This is Part 2 of my experience of being in group therapy: if you haven’t read Part 1 yet, you can find that here. After what had happened with the mentalisation group and my mental health team’s unwillingness to offer me any other treatment, group or otherwise, I made a complaint. The results of this complaint lead to my next experience with group therapy, for my borderline personality disorder (BPD).
It was agreed that I’d try a different group therapy as well as also doing one-to-one counselling at the same time. This was the compromise that was agreed upon after a meeting about my complaint: I was happy-ish with this agreement. I may not get anything from the group therapy, and I didn’t, but at least I’ll get the one-to-one therapy to actually work on my stuff. Or so I thought.
However, it became a huge pain in the ass to start this new group therapy. It took three tries before they’d sorted out this new group therapy cycle for me a year later. But by this point, they’d moved me to a different group therapy that didn’t automatically come with the additional one-to-one counselling to run alongside it. Which I wasn’t happy about. But they assured me I’d still get the promised one-to-one counselling.
I spent so much time chasing up the one-to-one that they’d promised me would run concurrently with the group therapy (which never came), but after five months, the one-to-one counselling was still a no show.
I’ll save that rant about my Mental Health Trust for another series of posts because they’re too big for one post. Plus, this post is about my second group therapy experience.
I don’t know why, but the Mental Health Trust I was stuck dealing with wouldn’t let go of their belief that I HAD to do group therapy. For some reason, they believe, I, and I’m guessing everyone with BPD, can only improve through group work because of the attachment problems I/we have. That I needed that experience.
The premise for me (or anyone) having to do group work wasn’t even justified in the NICE (2009) guidelines. The guidelines say nothing about BPD having to be treated in a group format, individual treatments are what the guidelines are based upon. They only fixated on it being done in a group because it’s cost-effective. It had nothing to do with how effective it was for the clients as individuals.
Furthermore, it doesn’t hold any merit with me when you realise I’ve been working as a group facilitator and co-facilitator for years at the substance abuse charity I’d work at. Not to mention the fact that I was currently doing a postgraduate degree that required me to participate in an experiential group for the whole of the first year of the course and for most of the second year.
All I do is group work as my job or as part of my studies. I can do group, I just don’t benefit from it in regards to helping me with my unique to me combination of problems.
I have no problems talking about my issues with people on their own or in groups. Thus, being in group therapy is no different from anything I have and was currently doing, anyway. The only problem with me doing group work as a client is that I don’t get any benefits from the experience. Meaning my time is being wasted and a place for someone who could benefit from the experience is being taken away.
Nonetheless, I gave the second therapy group a try because I was desperate to get some form of therapy started.
What the group boiled down to was a peer-support group. The only thing the facilitator did was to try and make sure to bring people into the conversation. You don’t need a therapist for that. Anyone can ask: “person X, what did you think of what person Y said?” and “person Z, how did that make you feel?” It was just basic stuff.
There was no attempt at therapy by the facilitator in the group, which would have been at least a little useful. Instead, it was just talking about the stuff that happened to us, which had stopped being a useful option for therapy for me more than a decade ago (Insomnia: How Trauma Can Ruin A Good Nights Sleep).
During the group sessions, I did talk about my relationship with my mum and how she had cancer. This was near the start of me attending the sessions, but it wasn’t helpful for me. The words of support they offered were empty to me because they’re just words. I learnt a long time ago that it’s deeds and actions that matter, not words. Thus, their words of support were nothing more than empty societal gestures that they are.
There was no benefit for me talking about my problems with the group because I’ve talked about my problems with loads of people over the years. I’ve also thought about my problems hundreds of times as I worked through my problems on my own to strip them of their power over me, confronting my painful thoughts and past head-on (Insomnia: How Trauma Can Ruin A Good Nights Sleep).
Because I did this, there was no longer any benefit from just talking about them anymore. What I needed to do was figure out how to undo the damage that was left on me when they actually happened. They’ve shaped who I am and changed the path my life was moving down. This is what I needed help to solve.
I don’t love like other people do, because I can’t form that bond that replaces the initial chemicals that make all of us fall for other people. So when my body shuts down there production, I’m left with nothing. I basically stop loving someone after two months. This was what I was seeking help for, but what I wasn’t getting help with.
Furthermore, I get all the real and practical support I need from my partner, as well as any emotional support, should I need it.
The only progress that has ever been achieved with my mental health has been the work I’d done on myself. I have yet to benefit from any help from therapy involving anyone else, which is depressing when you think about it.
Because the group is limited by its peer-support nature, it couldn’t offer me anything I need. A peer-support style group therapy might have been useful a decade ago, but now it was just superfluous. As I’ve said before, I no longer need to talk about or get help with processing my past and past traumas (Insomnia: How Trauma Can Ruin A Good Nights Sleep). What I need now is help to find solutions, because I’d run out of ways to help myself.
I couldn’t modify behaviours as I had done for other aspects of my mental health problems (Life With My Hair Destroying Behaviours and Did Poor Mental Health Cause My Unhealthy Relationship With Food?), because there were none to modify. What I needed was a skill I don’t think I currently have. I don’t know how to remove the scars my past traumas have left on me that means I can’t love.
I’ve been with my partner on and off over the last 10 years, and they properly care about me. I’ve never met someone so awesome and supportive. They’re truly the best person I’ve ever met. And yet, I’m still not able to love them the way they deserve to be loved.
Whilst I was still attending group therapy, two people from the group were coming to the end of their time in the group. What they discussed in their last few sessions just hammed it home how pointless this group was. They discussed how they were going to have to join another waiting list in order to get further therapy when they were finished with this group because nothing had improved for them from their year in the group.
Another member of the group was having an identity crisis about their sexuality. They were having to seek counselling elsewhere to do alongside this group for this issue. They even stated in one of the sessions that they were having to look for individual counselling elsewhere to discuss their sexuality. What is the point of this group if everyone needs to go elsewhere for the actual help they need?
I honestly couldn’t see how anyone was benefiting from this group therapy.
The facilitator didn’t ask any questions about why they felt the need to seek additional counselling for their sexuality or try to talk about their obvious sexual identity crises, but I did. It was crystal clear that the root of most, if not all, their mental health problems stemmed from this one issue.
Using my own racial identity problems as a partial comparison, I discussed with them how neither sexual orientation nor your ethnic group is a choice, and how coming to terms with it would help with a lot of their problems. We also talked about how they feared being rejected by their mum over their sexuality, which would explain the BPD, at least in part.
I often felt like I had to step into the practitioner role to get a meaningful discussion going about stuff that clearly mattered to the other group members. Rather than just trying to make sure everyone was brought into the conversation. If that person could come to terms with, or at least make some progress in accepting their sexuality, it should make their other issues easier to manage. Their sexuality was the foundation of their problems: at least that’s how I saw it.
The people seeking therapy from elsewhere to get the support they needed resulted in me realising just how pointless this group therapy was. I was already finding it a waste of time and growing very resentful for being there. The only use I found for the group was to offer my experience to help the other members, otherwise, I didn’t see the point in joining in.
The frequency with how often I found myself going into therapist mode to ask questions that might help the other clients was ridiculous. It wasn’t my place to try and help the other clients resolve aspects of their problems. That’s not what I was there for. I was there because I wanted help with my own problems for a change. All I was doing at work was helping other people with their problems. I wanted to put my problems first for a change.
As I’ve already stated, I was willing to give group therapy another try, so long as I also got my one-to-one counselling. Plus, I’ve always been open to trying new therapies before I dismiss them, so I could get first-hand experience of there effectiveness: it wasn’t effective, for me at least. The lack of promised one-to-one counselling became the main reason why I would drop out of the group.
I was meant to be doing one-to-one counselling at the same time I was doing group therapy, but that never came. Even though that was our agreement for me doing the group in the first place, and even though I was constantly chasing it up.
Because I didn’t get the agreed-upon one-to-one counselling, and because I was getting nothing from being in the group (except a growing resentment building up inside me), I thought there was only one option available.
The only option for me was to leave the group and give my space to someone who might actually benefit from talking about their issues. So that someone who still needed to talk about and process their traumatic events could have my spot to do so.
With my feelings about the group, my growing resentment for being there due to the broken agreement, and not getting the one-to-one therapy I was promised, leaving was the group was the only thing that was also good for me and for moving everyone else up the waiting list.
I need someone to help me find solutions, not just talk about the events of my life. I can do that on my own and have been doing it on my own for years. If I need to vent, I can turn to my partner.
Even though I talked about some stuff when prompted, I still didn’t get anything from the experience. Although, saying that, I also didn’t get anything from my one-to-one counselling experience either. So maybe it’s not the fact that it was group therapy that didn’t reach me, but therapy in general.
It could even be that I’ve not found one that I can connect with. But that doesn’t quite add up, given the I’ve progress I’ve made by working on myself: the only progress that’s ever made with my mental health has come from the work I’ve done on myself.
I find doing group work as a participant hard because I ended up switching off or I end up feeling like I’m the practitioner. Maybe I wouldn’t feel like a practitioner if the actual group practitioner said something when there were clear areas the group member needed help with.
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Unwanted Life readers.
NICE. (2009). Borderline personality disorder: recognition and management. Clinical guideline, [CG78]. Retrieved from https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg78.