I Don’t Want To Go To Group Therapy! (My Experience With DBT Skills Groups)

As someone who has BPD, I knew I’d have to have DBT at some point. For those of you that don’t know, DBT stands for Dialectical Behavioural Therapy and it how BPD is generally treated. It essentially involves learning and applying skills that help you cope with life and your emotions. One of my DBT coaches thinks that DBT skills should be taught in schools to all pupils and I must say I completely agree with her on that.

The plan was always to have individual DBT sessions because the idea of groups made me feel anxious and avoidant, but as you can probably guess from the title things did not go to plan.

The hospital where I see my psychiatrist could not accommodate my schedule so I was told to look into another treatment provider for the DBT side of things. The treatment provider recommended to me was Mind Reframed and I didn’t feel confident swaying from the recommendation, but I didn’t act on it for a while because they only did group sessions and just thinking about it made me anxious.

I’m socially anxious and don’t generally do well in group settings. I didn’t understand how I was supposed to be able to get what I needed out of the group. Would I have to be vulnerable in front of complete strangers? What the hell is it going to be like? were just some of the questions racing around my head. It wasn’t until I saw my psychiatrist again that I was forced to accept my fate of group sessions.

When I did finally make contact with Mind, I was given an initial chat to discuss the program and for them to get to know me a bit. I was then sent for individual pre-treatment to introduce me to DBT and prepare me for the groups. The groups are mandatory, but I had the option of having the individual sessions in addition to them (which I did and still do).

I had my first group session at the start of July 2019 and I was a bag of nerves. I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know what to wear or what the other people would be like. That day I didn’t concern myself with any tasks I had to do. I just made sure I was there on time and functioning on some level.

When I walked into the building a man eating from a tupperware container greeted me and he said I think what you’re looking for is there. I then awkwardly misunderstood his directions but in the end he opened a door and revealed a meeting room with a large table with a few people already sitting around it.

I looked at them and they looked at me and then a guy gave me a cheery hello and offered his name, a biscuit and some reassurance that I was in the right place.

I sat down and got out my things and it dawned on me that I was expected to lug the huge DBT manual to this session. I started to get anxious, but then after seeing a lady with a PDF printout I got out my iPad and opened the pdf.

A girl a few chairs down beamed at me and I took the opportunity to look around the room.

There was chitter chatter. A lot of people clearly knew each other. I sipped nervously on my Diet Coke while and even more nervous girl sat down next to me and the tupperware man walked in.

Up until now I’d assumed the guy who greeted me in the meeting room was the coach, turns out it was Tupperware man so I spent the first 5 minutes of the session hopping he’d forgotten my directional difficulties.

The session on mindfulness started and by the end of it I was eager to return and even thankful that I’d been forced into group sessions for my DBT.

So… what swayed me?

Classroom-Like Environment

DBT is about learning skills and therefore lends itself nicely to a class-like environment. The sessions themselves are structured and – as school is an experience most people have – the atmosphere is familiar (even if more casual, like college), widely understood and respected.

Minimal Sharing Involved

Doing DBT in a group setting is very different to what most people think when they hear the words “Group Therapy”. The classroom-like environment means there anything that does get shared is everyday stuff rather than anything sensitive or personal.

Additional Learning Opportunities

The environment lends itself to other participants asking questions (which you may be too shy or afraid to ask) and applying skills (in ways you may have never thought of) which can provide an additional learning experience and give you a wider perspective of the skills.

Accountability

Now this may not be the same for everyone, but for me I find that being in a group setting makes me more accountable for things like doing homework and staying focused in the session as I do not want to hold up the group and those who have come prepared and ready to progress. Without the group I think there would be less guilt associated with slacking if I was the only person who was affected by it.

Social Interaction – Almost Like Practice

For me a big part of my mental dilemma is my anxiety, including my social anxiety. For me I treat group as a judgement free practice ground for my social skills and an opportunity to interact with other humans if I have otherwise isolated.

Some of the rules (such as not being allowed to interact with others outside of the session) make this a little easier and help take the pressure off as every week is like a complete reset because you don’t have constant contact with anyone.

If I embarrass myself then I just have to get through the session and sit with it until everything resets next week because no one is going to remember whatever weird thing I said the week before.

Not being able to contact people outside of the session also eliminates issues with things like codependency that could possibly arise within group sessions without such rules.

Although it wasn’t how things were intended to be, I’m glad I ended up having to go to group DBT sessions. I think I’ve responded much better to the treatment than I would have with individual sessions alone and it’s been majorly reassuring and validating to know that other people have the same fucked up thoughts that I do and also to see those further into their treatment testify to its effectiveness.

I wrote this piece because I’ve had a lot of conversations with people who are reluctant to seek treatment because their only option is group, and since that was me not so long ago I thought I’d share my experience and why I now think differently.

What do you think? Have you been to group therapy? Are you put off by the idea? Have you had a similar experience that changed your mind? Drop a comment below!