At Vertava Health, we’re all working towards a common goal- helping those suffering from addiction find healing and happiness in long-term recovery. Together, we strive, push and help each other reach this objective every day. This is what makes our team more than just a team- it’s what makes us family.
Meet one member of our ever-growing family, Allan Katz. He’s been an integral part of the team at our Mississippi campus, Vertava Health Mississippi, formerly Turning Point Rehab. As a skilled counselor, Allan is constantly helping empower and educate our clients on how to achieve success in long-term recovery.
To do so, Allan leads multiple group therapy sessions a week to help clients open up and work through their emotions with others. Today, he’s sharing his methods behind creating, leading and mediating a successful group therapy session.
Tell me about your background.
I spend about 30 years of my life as an entrepreneur. I owned my own businesses and worked heavily in direct mail advertising.
About 10 years ago I started helping people with addictions. Doing so gave me a sense of fulfillment that I wasn’t getting in my business career. So, at 58-years-old I went back to school, got my master’s degree and became a therapist.
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How did you get to Turning Point?
I actually did my internship here. I liked it so much, that I decided to stay.
On top of my time at Turning Point, I’m working on building up my own private practice and writing a book on group therapy.
Speaking of group therapy, what are some skills you feel your clients are learning from group therapy as opposed to individual therapy?
During my group therapy sessions, I like to do a lot of experiential therapy. So instead of just talking about their issues with me, clients get to actually act them out with other clients. This give them an opportunity to deal with their emotions in the present.
For example, if someone needs to say something to their father or mother, we’ll get someone in the group to play the father or mother role. This way, the person dealing with these issues can work through their feelings without going face to face with the person that hurt them.
Doing this is also a great opportunity for clients to receive feedback from others in the group. This gives them a chance to hear other viewpoints and hopefully, start to understand the other perspective better.
If we’re going to treat trauma, we have to get people to talk about it first. Group therapy provides a safe space for that.
Can you walk me through one of your group therapy sessions?
Of course, I have it down to a pretty good formula.
- Warm-up: I want groups to learn to feel close to each other- so I always try and get strangers to speak with one another during the warm up. If it’s a group that knows each other, I’ll do an exercise that encourages more trust between the members.
- Diary cards: Everyone goes through their diary card from the following day during group therapy. It goes over things like: did you have any urges, did you have any suicidal thoughts, and how are you feeling today on a scale of one to 10. This is a great starting point for a group therapy session because it gives everyone a chance to recount their emotions and see what we have to work on.
- DBT Skill: At each group therapy session, I teach a Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT) skill. DBT is great for teaching clients the basic coping skills that a lot of them are lacking. Then we’ll do an exercise together that focuses on this DBT skill and how to incorporate that skill into life in recovery.
- Theme: I always have a theme for the day- like shame, intimacy or co-dependency. We’ll always do a group exercise based on the theme and discuss how this topic applies to our client’s life, and how they can move forward in a positive way.
- Closing: I make every stand up and form a circle. Then, everyone will put their left hand out with their thumb sticking out. Each person will hold onto the thumb of the person next to them so it forms a circle. I’ll say: “This forms the confidentiality circle. What’s said in here, stays in here. Does everyone agree?” Once we’re all in agreement, I make everyone mime throwing away their negative emotions into a trash can.
I try and always end on a positive note. But if one of the clients has a particularly emotional group therapy session, I’ll approach them individually afterward and remind them to take it easy for the rest of the day.
How do you navigate intense moments in group therapy?
I joke around with my clients that I get paid to make them cry.
But honestly, I tell everyone before group therapy starts to not leave the room if they have a feeling. I understand that feelings can be uncomfortable, but I tell my clients to sit with those negative emotions and learn to get used to them.
I encourage other people in the group to sit with anyone who is experiencing a difficult emotion. You don’t have to say anything, just hold their hand and be there with them. It creates an incredible bond between group members and helps our clients understand that it’s okay to share their emotions with others.
How do you make sure everyone is getting the attention they need in group therapy?
In every group, there are people that are more outgoing, and there are people that are more introverted.
When I start to notice those people who are more reserved, I’ll ask the group a question such as: “What do you do when you’re angry?” Then I’ll go around the room and make everyone answer it. Once I get to a person who’s quieter, I’ll ask follow up questions that prompt them to dig a little deeper into their answer.
Additionally, a lot of our clients deal with the same emotions. So when they see someone else confronting their uncomfortable emotions, it encourages someone who might normally be a little quieter to do the same thing- and that’s the great thing about group therapy.
Do clients form strong connections with the people they’re in groups with?
A lot of them are forming relationships outside the group, too. Then, when they come back to group therapy, these relationships they’ve formed outside of the group environment make clients feel more comfortable with opening up and healing. It’s a really incredible process.
What’s the one thing you try and teach all of your clients in group therapy?
The idea that your past does not define you.
You have to accept that past so that you can move forward with the future.
Allan Katz is a licensed counselor and certified sex addiction therapist that works with Vertava Health at their Mississippi campus, Turning Point. To learn more about Allan and his counseling services, you can visit his website at www.allanjkatz.com.