Trauma support groups: yay or nay?
December 22, 2021 9:13 AM   Subscribe

I’ve been contemplating checking out support groups for people with PTSD - CSA in my instance, although I may want to start with a more general trauma support group first before considering a sexual trauma specific forum. I’ve got a very good therapist and social support, but it’s still such an isolating situation to be in because I feel like no one I know can actually relate to me. However I have some hesitations (details below) and am wondering if anyone has done the trauma support group thing and would be willing share any experiences or input.

I’m a bit worried about what it might be like based on, well, television I’m guessing. Eg someone in the group always being a dick, people being aggressive, confrontational, intrusive, etc, as well as feeling I can’t talk about my abuse because other people went through “worse,” the typical trauma minimization thing.

Obviously I won’t know til I try and there’s also the whole Covid situation to take into account, but I wonder if anyone can shed any light onto what these kind of groups and forums look like. All I really know is what I’ve seen on TV, which is intimidating.
posted by cultureclash82 to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

IME, group therapy often operates for the benefit of a few at the expense of the rest... at least that was my recent experience in the US.

There are other, far less expensive modalities you might want to explore. PM me if you want more info.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 9:53 AM on December 22, 2021

I’d check out the virtual community at The Crappy Childhood Fairy. You can pay for a subscription or just watch the videos and read/write comments for free on YouTube. I think it’s monitored quite well and has a good mix of support plus accountability. It may or may not be for you but I think there’s potentially a little something for everyone in each video or course and the comments are very hopeful.
posted by smorgasbord at 10:30 AM on December 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

My experience with two different depression support groups was bad, but I would think a lot would depend on the facilitator. People will be assholes, be mean to other people, monopolize the discussion - theoretically, a good facilitator would kindly shut that sort of thing down. I haven't seen it work though.

I've twice seen support group members announce to the group they were going to go home and commit suicide right then, and I've felt pressured to give my phone number to a person who was struggling (a group sign-up sheet was sent around for him). I've also heard people say a support group was a lifeline. Really, the only way to find out would be to try it.
posted by FencingGal at 11:22 AM on December 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

My experience was mixed; I think so much if it depends on the group itself, not the subject matter. It may take a few tries to find one that works for you.

(To be more specific -- the last time I had "good" group therapy was when I was a teenager and I don't even know if the modality fits as there was definitely little of the "sit around in a circle sharing" I've seen on tv. As an adult, it was the "Traumaolympics" experience coupled with feeling very pressured to talk about my trauma that made me bolt after a few sessions.)
posted by sm1tten at 5:51 PM on December 22, 2021

I don't think this question is answerable as each group would have a unique character. I'd caution characterizing anything after what you've seen on television; those moments are written to serve the storytelling purposes necessary to further either drama or comedy, not to depict reality, and also often to fit within the "characters within a therapy group" trope.

For me, I found the experience very positive. I was in a men's trauma therapy group, and men tend to keep their trauma within; one of the transformative things each of us experienced was hearing our own sentiments, thoughts we had kept private within our own minds, coming out of the others' mouths. By doing so we realized these thoughts were normal -- and thus we felt more normalized, and less like people far outside the norm.
posted by MollyRealized at 7:09 PM on December 22, 2021

Best answer: I'm going to answer this on what a good group looks like- I have seen a many of bad groups and many fantastic groups and I think this will be helpful overall.

I think a good group really depends on three major factors 1) what you are expecting out of a group and 2) how the group is structured and 3) how well you are at communicating your needs to a group

About 1:
What you are expecting out of a group can be vague or really well defined, but essentially any group you enter you should be able to check in with yourself if it is meeting your expectations, is it helpful and if your expectations are realistic. People can have many varying goals for going to group, to feeling not alone, to a place to just share your experiences, to learning new skills, to simply socialization.

Asking yourself is it helpful? Some people find some groups to not work for them for a variety of reasons, maybe the topics don't align with your experiences, maybe the topics focus to much on things you have already felt resolved in your own life, maybe the topics are too intense. Its also important to recognize when a particular group stops working for you, which can be completely normal and fine. There's no reason to stay in a group that isn't a good fit, makes you uncomfortable, or simply isn't meeting your needs.

The realistic part is important because going to a group thinking you can use it like an individual therapist will never work- after all it is a group! Going to a group to great deep interpersonal friendships is likely not going to happen, and may not be allowed in the group structure. It can lead to frustration and disappointment for people if they seek out things that groups can'/don't regularly provide .

About 2:
Trauma groups especially, one of the things you should be looking for is structure. And by that I don't mean a minute by minute breakdown of the session, or that you are looking for a particular curriculum a group is using. But, the things that make the group a safe place, the way that conflict within group is resolved, the way that crisis is handled, and rules about communication inside and outside of group. There are tons of ways for groups to be set up, the warning flag is more when these things are not there.

First off, there needs to be a designated facilitator of the group, who maintains order, and is responsible when things go unexpectedly.

The group facilitator should be able to define the following for you, and if they cannot, that is a red flag:
a.That there are rules about communication and participation (how does the topic of the day get assigned, how does the group decide what is important, how does everyone talk to each other in the group an you/should you talk outside of group with other group members, are you allowed to comment and share your own experiences, does everyone share every week, etc)
b. there are rules and expectations about commitment to the group & structure (what are the expectations about being on time, frequency of meeting, what if someone misses the group, is there a group commitment for so many weeks, how one exits the group)
c. what are topics that are allowed and not allowed in group, and what happens if those are brought up. If someone is experiencing crisis, what happens?
d. How to communicate your needs in group, and things to do to keep yourself safe if a specific topic makes you overwhelmed. Some groups will allow you to leave the group for a few minutes if you need to, some will have a space, some will encourage you to sit and process reactions, it really really depends. Someone will ask you to reach out to support of a specific appointed group member.
e. What happens when there is conflict between two group members and how is it resolved?

I probably missed something, but any worthwhile group (be it in person or online, peer or professional lead) has been able to answer all of these questions in detail. Any online support forum that didn't have some sort of leader with clear expectations in place has devolved into chaos at some point or another.

About 3
If you are fearful about expressing yourself and your needs, you will need to spend a little extra time with the facilitator of the group to problem solve this. Some groups encourage individual therapy alongside group therapy to sometimes help process these things, some don't. Before you even start any group you should have an answer to the question "when something happens and I'm unable to communicate it in the group, can I talk to the facilitator about it/should I process it with someone else/should I try to bring it up at a later time/can I signal to group facilitator that there is something happening?" Part of group process can really be learning to stand up for yourself in the group setting. It is important . o be able to express if you feel something is problematic, or not meeting your expectation, or is just simply upsetting to you. Its important to be able to ask questions and state needs. Its also important to be able to advocate for your needs in group such as I things like "didn't get a turn to talk last week, so this week can I go first?" Being able to express when something is upsetting, or not what you expected in a group that you are in is absolutely core to a healthy functioning group and will be a group that you get the most out of!

This was long winded, but I think its useful to think about groups in this manner. Good luck!
posted by AlexiaSky at 12:50 AM on December 24, 2021 [3 favorites]

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