Note: Confidentiality is respected so I will only talk about themes or general points rather than specifics of what was said.
Structure or Unstructured?
Someone gave feedback last week that the group was very unstructured. This was an excellent piece of feedback. I tried to explain that I have tried to reach a balance between too much structure, which can be constrictive, and too little structure which can make the meetings run awry. If a group is too structured people don’t feel as free to be themselves, they can start developing a ‘therapy’ persona. Also some men are turned off by the idea of therapy due to stigma. I therefore try to make the group a social group for people who happen to have mental health issues, rather than a mental health group for people who want to socialise. Too little structure and a dominant member of the group can take over a bit too much, or the meetings might avoid ever talking about our issues because no-one dares start.
Therapy Group or Social Event?
The other aim was to create a group that wasn’t just about talking about problems, which can make people more depressed, but instead to aim for a perfect balance between having fun and discussing issues when we feel like it. My other intention when setting up the the group was to ensure it wasn’t a therapy group. That is, the group is therapeutic, but there is no therapist there. If there are new members, or people don’t seem warmed up socially, I tend to get everyone to go round the table saying their name, why they are here, This is why I prefer to be a group facilitator, rather than some kind of therapist. A facilitator should sometimes take a back seat when things seem to falter, and at other times come in and oil the cogs to get things moving again. When the cogs are turning the facilitator can merge in to the background. However a facilitator shouldn’t be afraid of silence either. I am slowly learning the skills to achieve the balance. It seems to all be about balance!
Today someone seemed particularly gloomy and down. A couple of people paired off and seemed to be laughing and having fun in their own conversation. By the end of their two hours together, they both had spirits which had been lifted. Did they talk about their problems? A bit, but not in a forced way. Were they asked to share their feelings? Not by some overarching therapist figure, but possible by each other in passing. A result. A therapeutic interaction occurs called ‘being human’! My role is to create a safe and welcoming environment where people want to interact. The other members of the group, me included, spent most of the time having a good laugh. I myself found this great fun and my spirits were lifted, and I sensed that everyone else also felt good. The last hour or so we did talk a fair bit about the mind. We talked about:
- mindfulness / meditation
- self-fulfilling prophecies
- group dynamics
“When you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you” – Friedrich Nietzsche
I went over how observing the mind, via mindfulness or other self-reflective practise, can allow us to start to spot patterns of the mind. Compassion is important to allow us to learn to accept our own minds, warts and all. I spoke about how the mind’s negative self-talk or our monkey mind can make us get lost down the abyss. I also mentioned a very useful phrase I heard on a mindfulness course several years ago:
Thoughts are not facts
When I first heard this, in hindsight, obvious phrase, it really transformed my anxiety. I started to realise that a lot of thoughts I have might well be illusory! Once you realise that, your thoughts lose a lot of power over you. Everyone said they felt a huge benefit coming to the group. They see it as far more than a social group, and they don’t see it as a therapy group, so it seems like I’ve hit the spot I was aiming for. Copyright MEN HEAL 2014