When I was diagnosed with OCD, I was referred to see a therapist at my doctor's surgery, who referred me to a CBT group therapy course at another doctors surgery which specialised in OCD. This course was six weeks long, and each session lasted two hours. In total, there was between six and eight of us in the group, which was a pretty nice round number, not too big or small.
At first, I was very apprehensive about signing up. Talking about my issues in front of a group of strangers? Was I really ready for that? I mean I talk openly about mental health to thousands of people but you're not directly sat in front of me, are you? It's a bit different! I mean I know we are all in the same boat but would they judge me? How much should I share? Should I not share anything at all?
Obviously, I have only had experience of my local mental health services and therefore can't speak on behalf of all the mental health services across the country, and I can't tell you that your group therapy course is going to work for you or not. But what I can do is tell you about my experiences and help you make a decision about whether group therapy might be for you or not.
I'm going to cut right to the chase; group therapy is not really for me. I think this is for many different reasons, of the main ones being that I'm not really ready for a change. Well, I am, I just need a lot of support and assistance in getting ready for change, and I can't do that alone. The thing with OCD or any mental health problem for that matter is you can not cure it in a six week period it takes time and a lot of effort.
One of the major disadvantages of group therapy for mental health is that you don't get one to one care. If you are particularly struggling with your mental health or feel like you would really benefit from just talking to one person, group therapy isn't likely to be for you. That's what I found really. Due to my personality type, I'm naturally quite a shy, introverted person who doesn't really enjoy being in a large group situation. In group therapy, care isn't directly aimed at you; it's aimed at everyone and therefore, it can be easy to slip off into our own world and almost forget what you are supposed to be doing there. Well, that's what happened to me anyway.
Now that I have finished my course I think I can quite confidently say that group therapy just wasn't for me. I started off with high hopes, but as the weeks went on and life got in the way, my hope soon faded. Don't get me wrong everyone in the group was really nice and supportive but I just couldn't talk about what was happening with me and ended up Fading into my own world.
I think one of my biggest problems was that I kept comparing myself to everyone else. When others were making progress, I got annoyed with myself that I wasn't doing the same. And sometimes when people were there with compulsions and obsessions that didn't seem that bad, I started to doubt myself and questioning how bad I must have been. Don't get me wrong; I wasn't angry at them being there. They had just as much right to be there as me. I just constantly found myself questioning how bad my OCD was compared to them, which let's be honest wasn't helpful.
It was the same with the questionnaire. If you ever go to talk to someone about your mental health, they will usually get you to fill in a depression, anxiety and phobia scale. This is so that they can see the progress you are making which proves to the government, who fund these services that they are worth keeping. However, in some cases, you don't make progress, and the results of your questionnaires don't improve.
This was the case for me. I usually filled in most of the depression and anxiety ones quite high because life hasn't been very easy for me recently and I haven't been feeling great. However, occasionally I might have seen someone else's questionnaire in the group, and they ranked most of the points relatively low. This made me feel so much worse, comparing myself and my progress to everyone else again.
Regarding what group therapy can provide you, it can be very helpful. We learned a lot of useful coping strategies and techniques. We learned about mindfulness and breathing exercises. We learned about different thought processes and how to interpret our thoughts differently. We got lots of handouts and things we could do practice and have at home. We got to listen to other people in the group, their stories, and their progress. We had group and pair discussions. Honestly, it was all so helpful and resourceful; I couldn't fault it.
It just wasn't for me at this time in my life. I don't think I was ready. I was only diagnosed in June and okay yes it's now October, which is a fair few months ago most people go years without seeking any help and maybe I just stepped in a bit too soon. Don't get me wrong; I want to change. I just don't know if I'm ready for the commitment. These last couple of weeks, starting college getting back into the swing of things has been really really hard, as I'm sure it has for most students. But you know if you have any mental illness- even the simplest of things can be a struggle.
I've reached lows that I don't even know where possible. I've made some really nice new friends. I've learned so much academically and about myself. I've had countless panic attacks and tearful episodes. I've made slight progress with my OCD but not much. I've been so exhausted I could hardly move. It's fair to say I've had my fair share of ups and downs this past couple of weeks.
I don't regret going to the OCD course at all. I'm glad I made the plunge and took that step, but I just wasn't ready. And that's completely okay. It doesn't mean that I will never be ready and it doesn't mean that group therapy won't work for everyone. Recovery is going to very different for everyone. We are all different after all and therefore it can't be expected that we will all get better at the same rate.
If you are offered any kind of therapy for your mental illness, I highly recommend you give it a go. Waiting lists for one to one therapy can be really long, so if you can, I would give group therapy a go. It might not work for you, but it's worth giving it a go. If you go and it's not for you, that's okay you don't have to stay. But anything is worth a try.
The one amazing thing about group therapy is that everyone there WILL understand what you are going through, even if your mental health condition manifests itself it completely different ways, on some level, they will understand, and that's honestly amazing. You might thrive in a group situation. You might find yourself giving others advice, you never know?
But please remember, if it doesn't work for you; you are not a failure. There are many different options out there to help you get better. Please never give up.
Thanks for reading, as always X