"Doing things together always makes the load lighter and the burden easier to carry. Finding out that others share the same problems and difficulties as oneself is often the first important step to feeling better once more and preventing depression taking root.
For over twenty five years as a Probation Officer in West Yorkshire and forty years as a Group Worker, I ran hundreds of different groups in Probation Offices, Hostels, Hospitals, Psychiatric Wards, Prisons, Educational Establishments and the Community. I chose to work with all of those types of people that Probation Officers, Social Workers and Therapists prefer not to work with; the suicidal, the abused, the abusers, the addicts and essentially all those offenders who care little if they hurt or kill or if they live or die!
For twenty four weeks, between thirty and forty group members would gather once a week for two hours and partake in one of my group programmes. Throughout this period they'd be known only by their first name. For the first three months, there would be no talk of the crimes they had committed or their offending behaviour pattern that blighted their lives. For the first twelve weeks, I taught them relaxation and stress reduction techniques, along with how to reduce fear levels, manage their anger and develop good sleeping practices. Our overall aim was to improve their health, happiness and health factors. I produced a special relaxation tape in the 70s and have freely given away over five thousand copies since. http://www.fordefables.co.uk/relax-with-bill.html
At the time, most of my colleagues thought I was fighting a hopeless battle with these recidivists; most with hundreds of offences behind them and many with a pattern of numerous suicide attempts or years of depression and drug dependency. I knew however, that the worse their offending pattern was, the greater could be the success rate once movement in the right direction could be stirred. Paradoxically, within a space of ten years, my follow-up reseach with every offending group member I had worked with revealed a comparable success rate was just over 90% as opposed to a national average in the Probation Service of less than 30%.
I mention these details not in any attempt to bloat my image, but rather to illustrate that they were 'significant' and were achieved by working in groups and focussing work on the things that really mattered to group members; namely, how to be happy, healthy and hopeful. There was no talk during the first twelve weeks of the group programme about the offences which had initially brought them to the attention of the courts.
My methods of work matter not for the purpose of this post, save to say that as the founder of 'Anger Management' in 1971, I was greatly assisted by this process and procedure that I developed for working with people with high fear and anger levels, addictive behaviour patterns, involuntary problem responses and low self esteem, along with being one of the foremost relaxation trainers in the country at the time.
During my many years as a Probation Officer, I formed the view that though often one-to-one working relationships are best, in the vast majority of situations, working alongside people who display similar problems 'in groups' is more effective once I was able to get them 'being together' and of a 'similar mind.'
We learned as a group that sharing happiness does not decrease it; instead it makes one healthier, happier and more hopeful, besides improving one's self image. As the weeks went on we learnt a bit more about the person who sat next to us and the immediate consequence of such learning naturally led us as a group to better understand them. More importantly, we learned that 'sharing' involves listening as well as talking and always being there for one another.
Through listening to their experiences during weeks 13-24 of the programme, group members taught me true humility; a necessary ingredient in the gel of union when respect needs to be restored to a relationship. There were times when their raw pain touched the tenderness of one's heart as they told their individual story. One after another spoke openly about their past once they found the confidence to express their feelings. Oten we knew what each of us were saying, even when we weren't talking. We learnt to share silence as well as words. We shared each other's pain and cried as a group when someone spoke about adults doing unspeakable things to them when they were young and vulnerable, along with having seen mothers battered by brutish husbands, having experienced their fathers sexually abuse them or even some of the Workers in the Care Homes where they were brought up who took advantage of their vulnerability as they indulged in their own sordid depravity. The rape, the abuse, the batterings, the abandonment and sometimes the killing; hearing about all these hurts, one upon another, wrenched at the pit of our stomachs as we sat in a huge circle with man and woman, woman and woman and man and man holding hands, crying both soft and loud. The experiences retold which hurt the most however, was to hear from virtually every group member that they'd never been told as children that they were loved. Neither did they ever feel loved growing up nor had felt respected as an individual of worth in their adult years...............until now..........until they'd found a 'togetherness' in the group that they'd come to value highly; a feeling of belonging that they'd never before known.
We had bonded as a group of individuals and were now able to think, feel and act as one body 'together.' At its height of bonding, we were akin to the band of slaves that Sparticus turned into the finest gladitorial army that ever fought for freedom, and there were times when it literaly felt that we would have died for one another.
I recall one time when a young woman whose father had raped her as a teenager openly cried when she told the group that because he had died during the many years they were separated, she would never be offered the opportunity of facing him and righteously expressing her anger for what he had done and informing him of the tragic effect it had on her. It was an astute group member who suggested that if she couldn't tell him when he was alive, then she should tell him dead. Over the coming month we ascertained the location of his grave and four group members and myself accompanied the aggrieved daughter and stood alongside her as she shouted at the skeleton beneath the sod. In this way she was enabled to bring a form of 'closure' to her early truama. And though she didn't attend her father's grave again, she nevertheless paid to have it tended, as it had become neglected over the years since his burial, having remained unvisited by all family members.
'Together' we'd learned that almost anything that is possible is doable and that in times of both good and bad as we travel through life, we need never find ourselves alone ever again if we are prepared to share our friendship, happiness and pain. 'Togetherness' had taught us that love is friendship unbound and happiness is friendhip set free!" William Forde: February 15th, 2015.