Exploratory therapy is an approach aimed at helping patients get in touch with their unconscious thoughts, feelings, and actions. The groups on our exploratory therapy track encourage residents to consider patterns, examine motivations, defenses, and conflicts, and discuss the ways their unconscious mental life is affecting their relationships, goals, actions, emotions, and mental health.
One of the reasons a patient can be challenging to treat effectively is because of a damaged sense of self. The person’s “self” or “spirit” may be damaged by a persistent depression, anxiety disorder, or addiction that has been out of his or her control. Or the “self” may be protesting that he or she has been too cramped by lifelong restrictions that came out of childhood, which have been uncritically “accepted” without review as an adult. A therapeutic experience can help one approach the challenges of life with new capacities, which often are much needed and valued.
“Restoring the Self”
Behind the symptoms or behavioral patterns that bring a person to treatment, there often lies a deeper, longstanding problem of fractured self-esteem, or negatively-distorted self-image. One reason that the presenting symptoms have been so hard to treat is that the damaged sense of self must be treated first. The person’s “self” or “spirit” may be damaged by a persistent depression, anxiety disorder, or addiction that has been out of his or her control. Therapy can equip a person with new skills and capacities to approach the challenges that brought them onto The Retreat.
“Restoring the Self” tackles these issues through therapeutic exercises that are interactive and educational. The goal of these exercises is to strengthen the resident’s feelings about him or herself. During therapy, we tackle internal issues of shame, loss, grief, loneliness, and rage. We also explore positive approaches to thinking and feeling such as empathy, compassion, forgiveness, and hope, encouraging incorporation of these approaches into everyday life.
Through “Restoring the Self,” various cultural and psychotherapeutic traditions are used to explore common human issues. We hope these lead to pathways of healing, and freedom from damaging patterns. The goal is to help each resident find a healthier sense of self as they pursue their recovery and build resilience.
Psychodynamics is a “process” group that provides an opportunity for residents to talk to each other about their anxieties, depressive concerns, and fears, expanding on issues already being worked on in therapy or active in the milieu. In the psychodynamics group, residents are able to say whatever is on their mind, whether about themselves or the community, or can simply be a listener if they so choose. It is a group to share feelings, give feedback, and help each other with shared issues.
The feedback received from other residents, as they cope with what are often universal issues, proves to be a very valuable part of a resident’s stay at The Retreat. The treatment team works hard to ensure that no one is judged or criticized. More often than not, patients find that their issues are deepened so that they can then further work on them in individual therapy sessions.
Some residents have no words for their experiences, or words are so fraught with other meanings or defensive functions that
the emotions beneath them are obscured. The intent of art therapy is to help patients express and become aware of thoughts and feelings through creating art that may be difficult to access through verbal processing alone. These thoughts and feelings can then be further processed in art therapy, as well as other therapies in the patient’s treatment.
This group is a “process group” with focuses on both art making and verbal processing. Art making precedes verbal processing, where participants are able to reflect on the art made to help bring into light more awareness, thoughts, and feelings for both art maker and other group participants. The art therapy group helps in the development of observing capacities, a skill that can prevent impulsive acting out of behaviors. The reclaimed, more authentic thoughts and feelings help to speed up the therapeutic process at The Retreat.
Music group meets weekly and is facilitated by two of The Retreat’s psychiatrists. The group is available to residents from both The Retreat and Ruxton House. Attendees are invited to bring a song to group (with a copy of the lyrics), and have the group listen to the song together. After the song is played, the resident who chose the song is invited to share with the group something about the song and how they relate to it. Often, the conversation that follows each song is a rich therapeutic dialogue beneficial to all members of the group, not just the individual that picked the particular song. Music is another example of a tool that is used on The Retreat to help residents heal.
Mentalization is the ability to think about thinking — to better understand what goes on in our own minds and in the minds of others. Greater capacity for mentalization leads to more meaningful relationships and having a better grasp on our emotions. It allows us more flexible ways to view ourselves, and to understand the thoughts and feelings of others.
Through education and group exercises that foster skills in mentalization, residents at The Retreat will learn strategies to become more aware of their patterns of thoughts and feelings, and to more accurately perceive and make sense of the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of others.