be intellectually insulted every time I ended up in the “hospital.”

      Report comment

        • One of the prisons had “Tea and Toast.” Huge insult. Their idea of “challenging” was to play Group Bingo and get to be the one who put the pieces on the huge board. Geez. Every time I went to college I had no qualms about writing long papers, reading tons of books, and giving presentations. Go to the nuthouse and I got insulted by Bingo, and finally, told that even that was “too challenging” for little ole me. It was challenging because it was very hard to put up with the lowest expectations imaginable.

          Report comment

    • Regarding hospital groups … I guess the sad thing, the pathetic thing really, was that when I was in the hospital, I really *wanted* the group to work. I wanted to be able to talk with someone about what was torturing me. I wanted to find someone else in the world who had my reality, or at least something different from the rest of the world’s.

      I know now that that’s really not what’s going to happen in a group or in a hospital. But I was so disappointed and hurt. The whole thing, at its core, is sad. Sure, now I can look back on how foolish my expectations were and talk dispassionately about the reasons. But then, it was really painful. And it’s continuing to others right now ..

      Report comment

  13. The comments are fine I’ve noted a while, although you get people to refrain from commenting. I mean I admire people such as Chacku from the star center.

    People that might be interested in looking at alternative ways. Maybe this is new to them. The counter culture to the counter culture here is greatness. I basically think the commenters are the sub counter culture.

    Report comment

  14. Also I mean some people I know have co-occurring mental and addiction / use issues.

    I mean it’s not sharp line though. The infamous AA alcoholic anonymous painting of a man giving support with guy that has hit rock bottom has a double quandary or double compandre.

    I stopped in 2007, although I went there the group but two years. It’s so much in terms of intricate details of a person as to co occurring that it’s not really great important or worth to debate. That painting I prefer to feel it and not even discuss.

    I mean this could be grasped my point here what I’m saying is even such as Slyvia Plath the issues and details are so intricate as to a person that I feel it and usually don’t discuss.

    Report comment

  15. I was unfortunate to have received gratifying news my first week of group therapy: a project praised in the daily newspaper. After sympathetically sitting through the groups’ various distressing accounts, including a member’s son’s poor adjustment to rehab, I quietly and self-effacingly reported my week had been pretty good. The group exploded with dismay, chastised my insensitivity, led by the scornful psychologist reminding me my accomplishment fell far short of what might be achieved in my field.

    From that day forward I joined the culture of bring-your-own whine, including skipping mention of another life-changing career experience. When I wanted to terminate, the psychologist peremptorily scolded that signaled I was on the verge of a great break through and tried to stop me.

    This group was like the old television show Queen for a Day, where we performed our most utmost miseries so the gratified psychologist could tell us how his ministrations were improving our lives.

    Report comment

    • Psychotherapy may be the only structure within our social order that really has the capability of truly radicalizing people by helping them to tolerate ambiguity and learn to think for themselves rather than live out the roles they were trained to play by their parents, societal and cultural neuroses.

      Report comment

      • For me, the only way that I could have regained my ability to think independently was to end therapy. I do not wish to think the way my therapists demanded. Therapy taught me self-absorption and self-blame, reflective of an entire cultural era in the USA of scrupulous examination of the self. It was addictive and harmful. Turning inward is not the answer. Maybe it’s okay occasionally, but I wouldn’t make a habit of it now.

        I’m trying to make up for all the years I lost to therapy. Trying to teach myself as much as I can, trying to help other people, reaching out, doing good things as much as possible to make the world a better place.

        Report comment

  16. Pacific Dawn

    Can I call you PD? you are so right about that. I have been to some parent support groups and some people just don’t want to hear it. NAMI …..hand out the drugs to your kids, your parents, hell just give them to everybody…..surprised they don’t have samples at the meetings.

    Report comment

  17. mhberman, Psychotherapy is designed to block people’s awareness, to make them feel that tuning out is the way to live. Your psychotherapist is only a therapist because they believe that all the problems are really just in your own head. If they did not believe this, then they would have flattened knuckles, and knife and bullet scars. At the very minimum they would have a Law Degree pinned up on their wall, rather than a Therapy degree.

    Yes Jim, if you like you can call me PD. Gotta stop the drugs, get them off the market. Hard to stop Therapy and Reovery. But we can stop the gov’t licensing of Therapy, and stop the gov’t support for Recovery ( Courts sending people, in the prisons, and connected to County Mental Health. )

    Report comment

  18. When asked, an increasing number of individuals admitted they would not like sharing their mental disorders with anyone except their appointed psychotherapist. However, studies have manifested that people with a similar illness must undertake treatment together for better results. Well, this write-up further stresses upon such a claim. It defines group therapy and clearly states how the procedure can help. Please do check it out.

    Report comment

    • In theory, that sounds true. The issue is that these are not real illnesses. If people come together who have similar Problems of Living, then yes, it can be helpful. Examples? Rape, money, how to parent, employment struggles, etc. When I was labeled “bipolar” I certainly had nothing in common with other “bipolars” unless we had similar Problems of Living.

      Report comment

      • What I had in common with other “bipolars” were the problems created by those claiming to help us. Extreme poverty/unemployment, obesity, excessive thirst, sleeping all the time or not enough, relationship problems because our relatives learned we were “psychotic monsters,” and the ever present threat of homelessness (thanks to the extreme poverty, unemployment, and relatives’ shunning.)

        All caused by the stigmatizing lables and drugs handed out so freely by the Mental Illness Center.

        Report comment