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Posts Tagged ‘Group therapy’

This month’s question for The People’s Therapist gets to the heart of how psychotherapy – “talk therapy” – actually works:

Why is psychotherapy conducted exclusively face-to-face, rather than in writing?  I find that I express myself much more clearly and precisely in writing, after having had the chance to ruminate on my response — it’s one of the reasons I’m pursuing law as a career.  I’ll bet this is something I share with other lawyers and law students.  Having time to consider my response also reduces the risk that when I happen to have my precious hour in session, I’ll be guarded and not in a very sharing mood, and the hour will be unproductive for the both of us.  Having the written word as an intermediary allows me to present myself much more honestly.

Thanks,

M

And here’s my response:

To submit a question to Ask The People’s Therapist, please email it as text or a video to: wmeyerhofer@aquietroom.com

If I answer your question on the site, you’ll win a free session of psychotherapy with The People’s Therapist.
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If you’re interested in learning more about the scientific and philosophical underpinnings of psychotherapy, you might enjoy my first book, “Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy”

My second book takes a humorous look at the current state of the legal profession, “Way Worse Than Being A Dentist”

(Both books are also available on bn.com and the Apple iBookstore.) 

For information on my private practice, click here.

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I was chased down the sidewalk by a breathless woman.

“You’re the guy who made me vegetarian!” she announced between gasps.

I didn’t know what she was talking about.

It turned out she’d worked as a paralegal, years before, at Sullivan & Cromwell.  I didn’t feel guilty about not remembering her.  We only toiled together once – a grueling all-nighter preparing for an M&A closing.

We ordered take-out burgers that night, and I opted for a veggie burger.  She asked why I wasn’t eating meat.  At first I played it down – mumbled something like “don’t feel like it.”  Carnivores can grow testy if you fail to consume meat in their presence – they take it as a personal affront.  I’ve learned to tread lightly.

But she persisted, with genuine curiosity, so I told her the truth:

“You don’t have to go there – no one’s asking you too,” I said.  “But if you do go there, you’ll stop eating meat.”

That was it.

Ever since that night, she told me on the sidewalk, she’d been vegetarian.

All it took was going there – well, having someone tell you there was a “there ” to go to, then making the trip.

No, I’m not going to spell out where “there” is – you know perfectly well and I’m not here to preach.  I’m here to talk about consciousness-raising, not vegetarianism.  Specifically, consciousness-raising around alcohol.

You know, alcohol – those lambent elixirs stored in gleaming bottles; the all-American can of beer that pops open to seal friendship and inaugurate cherished memories; the cork shooting from a pricey bottle of champagne to harken in merriment and delight.

Yeah.  Ethanol.  Ethyl alcohol.  Let’s tackle the popular mythology surrounding this stuff. We can start with what I call the Maya Angelou rule.

(more…)

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An intriguing question from “A”:
My boyfriend’s ex has gone through therapy one on one and in a group setting.  She now thinks she can diagnose and help anyone.  In her mind she is “helping” but in reality she is being intrusive, causing more problems, trying to find out secrets.  I see this as someone who is in a delusion that she can fix anyone and is looking for someone who is in her opinion broken.  She thinks that she is bonding with people by “helping them”.  She even tries to make you feel comfortable by saying she is a “bleeding heart.”
I see it as she is prying into to people’s lives looking for dirt to use against them.  I guess being trusted with someones secrets somehow makes her feel that she has created an unbreakable bond.  My instinct is to run away as fast as I can from this person.  I think she is dangerous, manipulative, untrustworthy, and only motivated by money not true friendship.
This is the second one of his (my boyfriend) female friends that I don’t like or trust.  The first one was in love with my boyfriend and trying to break us up.
I know that everyone needs friends but I cannot help her.  I cannot be a true friend to her because I don’t trust her.  Life is hard enough without someone playing the therapist game.  Does she realize that this game she is playing is dangerous and can have severe consequences? What does it say about me that I don’t want to have anything to do with her?

And here’s my answer:

To submit a question to Ask The People’s Therapist, please email it as text or a video to: wmeyerhofer@aquietroom.com

If I answer your question on the site, you’ll win a free session of psychotherapy with The People’s Therapist!

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Check out The People’s Therapist’s new book: “Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

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I was working this morning with a patient I’ve been seeing for a few months.  At the end of our session I suggested he join one of my psychotherapy groups that meet once a week in the evenings.

“What?  You can do psychotherapy in a group?  How does that work?”

I was a bit surprised – most people have at least heard of group therapy, but it seemed the perfect time for The People’s Therapist to explain the basics of this mysterious and powerful psychotherapy modality.  At very least, in my limited space here, I can dispel a few of the myths:

Myth #1:  Group psychotherapy will be like a 12-step group. I think this idea comes about because the most familiar group therapy-like experience for most people is AA, or another 12-step group.  Some of my patients who have done AA or another 12-step group in the past act like they know what they’re getting into, and march in to my groups with extra confidence, only to find that this new experience is very different from what they’re used to.

There are a lot of ways to run psychotherapy groups, and most groups are far less structured than an AA group.  The dreaded “cross-talk” which is forbidden in AA is not only permitted in most groups – it’s encouraged.  There’s no opening ritual or closing prayer – it’s open and free-form.  You sit down and talk about whatever’s on your mind.  The only rule is that you keep it real, so you don’t waste time.

Most psychotherapy groups also meet weekly, and are closed – not drop-ins, like most AA groups.  If you are a member of a psychotherapy group, you are committed to the other members, possibly for years, and it is your duty to show up every week and participate, even when you don’t want to.

Myth #2.  Group is just cheap therapy for a bunch of people at once. One of the advantages of group therapy is that it is cheaper than individual sessions – with so many people, the fee is lower for each person.  But it is not cut-rate cheapo therapy.  In fact, I strongly encourage my patients to participate in “conjoint therapy” – which means going to group every week and dropping in for an individual therapy session every two or three weeks, too.  Group is very different from individual treatment, but they complement one another and the combination is more effective than either on its own.

How is group different?  It is not so much vertical, like individual, but horizontal.  You don’t dig deep into your past so much – you already did that in individual.  The focus in group is on watching how you interact with others.  I think of group as taking the work of the individual sessions out into a laboratory, where you can test what you’ve learned in a controlled setting.  There is nowhere in the world like a group room – a place where you can sit with perfect strangers and the assignment is to put your authentic thoughts and feelings into words and interact.  It is a powerful, often life-changing experience.

Myth #3. For a group to work, everyone has to share a common life experience. I think this myth arises from people’s familiarity with support groups, rather than broader psychotherapy groups.  A group focused on one issue – such as survivors of sexual abuse – is a support group.

I led a support group specifically for HIV+ gay men for many years, and it was a rewarding and useful experience, but my favorite groups have no specific focus and include the most diverse possible population.  The HIV+ group created a safe place where guys dealing with that disease, and the stigma it still carried, could loosen up and share their experiences.  But even in that group, there was plenty getting talked about besides HIV, including friendships, dating, career issues and lots of other topics.

I’ve had all sorts of people in my groups over the years.  All ethnicities have been represented, people as young as 18 and as old as 78, rich and no-so-rich, men, women and trans people, gay, lesbian, straight and bi.  Diversity only enriches the experience.

Myths #4 and 5:  If I go to group, (a) I won’t want to share my therapist’s attention, so I’ll dominate too much or (b) I’ll be too scared to open up in front of all those strangers.

If you’re having these common worries about group, then it’s already working.  These are transferences – you are transferring your expectations from prior life experiences onto a prediction about how group will play out when you get there.

The first lesson of group is that you will unconsciously relate to the group the way you related within your family.  It’s useful to understand how that mechanism plays out, because it is also the way you relate to the world as a whole.

If you grew up having to fight to get the attention you needed in your family, you might play that role out in the group room when you arrive.  If you grew up distrustful of others, expecting a negative response, you might shut down in the presence of the group.

Becoming conscious of these unconscious patterns, and practicing different ways of being, is the work of group therapy.

I could write about group forever – and I’ll probably be writing about it a lot more on this website.  Group is some of my most challenging and rewarding work, and I’ve seen people take enormous strides in a group room that might have been impossible with individual therapy alone. Humans are social animals, and co-exist with one another.  Group incorporates all those other people into the therapy experience – with powerful results.

If you’re like most people, now that you’ve learned a bit about group…you’re probably thinking about giving it a try.  It’s a commitment.  Most therapists require that you commit for at least 10 or 15 sessions, and this new way of doing psychotherapy will become a regular part of your life.

I promise, whatever happens, you’ll be changed by the experience – and you won’t forget it.

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This blog responds to two BAD things and one GOOD thing about psychotherapy.

First, the BAD things.

It’s expensive:  I slide my rate down to whatever you tell me you can afford.  And I mean it.  (If you don’t believe me, it’s on my website:  www.aquietroom.com.)   I’ve seen people for $200 per hour and I’ve seen people for $1 per hour, because that’s what they each could honestly afford.  They all get the same therapy.  But I can only see so many people at once, even with the groups.  This blog addresses that problem.  Here’s a space where I can share the ideas of psychotherapy with everyone.  Until I can get a book in print (which might be soon), this is what I’ve got – a public space, free to all comers, to spread the ideas I believe in – and to try to help.

It’s pretentious:  I keep a Sigmund Freud bobble-head doll in my office to remind me of two things – that Freud was a genius – and I shouldn’t take myself (or Freud) too seriously.  The ideas that change lives make you say “ah-ha!” and see something differently. Freud concocted some crazy notions (remember “penis envy”?) and some brilliant ones (the unconscious.)  The “Ah-ha” ones stuck around.  If you’re not getting an “ah-ha” from this blog, let me know.  As my old therapist, Lena Furgeri, used to say – “STAY ON MY ASS!”  Feedback is welcome.  I’m the People’s Therapist.  You’re the People.

And the GOOD THING:

Psychotherapy changes lives:  Louis Ormont, one of the inventors of group therapy, told me his dream was to make psychotherapy available for everyone – to put it in schools and all over the globe.  He started therapy groups in high schools in New York City.  “Imagine,” he said, “if children took an hour a week for emotional education, to learn to put their thoughts and feelings into words.  It could change the world!”

I agree with Lou.  There are a lot of ah-ha ideas here.  I want to get them out to you – and hear your thoughts.

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Here’s an old radio interview, I believe from early 2006.  I was featured on John Riley’s OutFM radio show on WBAI, FM 99.5. My segment begins at 39:30 about two thirds of the way through the show.  I discuss the TalkSafe/PLUSES program that I was administrating at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan.

There’s some interesting stuff here about HIV and how it affects people’s lives.  John was a pleasure to work with, and with his help, I even put together a short PSA to publicize the program.

Here’s the Facebook Fan page for John’s show.

TalkSafe/PLUSES ran into funding issues a year later, after I’d left.  I believe it remains in existence, though in a different form, and still offers counseling to people with HIV through the HIV Medicaid clinic at St. Vincent’s Hospital.

I saw a great many individual patients, and couples, and also ran a number of short-term groups for HIV+ gay men at Talksafe/PLUSES.  I developed a waiting list eventually, for guys who wanted to continue doing group therapy on a longer-term basis.  Eventually that waiting list turned into a longer-term group I ran as part of my private practice.  We met in my office every Tuesday night, for nearly four years, creating a tight-knit community of guys, now scattered all over the country, who still stay in in touch with me, and with one another.

A big shout-out from the People’s Therapist to the guys from the old Tuesday night HIV+ gay men’s group.

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