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Newsletter 2015

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Group Information that is unique.

Today I will summarize some of the latest information for people who need to take a look at what happens in group.  Since I do something unusual, I actually have what we call “Socials” for my Group Therapy.

Here is a brief description of what this is, and why it came about in my practice.  This has been successful in bonding group members.  In one unusual situation, I had a group that decided when I had to end that group formally for school reasons, they decided to continue to meet and keep up the friendships.  This group continues to meet 16 years after the original inception, according to the reports of one of the former group members.  Amazing what a community this can build.


From time to time, a group “social” will be required as part of the group therapy experience.  Group Socials originally came out of the awareness of poor social skills with people who grew up in dysfunctional (abusive or addictive) family environments.  Dr. Claudia Black speaks of the 3 unspoken rules in dysfunctional or unhealthy families: “Don’t talk, Don’t trust, Don’t feel.”  Due to family loyalty, embarrassment or shame, many people grew up keeping family “secrets” from being exposed by keeping outsiders away from their homes.  The normal childhood tasks of socialization in their homes were often underdeveloped or not developed at all.  Adult children of alcoholics and other dysfunctional types of homes often had to take over the parenting roles and responsibilities their actions because of their emotional life.  This emotional life is unknown to them.  It is very common in therapy, then, to see people who want to or agree to a healthy action in their treatment plan and then become discouraged when they cannot follow through on the agreement even though they try.  It was entirely too soon for their developmental ages.  Yet, they are very adept at “looking good” to the outside world.  Intellectual and physical types of maturity levels were confused or associated with emotional intelligence and growth.  When people enter therapy, they are very surprised to see that what they think or believe, has often no power over what they can realistically follow through on.

Hardly anyone who has experienced co-addicted relationships has seen a healthy relationship modeled at close range.  They have seen enmeshment rather than healthy intimacy due to the unhealed pain of their childhood abandonment.  The function of addiction is to remove intolerable reality.  In love addiction, the obsession about the other party, (constantly thinking about and wanting to be with them and make contact emotionally) overtakes their lives.  The love addict lives in denial about the inappropriate behavior of their partner.  They have an incredible ability to see what they want to see and not what is/was actually there.  They ignore the fact that their partner is/was not present for them overlooking and minimizing obvious signs excusing behaviors that are clearly unhealthy to others.  They progress from the stages of increasing tolerance to eventual numbness to their feelings.

The learning tasks in “socials” are many.  They are mandatory for several reasons. Some people may feel safe in a group therapy setting with a facilitator present.  On their own, in a group setting, however, they find themselves avoiding others in the group, despite being excellent and highly competent in their careers and job tasks.   they do not realize that this is entirely different than knowing people on a personal level.  Especially knowing and interacting with people whom, on a personal level in group therapy, now know most everything about their lives and intimate life situations.  Disclosure in a group therapy setting may be more comfortable since the rules and boundaries are much clearer than without the group setting and facilitator.  The reasons for “coffee appointments” and “phone therapy” contacts are to encourage this kind of learning in a personal way.  The “socials” provide the arena for that kind of learning in a social way.

Whatever happens at the “social” provides rich material to understand these learning tasks.  This can be discussed in the next regular group therapy meeting.  Writing in the “feeling journals” are tasks to practice writing down what was experienced. This is another way to understand how history and background may have influenced thinking, feelings, attitudes and conduct.  “Reality checks” can be provided by group members on possible “thinking distortions” that may have occurred.  Since they have the group commitment of honesty and respect, they will tell about their observations.  Many find it difficult to talk about anything, or some find they talk too much.  Sometimes they may not want to go for fear of the unknown or a new experience they’ve never encountered.  Perhaps they never learned how to set boundaries and limits with others or graceful ways of interacting with others without offending them.  Many will automatically expect harsh criticism, rejection, or being ostracized due to prior group experience at home, school or work.  All behavior in group therapy and “socials” reflect in some way, like a mini-laboratory, the way their behavior is in the “real world”. Duplicating family roles without realizing it is common.  Hero, Scapegoat, Lost Child, Mascot roles are often displayed dramatically.  The roles themselves are not necessarily the problem.  Being stuck in rigid roles that they don’t know how to change, because of survival, is the problem.  The way out is by practicing in a safe setting, new and different behaviors and roles that are usually completely foreign.

Generally, socials are planned by 2 members of the group, usually on a rotational basis, once a month.  The 2 group members divide the tasks of calling the members after deciding upon a fun activity.  The activity needs to take into consideration the financial situation of the members.  Some groups often chip in for some events when someone is having financial difficulty, such as someone on disability.  The activity is at group time and generally close to the area of Carlsbad, unless ample notice is given for others to allow for time differences in leaving to or from work.  The location is also announced.  The primary purpose of socials is to have fun.  Many times people with Clinical Depression can’t imagine having fun.  At first, they may have to go through the motions of “suiting up and showing up”.  “Bring the body and the mind will follow” is usually a useful attitude during these difficult times.  During socials, non-therapy and non-problem issue subjects are discussed since the primary purpose is to have fun and enjoy a pleasant activity with others.  “Acting as if” is another slogan that can come in handy to practice.  Coffee appointments phone calls between group therapy sessions, during individual sessions, 12 step meetings or sponsorship are appropriate places to discuss other issues.  It is unfair to monopolize group time or jeopardize the fun that is to occur or is occurring for others.

Any problem that occurs during a social from the organization, collaboration, delegation and execution of the activity provides material for an individual or group therapy session.  These tasks are not easily done by most ACA’s for several reasons.  They may have received strong criticism in the past, experienced a lack of cooperation, expected they have to do it all and then experiencing a resentment later.  “Gunny-sacking” occurs in group just like in families.  This is the accumulation of hurts, slights, grudges, angers and resentments over a long period of time.  When the “straw that broke the camel’s back” happens, the explosion is not anywhere near what the issue was.  The goal is to “clean out the gunnysack” sooner and not allow a build up of resentments over a  period of time.  This is the reason for a daily personal inventory, usually done at night, in a journal and prayer format.  Some members may have experienced never being able to rely on someone, or they may blame or shame themselves or others during these social arrangements.  They may have “people-pleasing” issues come up during this time.  Some may have only unpleasantly experienced “alliances” and cliques with groups, being ostracized, or triangulation.  The whole idea is to learn direct communication and practice skills that weren’t acquired growing up.  Assertiveness can be learned in this process rather than the old behaviors of passive, aggressive or passive-aggressive behaviors.  Often one member may be excellent at delegating while another is better at setting limits.  This is where members can talk with others and get their experience and suggestions or follow their role-modeled examples of how to handle any difficulties that my come up.

Some of the social things that many members have not experienced include never having friends over to their house, had “pajama parties” or “overnighters”, given a party on their own or had parties thrown for them without alcohol, drugs, or dysfunctional behavior.  Some may not know simple rules of etiquette or personal hygiene, how to dress appropriately, where to buy certain types of items.  Some may have issues with dancing with others, entering an expensive department store or how to accept or decline invitations graciously.  Some may not want to discuss issues because they do not want to appear petty, or risk the displeasure of others in the group.  Some may want to just ignore things, as they did in their homes, hoping problems will go away or were a one-time situation.  Each person will have a task come up during a social that they will realize with a little attention, that they can learn about, work on or improve.

Due to confidentiality, other people not in the group are not allowed to attend.  This includes children, spouses, friends, family members or program people like sponsors, and pets.  Some people may want to plan separately things between these types of people, children or pets since this is considered a social gathering.  These “outside” people would be considered a violation of group trust.   This confidentiality includes being particularly careful when planning any event.  If someone runs into others that may not be a part of the group during a social, a carefully discussed sentence may need to be rehearsed about whom they are with, why they are there or why they cannot be invited to join with this group at that particular time. This is to protect confidentiality.

The “Johari Window” and “the Karpman Drama Triangle” papers are mandatory in understanding some of the group dynamics, defenses and goals.  Members may want to reread the purpose of group therapy and write in their journals an entry after the social experience and share it in Individual or Group Therapy sessions.

Here is a quick inventory list after a social to determine if you achieved the intended results from the experience:

1. Did I have fun?  If not, why or why not?

2.Did anything remind me of my family of origin issues or situations?

3.How did this resemble some of my family dynamics?

4.How did this resemble some new healthier behaviors I am now incorporating into my life?

5.Did someone else’s behavior bother me?  If so, why?

6. What was my part? Their part? And God’s part in the problem experienced?

7.Is this something I need to bring up in individual session first?  Is this something that I can bring up appropriately at group level?

8.If I am hesitant to bring this up, what are the reasons? Are these good judgment, timing, tolerance and patience issues, fear and old patterns?

9.Am I enabling someone in group by my silence? Am I enabling myself by not bringing it up?

10.If I usually am the one to bring up concerns, perhaps this is the time to let others bring up the issue first. If I usually never bring up concerns, perhaps this is time to practice doing something different.

11.What went right during the social…what was impressive or pleasant? what should be rewarded and praised…did I do so?

12. What am I proud of myself for doing…or not doing?

13. How are the answers to these questions consistent with my inventory of my character defects and assets and my patterns of codependency and recovery?

14. How are group experiences supporting my individual and group therapy goals?

15. If I didn’t agree with or like what happened at a social, how did I deal with it in a positive pro-active way?  Or how did my old ways return?  Do I owe anyone amends?
You can easily see why, over time, with the proper support, a group of people can end up building their own unique community.  Another feature includes the joy of seeing others grow, and hearing about your own growth from those who know you well.  This is easier to see with others but not so easy with oneself.  The support group eventually becomes ICOTA as one of the group members fondly named his group “Inner Circle of Trusted Advisors”

In health and joy,




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