Group Therapy, is one of those things that tends to have a big fat stigma, slapped on top of it. You can almost picture the scene – a group of people all sat in awkwardly in a circle, looking a bit shifty and trying to avoid each other’s gaze. A ball is thrown around the circle, and if it lands on you, it’s your turn to talk. That’s right, you have to stand up, open your mouth and pour out your inner-most fears, in-front of a load of strangers, who you couldn’t give a crap about.
Last night I attended my first self-esteem focused, group therapy session. As usual, I was late, so all eyes were on me, as I sheepishly sat myself down. Yes, we did sit in a circle (much to my amusement), however that’s where the similarities between that and my imaginary scenario ended.
This particular group therapy, is about raising your self-esteem and confidence, via the use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy methods, in a group setting. Now, I’ve been using some CBT methods over the last few months, so I was somewhat familiar with what we would be doing, but I never realised how much more of an impact it could have, when you do it as a group, as opposed to on your own.
It wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be for one. Everyone there was in the same boat. They all have anxiety, self-esteem and issues with depression in one way or another. They’ve all been to that place called ‘rock bottom’ and don’t like what they see there and they all want to do something about it.
The two-hour session last night, was about introducing us to the way in which our thoughts, effect our feelings, which then effects our behaviour. For instance we were given the following scenario.
Imagine that you are walking down the road and in the distance, you see a close friend walking towards you. The same friend then walks straight past you, without any kind of acknowledgement and on down the road. What is the first thing you would think?
What have I done wrong? – This is your thought.
Now, what does that one thought, make you feel?
Maybe you feel upset because you were ignored. Worried because you don’t know what you’ve done wrong. You might start to get anxious, have sweaty palms, hot flushes, be agitated, distracted. You may be frozen to the spot, not knowing what your next move should be.
These are all your body’s reactions to that one single thought. It’s startling how many emotions and feelings can come out of that thought.
Now, what do those feelings make you want to do?
You might forget about where you were going. Maybe that nice thing you were going to do for yourself, gets forgotten in the wave of feelings going on in your body. Perhaps, you might cry because you are confused and upset about why you were being ignored. You may go home, retreat into your comfort zone.
All of these things, triggered from one little thought. One small incident and your whole day is ruined.
My rudimentary triangle of thoughts, feelings and behaviour. MS Paint is your friend.
Our group leader then approached it a different way. What if on seeing your friend walk past without saying anything to you, you stopped and thought differently about it. What if, instead of presuming you had done something wrong, you turned and shouted after your friend? Perhaps you could have told yourself, “Oh she mustn’t have had her glasses on, I’ll give her a call later.”, or even, “She must be having a bad day, I’ll ring her later, to see if she is OK. ” If you approached it that way, do you think you would have ended up with the mental and physical reactions that you had in the first scenario? No. You may have just been curious and concerned. Your day certainly wouldn’t have been ruined by it.
This in essence is what the CBT approach to self-esteem is all about. It’s about being curious and looking at why we think, feel and behave in the way that we do. It’s about being able to know when we’re feeling anxious, and to be able to sit with that anxiety, knowing it’s there, but also not letting it overcome you. It’s about accepting that we will never be the uber, amazing, confident, perfect person that we want to be – that’s unrealistic, but also understanding that we don’t want to be the creature with no sense of self-worth, or self-respect, who doesn’t take risks and always stays inside her comfort zone. It’s about working in the middle – in the grey area, one step at a time. Knowing our limitations, and then being curious enough to push them a bit. It’s about giving it a go because there is nothing to lose.
I got a lot out of that one session and I left it feeling empowered. Research has shown that the more a person puts in to these sessions, and CBT itself, then the better the results are. Doing it in a group setting helps, because we can encourage each other with the knowledge that we’re all trying to reach the same goal, even if it’s in a round about kind of way. So, for the next eleven weeks, I will be pushing myself and putting as much as I can in it. For me, the grey area is where I want to be.
Please let me know your thoughts on this, as I’m always interested in hearing other people’s experiences, whether you’ve done group therapy or not. Just pop a comment below, or if you’d rather email me, then you can find my email address on my about page.