Group Therapy

Privacy and Group Therapy

At two separate points in my life, I’ve had friends observe that I seem to spend a lot of time going to the doctor.

They weren’t wrong. I do spend a lot of time with doctors—and nurse practitioners, and psychologists, and counselors, and neuropsychologists, and psychiatrists, and the occasional graduate student. A great number of those visits were bi-weekly or weekly sessions of therapy groups, which is a lot like fight club in that the first rule about it is that you’re not supposed to talk about it.

The reasoning behind this is simple enough: not everyone is open about their participation in the mental health space, and speaking publicly about someone else’s therapy is a violation of their privacy and individual rights.

I didn’t interact much with people in any of my therapy groups outside of therapy, though I have maintained a Facebook friendship with some of them. I had to be careful about what I said and who I said it to, lest I accidentally give away to someone that a casual acquaintance was met through group therapy.

This got harder to do as time went on, because I tend to try and be more open about my history of mental illness. As I stated in the opening line, I’ve had friends observe the sheer amount of time I’d spent dealing with my medical issues. I had one major practice that I kept up from before I even attended my first group session: I practiced saying “We had a psych class together”.

It was a perfect out, though one I never had to actually use. The idea was a layover from my childhood practice of saying “my cat scratched me” and “I’m just tired”. It was simple—if I practiced saying these little white lies to myself,  I could say them to someone else more convincingly.

I took a couple of psychology classes in college, and these were the kind of 101 classes with 200 people in a giant lecture hall with a professor who didn’t bother to learn anyone’s names. If I had ever needed to deploy the decoy, this one made the most sense.

Luckily, I never had to use this, and my friends accepted the explanation that I did, in fact, need to go to the doctor more often than other people. Whether or not you share that you are attending or have attended group therapy is up to you, but there are definitely ways to maintain everyone’s privacy in the process.

What about you? Have you ever had to explain (or dodge an explanation) to friends or classmates? How do you balance honesty and privacy? ❀

Group Therapy, Metaphor Monday

Medication Monday | Group Therapy

In every therapy group I have ever attended, there is inevitably a session that I refer to as “drug day”.

It’s typically not the first meeting, but the second or third. We’ve all met, spilled our guts about family history and personal traumas and which mental illnesses we have and what symptoms we’re suffering from. There’s always at least one cutter (me, if no one else), one person with GAD and a serious case of imposter syndrome (no worries, kids, you do just as well as anyone else in group), and one person who’s just too god damn sparkly and bubbly to have a serious case of the crazies… but they do. (This one is also me more often than not these days.)

But in every therapy group I’ve attended, there has consistently been a majority drug use. I’m struggling to remember a group where there wasn’t 100% medication in our history. There may or may not have been one, but my point is this—medication is stigmatized. In spite of the fact that we’re all in group therapy, and in spite of the fact that we’re all baring our traumas to one another from Day 1, no one seems to be comfortable talking about psychiatric medication.

I’ve written a bit about how people view medication as the thing that destroys you, rather than as the thing that heals you. There’s a widespread belief that psychiatric medication is a conspiracy by big pharma to pick our pockets and drug us into compliance. I won’t lie and say there aren’t days when I entertain this idea—particularly, on days when I have to spend money on refills at the pharmacy—but I know that this is a symptom of healthcare in the US being a for-profit industry, and not a symptom of some vast global conspiracy.

I know this because the medication works, even when the placebo effect does not…but that’s a post for another day.

In 2011, Time Magazine reported that 1 in 5 American adults was taking psychiatric medication, and that antidepressants were the most used kind of psychiatric medication. According to the 2010 census, the population of the US over the age of 18 was some 234.5 million—almost 50 million adults would have been taking medication at the time of the survey.

50 million adults…and we were scared to talk about it in a group of young adults who were clearly struggling with mental health problems. Inevitably someone would bring it up, and there would be a sigh of relief as everyone suddenly began spilling a laundry list of medication we’d tried—laughing about the absurdity of it, sympathizing over shared side effects, and occasionally sharing horror stories about drugs gone wrong. (One time I went off of lamotrigine cold turkey. 0/10, do not recommend. Seriously guys, DO NOT DO THIS.)

There was inevitably a shift after the drug day. Things would ease up, we’d be more comfortable with each other, share more personal stories. Everyone was calmer, more comfortable with themselves, with each other. I wonder what would happen if we could bring that honesty outside of group… ❀