There's a little known but excellent support group resource available here in Austin, Texas and in hundreds of cities nationwide. Historically it was known by the name, Recovery, Inc. But more recently, thanks to its expanding influence, it now goes by Recovery International.
Recovery International was started many years ago by a physician, Dr. Abraham Low, who himself was working to recover from his own bout with depression. The name "Recovery" is misleading (which may explain the relative obscurity of the support group). Recovery is a term that most people, including myself, associate with substance abuse recovery. But Recovery International. is a self-help support group designed to assist people struggling with anxiety and depression. It can also help people with a variety of different psychological and emotional difficulties. For a list of the many struggles Recovery International can offer assistance with, click here. People who have alcohol and drug abuse issues can be helped, too, so long as their substance abuse is under control.
But the name isn't so important. What matters is the group's core focus: teaching and helping group members persistently use cognitive skills to reduce symptoms.
I've had a few patients attend these groups. I have been consistently impressed with the quality of the skills taught there. I often refer my clients to the group in the hopes they will use it as a place to practice the cognitive skills learned in my individual therapy sessions, learn new skills above and beyond what our sessions have covered, and gain social support. I also refer individuals who are not attending therapy but would like some free-of-charge group support.
Recovery International, in short, teaches people tools to help cope better with situations that provoke unpleasant feelings and emotions. They call these tools "Recovery Language."
One typical example: Many people experience significant anxiety walking into a support group for the very first time. Anxiety that, for so many, is anticipated ahead of time to such an extent that they fail to go to the group at all. Typical thoughts are, "I won't know anyone and I'll feel stupid." "I won't know what to say." "I'll be too nervous to talk and then I'll look ridiculous." "What if I walk into the room and everyone stares at me?"
The anxiety, fed by these negative, fear inducing thoughts, can mount until one feels overwhelmed and stays home, or stays in the car and drives away. Recovery language might encourage you to "spot" and replace these negative thoughts with more realistic and empowering ones, such as:
"These thoughts are distressing, not dangerous."
"It is perfectly average for someone to feel nervous when walking into a new group."
"I can do this. I am capable."
"I will move my muscles and start heading inside."
"Bear the discomfort and comfort will come."
I've had a few patients attend only one meeting. Their complaint was that they didn't quite "get it." As I understand the group format, members use Recovery Language and new people feel a bit lost and confused. My advice to patients is this: Plan to attend at least three groups. See if some of the initial confusion, which again is average (a recovery term) lessens over time. See if you don't start to feel a little more comfortable. Find out how you can learn the Recovery Language for yourself. You will likely be encouraged to buy a book but it isn't essential.
So take the first step. Move your muscles to use the following link to find the support group closest to you. Two groups per week are currently offered in the Austin area: South Austin on Thursday evenings at 6:30pm and Northwest Austin on Wednesday nights, 7:30pm. But I advise you to double check before heading their way.
Sandy Andrews, PhD is a Clinical Psychologist / Therapist who provides CBT in Austin, Texas