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How effective is group therapy after a spinal cord injury?
Group therapy is actually very effective because it’s an opportunity to meet with other people who have gone through or are going through this similar or same situation. When we work with people, we’re all experts—and you all have expertise on your body and your experience—and we have our own experience from working with similar people, or from an academic background. However it’s invaluable what you can get from peers and other caregivers. We find it is a wonderful opportunity for people to also make friends and have connections, so once they leave the hospital they’re able to continue the rehab process in a supportive group.
I think group therapy is extremely helpful. The big part of it is more that you're connecting with other people and having that connection and understanding is huge. In my experience in doing group therapy in the past, it's not so much me being there at all, it's the other people who are communicating, and sharing and saying, "This is your experience? This is mine as well." And that feeling of connection that-"Yes, there are other people who understand what I'm going through, they're there, they've been through it and maybe they have suggestions that I didn't think of." And all of that is so very, very rich, whether it's about depression, self-esteem-whether it's on any kind of group therapy-there are many options there for individuals who might want to seek out those kinds of experiences.
Group therapy is very effective. We often hear individuals in group talk about how they learn more from their peers who may have had a similar experience or different experience in how they cope. Peers sort of give each other advice that they themselves later follow because they realize how important it is not only to say things but actually practice what you preach.
People can learn a lot from their peers and people will accept feedback from their peers that they’ll reject from a professional, even if it’s the same feedback.
Group therapy is different than support groups, and one of the key differences there is who the facilitator is and if they have mental-health training, or psychological training. In a good group situation, you have a facilitator who maintains some control and makes sure a single individual doesn’t dominate. They may be aware of the issues and help each other talk to one another and bring out the issues and concerns, but also to make sure that there is encouragement and a supportive environment. I think it can be amazingly helpful in terms of hearing other people say what you feel and then being able to provide them feedback, or listen to the answers the other group members come up with.
It can be a place where others around are saying, “I think you’re doing great, when I was at your stage, or when I was injured initially, I don’t think I could’ve been near where you are.” And that’s really very helpful for an individual. So that individual support for someone who’s going through it can be very helpful. Some folks are a little anxious, they’re worried about having to share intimate stuff, but you don’t have to. It’s a support group, this is a place where you can listen, you can participate at any level you want. I encourage folks to give it a spin—but not go into it with a preconceived notion of what it’s going to be.
I think group therapy is very individual. Some people really thrive within a group, and are helped by having reflections from other people in the group, and hearing what other people have to say and recognizing some of that within themselves. For other people, being in a group is terrifying and people are less willing to speak up and talk about things. So that’s another one of those areas where I think group therapy is great if you’re a group therapy kind of person. If you’re not, maybe you’re better suited to an individual kind of relationship.
Group therapy I think is a hallmark of getting ready to go back into the community. Some people don’t like groups, and you spend some time trying to get a person ready to understand. And sometimes that comes informally, like in a day room where—“No, I’m not in the group”—they’re just sitting and talking to someone, and someone says, “Oh we have a group on Thursday, you going to be there?” And so the peer interaction kind of helps with that process as opposed to the professional person coming in and saying, “Here’s your schedule.”