Depressed and out of love with life? Group therapy might help, says psychiatrist D. Srinivasan

Sumathi woke up at 3 a.m. on a Saturday, fighting drug-induced sleep, and set out for Coimbatore from Salem. She was headed there for her monthly group therapy session, where she met fellow sufferers dealing with problems as varied as depression, sleeplessness, fear and anger. Many others like Sumathi travel from afar to attend the session conducted by consultant psychiatrist D. Srinivasan at Kovai Medical Center and Hospital. Some come from as far as Thiruvananthapuram. So far, over 5,000 patients have benefited.

“Depression changes people’s nature and their ability to experience happiness. They become prisoners of routine. Fatigue sets in,” says Dr. Srinivasan. Many are afraid to sleep, for they dream of the dead. “We help them reframe their thoughts — teach them to think that possibly, the dead came to bless them, not scare them” says Srinivasan. “Once you lose sleep, a vicious cycle begins,” he says.

You’re not alone

Group therapy allows people who lead restricted lives to smile again in the knowledge that they are not alone. “It is like being with 60 other therapists,” says Mani, a patient. The psychiatrist says group therapy allows people about 30 hours of interaction in a year with the doctor on varied topics, something impossible in individual sessions.

Those seeking therapy include mothers unable to deal with their teens, recently retired people who feel unwanted, and people with unexplained anger and fear. Students come in too, with symptoms of stress-related vomiting — at a particular time and place and with alarming frequency.

Group therapy focusses on these issues and discusses them without naming anyone. That way, people are more open to suggestions. And, even in a group format, a certain degree of anonymity is assured. It also teaches coping skills and allows people to heal themselves by learning to identify what triggers their fears.

Dr. Srinivasan says that in a developing country, group therapy is a very cost-effective solution. It also helps in a country where seeking psychiatric help is considered a stigma. He says: “Group therapy helps get rid of that fear. People realise they are not alone, that others grapple with similar or more severe issues. When one person opens up, the others are reassured.”

Teacher Thilagavathy says group therapy saved her when she went into depression after retirement and dealing with her son’s problems. “When I do the ‘one hour, one minute’ therapy (see box), I feel light-hearted. Group therapy is just like praying with a group of people. It gives peace.”

Engineering student Shiva, 21, has benefited too. He saved a child in an accident. Later, he imagined the child had died, and had panic attacks. “I realised this was not normal. I needed help. Now, I realise I was blessed to have saved a child.” Couple Krishna and Vasumathi are regulars too. He says they have learnt to deal with their areas of conflict. “It helps that someone gives you an objective view,” says Krishna.”

The trick to staying happy, says one of the participants, is to recite this mantra: “I love, I like and I accept myself. And, only I can change myself.” It makes a difference, she insists.

Some people heal just after a couple of sessions. When they stand up and share their recovery, others turn hopeful. “As a psychiatrist, it is a wonderful learning experience. I grow with every session,” says Dr. Srinivasan. But, not all stay back till the last session. More then 50 per cent drop out once they feel slightly better.

Why do so many people head to the therapist now? Is it because of hectic lifestyles? “That, along with the fact that most children are being raised in golden cages. They are not exposed to the slightest stress. When these kids go out into the real world, they crumble.”

Dr. Srinivasan is most delighted when kids of mothers in therapy notice the difference. He says the kids are happier, more confident, and bond better with their mothers. Speaking of the importance of mental health, Dr. Srinivasan says: “The mind, you see, is the strongest part of the body. It is also the most fragile. When it asks for help, you must listen to it.”

(Some names have been changed on request)

Treatment methods

Self-hypnosis

One hour, one minute (where you recall the past hour of your life in a minute)

Set goals

Keep a daily dairy. It helps identify your stress triggers

Who needs therapy?

Those with anxiety disorders, depression, somatisation (physical symptoms due to mind-related issues) and unexplained problems in the gastro-intestinal tract

GROUP THERAPY

The group therapy sessions were started in 1995. Three 12-session batches are held every year. So far, 97 batches have been held. Family members are allowed as “people respond better to therapy and the family members also become sensitive to their needs”, says Dr. Srinivasan

The sessions, part of the consultation process, are held on the first and third Saturdays and third Friday of every month

For details, call 98422-22207 and 0422-4323201