Friday, January 7, 2011


Facilitating cancer support groups for patients and caregivers for some thirty-five years now, I wonder about the difference between "support" and "psychotherapy" groups. Yesterday a friend handed me a list of differences that she received in graduate school. (I never saw such a list before, since I wasn't trained in this work.) I'd guessed some of the differences, but others are illuminating. I'll summarize:


If you've never been in a support or therapy group, it's easy to regard  them as equivalent, which is neither here nor there except that "psychotherapy" still conjures stigma. No one can be elected President who's admitted they've been in therapy, the common assumption being that therapy is treatment for insanity. That's a garish misconception, of course, but whatcha gonna do?

Some years ago I facilitated a support group for doctors. You've probably read here before that docs generally aren't doing well emotionally. Many are depressed, even desperate. There's nothing wrong with them: like people who have cancer, they're responding normally to a terrible situation.

Our group was a support group, not a therapy group. Yet its members were vociferous, adamant, and even obsessive about the confidentiality of their membership. Though I explained differences between support and therapy, they weren't dissuaded: it's evidently taboo for a physician to seek help.

As I've pondered that since, it's occurred to me that support is identical to friendship. Review the features of support, above, and tell me if you don't agree. So maybe we misnamed our physician support group. Maybe we should have called it the Doctors' Friendship Circle. What do you think?

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