So in my absence, I’ve been attending a weekly CBT group therapy session. The decision to refer me to this group was made when I was discharged from hospital back in January to tackle my anxiety. I went onto a waiting list then a spot opened for me in April.
So what is CBT?
Cognitive behavioural therapy is a problem based, action focussed form of psychotherapy – it identifies problematic behaviours and thoughts, challenges them and encourages you to form new ones. It has been proven to be effective in treating many different mental illnesses but in this group was focussed on depression and anxiety. It can be done individually, or in a group setting.
I’ve done group therapy before but that was DBT, a therapy more oriented at reducing problematic behaviours in people with personality disorders. I had to do the group something like four times before the therapists decided that they were done with me. What can I say, old habits die hard.
With that in mind I was apprehensive towards CBT. I was hoping it wouldn’t attract the kind of drama that comes with a DBT group, where you don’t tend to end up unless your life is well out of control. My own life was pretty chaotic at the time, and I’m sure there were plenty of people in the group who got sick of hearing about me getting into the same dramas over and over.
My brother in law also tried individual CBT to treat his depression and didn’t like it. Which is fine, not all therapy styles are appropriate for every individual but he really felt it was too impersonal. He likened it to treating his brain like a computer that needs rebooting. Which is interesting because I find that to be an appropriate metaphor for how my anxiety works. It’s like my brain is programmed to dread unspeakable horrors at all times for no goddamn reason and if reprogramming is what CBT can do for me, then I’m all for it.
So I went along to this group. It runs for three and a half hours, separated into three sections, sharing, mindfulness and doing worksheets. When we first arrive we take turns sharing situations where we struggled with our anxiety and/or depression, and where we have done our homework from the last week which generally consists of identifying some problematic thought patterns and connecting them to our behaviours
After sharing – which usually takes twenty minutes or so per person – we have a twenty minute break, then go back to do a mindfulness exercise lead by the therapist. This is the part I struggled with; I can’t keep my head clear to save my life. Intrusive thoughts are a big deal for me. I can do some mindful deep breathing but I’ll guarantee I’m also thinking about my favourite Archer quotes or something.
We then spend the last hour and a half working through the info and exercises on our handouts for the week. If you follow me on Instagram you’ll notice I’ve been posting them as I get them; they are separated into two seven week modules, one on anxiety and one on depression. Each week we explore some aspect of thoughts and behaviours that might be shaped by both.
Even though I was put in this group for anxiety, I found the thought challenging exercises in the depression module to be more relevant to me. I love to catastrophise and obsess over possibilities – and I have a double whammy of autistic spectrum disorder and paranoid delusions from mania facilitating that – and I found the exercises grounding.
So about the people in the group…obviously I can’t share details about them, but was I right in assuming that they would be less dramatic than our mates in DBT? The answer is yes…mostly. People with anxiety as opposed to personality disorders tend to be higher functioning I’ve found, but there’s always some individuals who can’t not escalate any drama they get into and don’t want to help themselves by using the therapy tools to challenge their behaviour. But one of our group rules is accepting that everyone is at a different stage of their recovery journey, so I just have to take it for what it is I guess.
After all, One of the benefits of group therapy that they’re too polite to tell you about is that there’s always something to be learned from other people’s mistakes.