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The Power Of A Support Group

“When you’re weary, feeling small, When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all” Paul Simon

In my first hospitalization when I was thrust into group therapy I really didn’t grasp the concept. 

group therapy photoGroup therapy as I knew it in my hospitalizations was a scary thing. Basically, all the patients gather around a table. There are one or two moderators. The patients are supposed to discuss their most intimate problems. The moderators will encourage or manipulate the conversation by asking questions or making suggestions. Of course, it isn’t told but the moderators know the patient’s history so they have an insight.

If somebody is in a psychiatric hospital there are conditions for getting out. This is doubly true if one is committed. Part of ‘getting better’ is participating in group therapy. Of course, you have to say the right things.

I record this story in my memoirs “More Than The Madness”. The psych tech had us in group therapy. Attendance is of course compulsory. He told us this story about somebody with a drinking problem. He goes to bars and gets very drunk and it isn’t safe for him to drive as he is so plastered. What should he do?

A fellow patient of mine suggested, “He should drink at home.” While this was a perfect solution it was not what the psych tech wanted. He made this threat, “With an attitude like that you’re never getting out of here.” It wasn’t an idle threat. All of the staff have to come to a consensus when a release is considered. Of course, psych techs are low on the scale but they are still consulted.

The bests support group I found was one on the outside. It wasn’t in association with any group. Rather it was a group run by people with mental illness. There was no hierarchy or even doctors, nurses or psych techs. Rather it consisted only of patients and families.

My mother encouraged me to attend this group. It was ideal for us because of the large numbers that attended there were two groups. So my mother could go to one and I could go to the other. This way we could both speak freely. The moderators were people suffering from mental illness.

The idea that everybody was there on their own will was a great asset. While the moderator might prod somebody to speak it was perfectly fine to simply observe and listen. Also, anybody could ask questions on anything. I have found that in the hospitals the most help a person gets is from the support of their fellow patients. We are brothers and sisters in arms sharing the same cross. Everybody else is merely an observer, on the outside looking in. No amount of training, experience or education can replace personal knowledge. It’s like explaining what getting wet is when somebody wasn’t accustomed to water.

The only rule of the group was anonymity. That is if you saw somebody in the group outside you couldn’t mention your association with the group. This rule was to protect the people as sometimes they are not open with their mental illness.

The best thing to me of the support group was the fellowship. I made good friends. After the meeting, some of us would head over to Friendly’s for a late night meal. As everybody either suffered from mental illness or were a relationship to somebody that did there was a natural connection.

Mental illness is a personal struggle. Everybody’s circumstances are different. However, there are common chords. Talking about problems and getting good advice is key. But one has to be ready to voluntarily open up about personal things. The hospital doesn’t afford that. Back in the day, thirty years ago the common hospital stay was a month. Now, because of insurance, it is two weeks.

I didn’t like support groups in the hospital but it was a lot better when I went on my own will.

If you’d like to read about my experiences in fighting bipolar disorder and other interesting things from my life, please purchase my memoirs “More Than The Madness”

Photos by yugenro,

The Power Of A Support Group

John Kaniecki

John Kaniecki is a full-time caregiver for his wife Sylvia. He is a published writer and works with the Church of Christ. John has lived with bipolar for over thirty years and has been hospitalized nine times, three of which were committed. John has chronicled his life story in his memoirs "More Than The Madness". Also of note is John's book of poetry "Murmurings Of A Mad Man" which are poems written about being committed in Graystone Psychiatric Hospital. John believes in the power of words to change the world for the better. His website can be seen here. His books can be seen on Amazon. You can visit his personal blog "Turn A Page Or Two" here.

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APA Reference
Kaniecki, J. (2018). The Power Of A Support Group. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 21, 2019, from


Last updated: 24 May 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 24 May 2018
Published on All rights reserved.