Dr Judith Guedalia

'Two' Is Better Than 'One', And The Cord Of Three Strands...

By Dr. Judith Guedalia, Chaim K., Jenny S. and Mimi N. © 2007

I was nervous. This was going to be my first "group" in a very long time. How would I segue to a foursome from a "sicha b'arba eynaim" - literally four-eyed conversation − the vernacular for the French tête-à-tête, "head to head" − or in English: a private conversation between two persons?
Group therapy is different from individual therapy in a number of ways, with the most obvious difference being the number of people in the room with the psychologist. Originally, group therapy was used as a cost-saving measure, in institutional settings where many people needed psychological treatment and there were too few psychologists to provide the treatment. However, in conducting research on the effectiveness of therapy groups, psychologists discovered that the group experience benefited people in many ways that were not always addressed in individual psychotherapy. Likewise, it was also discovered that some people did not benefit from individual therapy.
In group therapy, you learn that you are not alone in experiencing psychological adjustment problems, and you can experiment with trying to relate to people differently in a safe environment, with a psychologist present to assist, as needed.
Additionally, group therapy allows you to learn from the experiences of others with similar problems and also allows you to better understand how people very different from yourself view the world and interact with people. Of course, there are many other differences between group therapy and individual psychotherapy. Many people are anxious about participating in group therapy, because they don't want other people (in addition to the psychologist) to know about their problems. Group members are told not to discuss information shared in the group with others, and usually the need for mutual confidentiality preserves the privacy of the information.
Jenny S. is congenitally blind, so she doesn't see blindness a major problem requiring the help of a psychologist or anybody else, for that matter. However, today, she has a "dizziness" that has defied medical diagnosis, but which has made her almost totally bedridden.
Mimi N. has a cervical Spinal Cord Injury (SCI). She and I "met" about two hours after the injury. The accident was result of a five-minute motorcycle spin around the block, late in the evening of Yom HaAtzmaut a year and seven months ago.
Chaim K. has a SCI too; he was hit by a car in the early hours of the morning five years ago. I knew all three of them individually, but this was going to be the first time they met each other, and that we would be creating a "new entity": The Group. How would I begin? How would they get along together and with me − now a "facilitator/member" of The Group?
The Group was Jenny's idea. There seemed to be no young adult group of this sort. What sort, you might ask? I guess it kind of defies definition, and since we, The Group, agreed to write a piece, together, I'll let them talk for themselves.
Oops, before they begin, let me describe "The First Meeting." I knew that they had all met psychologists before and were none too enthralled. So, with the help of my son, I downloaded some Ke­tzarim − short video clips - of a four-person comedy team that does skits, poking fun at many different subjects. Psychologists are one of their favorites. I chose one clip about the first session of group therapy for people with "imaginary friends." Every one in OUR group is fluent in both languages, and Jenny does a fine job "seeing" with her ears, i.e. listening to the nuances in the video. As I had hoped, they all thought the video clip was funny, and it gave us a chance to "size" each other up.
"Without further ado, let's introduce ourselves." This went without a hitch. Then I asked each one to say how someone who didn't know them would describe them. Jenny said they would say she is blind. For Chaim, this was the first time in his life − well, in the five years since he has been a quadriplegic − that his condition was not obvious to someone he had just met. He said he is in a wheelchair; so too said Mimi.
"Okay," I said, "now, how would I, Judi, introduce you?"
"Oh," said Jenny, "Judi would say I was smart, witty and I'm not using all my intelligence and blah-blah-blah." Chaim started to laugh. "What's so funny?" I asked. "She would say the same thing about me," Chaim answered. Mimi smiled too. That was our first meeting.
By now we are on our fifth and The Group is somewhat more familiar with the extent of each other's medical situation, which they each had just "mildly" alluded to and "significantly" minimized that first meeting.
At some point, Chaim's articles with me were discussed, along with the fact that he receives mail (e-mail and snail-mail), proving "that even someone as handicapped as I am, can have an effect on others." He also told about going to give out candies and cakes to families waiting outside of critical care units. Mimi was very impressed with this gesture.
In most situations, with five years "under his belt" so to speak, Chaim is an "experienced" handicapped person. Well, sort of, until he met Jenny, someone who is congenitally blind but only considers herself handicapped for a year and a half, since her dizziness began. Mimi's "entry" into this world is relatively new. All three though, have developed a sixth sense in relation to assessing the people with whom they come into contact.
So they decided to work on a topic for me to write up. How do they size up the people they meet for the first time?
Jenny says she pays attention to the content of the language the person uses. Examples, she gives of the difference are: passive voice: "It will be taken care of," rather than the active voice: "I will take care of it." Jenny feels that people who use this grammatical formulation are controlling and patronizing, two really nasty words in Jenny's lexicon. "Being blind makes people feel that they can tell you what to do: 'cross here,' 'let me take your hand,' and many such intrusions," she says with feeling. "Can you imagine that not only once, have people shouted at me, thinking that blind means deaf?"
Chaim and Mimi burst out laughing and so does Jenny. They have personal experience with people who are "trying-to-help" but end up hurting them, instead.
Chaim has developed a series of questions he asks others and waits to see their reactions, both verbal and non-verbal. He is a very keen observer and his questions have become laser sharp and more indirect, as time goes on. So, in a relatively short period of time he can zero in on his quarry without them even being aware of the meta-conversation that is going on with this smiling person in a wheelchair.
Mimi is speaking for herself: "I pay attention to what the person is looking at. I used to think that someone checking me out was flattering, but now it's become something intrusive. I wonder if people are listening to me or are trying to figure out 'how she works,' as if I am some odd object, not a person like they are.
"I often feel like they are zooming in on my hands; I am unable to move my fingers, and they are permanently in a bent, contracted position. Sometimes, I have muscle spasms in my legs and arms, which also make me feel self-conscious. Someone once saw my leg spasm and thought that I had moved it willingly.
"But, then again, people who know me tell me that they don't even notice that I'm in a wheelchair anymore."
As The Group disperses after our sessions, I leave feeling uplifted and in awe of their individual and combined strength.
Truly an example of the saying: "Two are better than one . . . and the triple twisted cord can never be torn asunder" (Kohelet 4:9‑12).
Originally published in the Jewish Press on April 18, 2007.



Tags: Chaim K. | Group Therapy | Jenny S. | Jewish Press | Mimi N.