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Be your own 3 a.m.: the merits of alternative therapy

Demi Lovato, singer and outspoken activist for better mental health treatment options, announced on Jan. 24 that group therapy and motivational speeches pertaining to mental health will be offered during her 2018 tour. The group therapy sessions and speeches, free of charge, will be hosted by CAST Centers, a mental health and addiction center Lovato is co-owner of. She also attended the organization as a patient in 2011.

While this is a step in the right direction as far as mental health awareness goes and as much as I admire Lovato’s mental health advocacy, these group therapy sessions pose a huge risk to possibly a large number of her fans. It buys into the apparent popular mentality that group therapy and solving things in groups is the answer when it comes to mental health. I don’t think group therapy full of strangers is the be-all-end-all answer for everyone with mental illness.

Yes, group therapy with total strangers has lots of benefits. The American Psychological Association mentions that this particular type of therapy can act as a “support network and a sounding board” where people can bounce off their concerns about their mental health and find unique ways to cope with their illness. People in these groups are also diverse and come from all kinds of backgrounds, so an individual could potentially find comfort in knowing their case is not an isolated incident and that they don’t suffer alone. So if you have a mental illness that doesn’t absolutely ruin your ability to interact with other people and you don’t mind group therapy, go for it.

That being said, group therapy can be an absolute nightmare for anyone who isn’t comfortable in groups to begin with. For one thing, per Connolly Counseling, group therapy is only most effective if all the members of the group have the same type of mental illness. And another thing: not everyone in the group is going to have the same personality, which may lead to people clashing and confronting each other – a nightmare for people who are overly sensitive to social discord. Also, these group therapy sessions become unfocused and impersonal if the facilitator is not trained extensively, leading to someone with a socially impairing mental illness feeling left out and more discouraged. This is why you’ll never catch me at a group therapy session. Ever.

With this in mind, I’m hesitant to cheer on Lovato’s initiative. I don’t mind that group therapy will be offered. I just mind it’s the only type of therapy that’ll be offered when it’s possible not all of Lovato’s fans will rush to get group therapy.

I understand that group therapy is generally the cheaper therapy when it comes to mental health. That may explain why Lovato is able to offer it through her organization in addition to speakers. But why can’t other types of therapy – that don’t overwhelm someone’s social ability – also be offered? I’m honest to God surprised art therapy is not being offered in addition to the group therapy and speakers, especially given that Demi Lovato is, you know, an artist. Maybe have rooms in the venue reserved so people can have dance parties as part of art therapy. Or painting. Or drawing. Or karaoke parties.

Treatment for mental health is as varied as the types of mental illnesses that are out there. Different people react positively to different types of mental health therapy. I hope Lovato and CAST Centers – and the mental health professional community – pick up on that. 


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