Reflections from a visitor Paper writen by a student who visited the group.

Reflections From a Visitor

 

Interview Reflection

Jessica Garland

SW672-03

October 13, 2015

 

            I had the opportunity to attend a local Grand Rapids support group addressing mood disorders. The group I visited was a Depression Bipolar Support Group (DBSA). This group meets every first and third Wednesday of the month from 7:00-9:00pm at the Eastminister Presbyterian church. Attending this group was an unforgettable experience. There was such a strong sense of support and relatability among the group members. Witnessing the dynamics of this group was eye opening and I am grateful to have been a part of it if even for one night.

The Depression Bipolar Support Group has been successfully serving the community for over 20 years. It is an open group that is free of charge for those who attend. On average, the group consists of 20-25 people of all ages. The group is made up of both those living with a mood disorder and those wanting to support someone who has a mood disorder. Because mood disorders affect not only the person living with it, but everyone around them, the group is welcoming of anyone who supports another with a disorder. Affiliated with the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, this group has a goal of supporting and educating people with bipolar disorder and depression. They also want to provide support, hope, and insight to family and friends.  

The group is voluntarily peer co-facilitated by Kristin Finn and Jeff Rasche. They are visibly dedicated and passionate about each member of the group. It is clear that they take the time to make sure that each session is as useful as possible. Their sessions have a basic structure that they follow and establish at the beginning of the group. Some of the ground rules included, putting cell phones on vibrate mode, raising your hand to speak, not interrupting others speaking, being respectful, and maintaining confidentiality. The group begins with brief socializing of participants while they get name tags and find a seat in the circle. They start with an ice breaker question and go around the room ensuring that everyone is able to share if they desire. Ice breakers are used as a way to check in with the group, and give the session a light hearted feel. Each member also introduces themselves and identifies their reason for attending whether it be a specific mood disorder or to support someone close to them. After the introductions, the facilitators begin a discussion on the designated topic of the evening. They make it clear that any topic is open for discussion if a participant feels it is necessary. On occasion a guest speaker or movie will be presented to further reiterate the topics. The last half hour or so of the meeting is designated to socializing with other group members. This allows the participants to gain connections with others in the group which can lead to more comfort in the group setting. Kristin and Jeff appear to spend a great deal of time in preparation each of their groups.

My experience attending the Depression Bipolar Support Group was extremely positive. Upon my arrival, Jeff was warm and welcoming. He greeted me, asked me about myself and offered me a name tag. He introduced me to the group then politely asked me to step outside so he could talk with the group. He wanted to make sure every group member was comfortable with my presence before allowing me to observe. I was grateful that the group allowed me to sit in on their session and eagerly opened a spot in the circle for me to join. During the ice breaker, I introduced myself again and expressed my appreciation to the group. Putting myself in their positions, I am not sure I would feel comfortable with someone observing my group and visibly taking detailed notes of what is taking place. For this reason, I was appreciative of Jeff putting the participants’ feelings first despite the fact that it was an open group.

The dynamics of this group were fascinating to watch. It was quite a large group of people. I counted 13 men and 13 women. Of those in attendance, the age range was broad. The youngest member appeared to be about the age of 19 and the oldest was approximately in their late 60s. I noticed that most were roughly 45 years and older. While going around the circle identifying the reason they were at the meeting, people struggled with depression, bipolar, anxiety, PTSD, and OCD. When the discussion began, the facilitator initiated the conversation then opened it up to the group. At this point, the group was able to go in their own direction and feed off of each other. This was as if they were in Corey’s group stage of The Working Stage. In this stage Corey explains the group as having a level of trust and high cohesion along with open communication. They are able to recognize and handle conflict and confront peers when needed (Corey, 2016, p107). It is in this stage where participants are clearly comfortable with their peers and able to make significant progress. The facilitators interject when needed, but it is not necessary for them to be the only ones speaking and running the group. This group was in a positive stage and at ease with their setting. I am hopeful the group will continue moving forward onto the final stage of consolidation and termination when appropriate.

Most of the group discussion was focused on the guest speaker’s information. She brought handouts that helped those with mood disorders learn about mindful CBT and self-sabotaging behaviors. I expected the group to be supportive of one another, but I was surprised at just how supportive everyone was. Any time a person shared, another person would either nod their head in agreement or bounce off of what they were saying and continue the conversation. At one point, the youngest participant who had her parents there for support shared her struggles and became emotional. This was a big topic of the meeting as everyone seized the opportunity to comfort and acknowledge her bravery for sharing. Feeling guilty or as though you need to hide your mood disorder was another topic of discussion. Most who shared had the same negative feelings toward their disorder and appeared to be embarrassed of how it affects them. This was a great opportunity for others to offer support and empower them to take it one day at a time. It was situations like these that the group felt as though they were not alone in their feelings and could relate to one another. This was evident by head nods, facial expressions, and tears. The facilitators would intervene occasionally to redirect the conversation or to keep it flowing. They also offered support to those who shared and opened the discussion up to those who had not shared yet. The group remained on topic and had a progressive discussion.

I greatly respected how the facilitators lead the meeting. They sat spread out among the group and interacted with participants as if they were acquaintances; there was little evidence of power differentials. I was a fan of the idea that the meetings are peer lead and voluntary. I would assume this aids in the facilitators being passionate about their work and being able to better relate to those in attendance. I also enjoyed how they ran the group. The group was in a stage where they were relaxed around each other and therefore required less direction by facilitators. They intervened when they felt necessary, but otherwise allowed the group to take the group where they wanted in the context of the topic of the evening. What I liked most about how it was lead was that the facilitators did not call upon anyone to share. They encouraged those who had not shared to share, but I never felt a sense of pressure or expectation. These are some things that I would implement into practice; Jeff and Kristin appeared to be invested in the participants’ success and had a positive relationship with those who attend. If I had to choose something to change about the way the group was lead, I would change the amount of time spent on each participant. This is a difficult aspect to assess, because it is situational. If a person is sharing who hasn’t shared before and seeing them speak is out of the ordinary, I think it is ok to spend extra time on them. It is also ok if they are providing useful guidance or information to the group. The oversharing I am referring to is when a long period of time is spent on a person who is not getting anywhere with their train of thought or who is not mindful of the time they are consuming. I would want to help them along and attempt to open the discussion to the group in hopes of another sharing. There were positives and negatives to the way the meeting was lead, but overall I learned a lot and admired their techniques.

When the meeting came to a close, I announced that I wanted to ask someone a few questions if they were willing. I told them that I would sit at one of the tables during the last half hour of socializing and whoever was willing, could come to me. I had two people come to me to answer questions. One was a man around the age of 60 years old. Tonight his wife had joined him for support for the first time. The other lady who approached me was probably in her 50s and had come to support a friend of hers, but also was living with a mood disorder. Some of my interview went as follows:

  • How long have you been struggling with a mood disorder?
    • 45 years
    • My whole life. I had depression as a child and was diagnosed with bipolar at the age of 21.
  • How long has the disorder been affecting your life? How has it affected it?
    • 40-45 years. I swear there was a time I did not sleep for two weeks and had extreme highs. My depression is under control now. It has had a negative effect on my wife in the past. I felt as though I needed it to be a secret because people didn’t understand and that was difficult.
    • When I was a child, I didn’t know it had a name; I thought everyone was the same. I realized I was different when I had to walk to school and I felt like I had bricks on my feet. When I was 21 I had my first manic episode which I came out of on my own without medication. I was spiritually reborn in 3 weeks. I had my second psychotic episode when I was 30 and went to a spiritual healer who brought me down in 3 hours. I finally went to the doctor at age 35 and was put on mood stabilizers after being in therapy for 5 years. Then again when I was about 40, I was in the hospital for 9 weeks and the doctors thought I would have permanent brain damage and require an adult foster home.
  • When did you start coming to group? What made you decide to participate?
    • I started 6 weeks ago so this is my 3rd meeting. A friend and my wife suggested I come.
    • I came regularly 10 years ago and learned about it through my caseworker. Today is my first day back and I came to support a fried.
  • What were your thoughts when you started attending? What were your views on groups?
    • They were positive. They are sweet and to the point and generally stay on track
    • I liked the idea. I’m good at talking and knew I needed something
  • What made you more comfortable sharing in the group?
    • We all share the same problems. I feel like I can open up without criticism or judgment. There’s a warmth and passion.
    • We are all in the same boat
  • Has coming to the group helped or not helped? How so? Have you gained coping skills or techniques o help you understand your mood disorder?
    • Yes it’s helped me not feel alone in this world. Everyone’s understanding, they help and give advice. For coping skills, I pray, keep busy, take my medication, sleep, stay active and get friends.
    • The first time I thought the comradery helped. I learned not to blame myself and learned about mood disorders more.
  • Will you continue attending? Would you recommend this group to others? And how is your view on groups now?
    • Yes-yes-same views as when I started
  • What is the biggest thing you’ve taken away from this group?
    • That I’m not alone and others struggle too
  • What do you feel that facilitators do well and what could they work on?
    • They do well controlling the conversation and keeping topics where they’re supposed to go. They are well versed because they have been doing this group for so long. They could control people who talk too much sometimes so it’s fairer to those who don’t get to talk.

After attending the Depression Bipolar Support Group and interviewing a couple of the group members, I now have a firsthand experience of what a group session entails. I was able to observe a support group that is extremely successful and the group was in a stage of cohesion where progress was evident. I was also able to view the group from the participant’s perspective. This was useful in learning how to facilitate sessions. Understanding how the group member perceived the session I witnessed was beneficial in correlating their feedback to the approach of the facilitators. I felt as though each group member was taking a lot out of what was being shared and felt comfortable and safe in the environment. It was clear that some group members had established a relationship with one another through their attendance of these meetings. For those that were new to the group, like myself, others welcomed us to the group and were genuine about our presence.

 

 

                                                                     References

Corey, G. (2016). Theory and Practice of Group Counseling (Ninth ed., p. 107). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Rashe, J., & Finn, K. (n.d.). Home. In Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance of Greater Grand Rapids. Retrieved October 13, 2015, from dbsagr.org

 

For additional information contact Rick Beerhorst
Phone: 616-325-0200
Email: rick@studiobeerhorst.com
Kristin Finn 
Phone: 616-365-1853
Email: embracingbipolar@comcast.net

 

 

Nervous about coming to a meeting?

Join the club! I think everyone’s nervous the first time they come to a DBSA meeting.

Refer to the “See What To Expect At A Meeting” link.

You’re not alone, we’re here to help. It’s comforting knowing that others “get us."

LOCAL RESOURCES

-Network 180 (Resource, Links)
-NAMI Support Group
-Forest View Hospital 
-Pine Rest (Mental Health Education, Related Health Links)
-Bipolar Disorder and Pregnancy
-Eastminster Presbyterian Church (Meeting Location)