Conversation groups as preventive mean after childhood with parents suffering from psychic illness
Psychic illness in the family, - and especially in mother or father, can be a great strain when you are a child or an adolescent. That implies that you as adult may have a difficult or a heavy emotionally burden. As known for years, the Children of parents with psychic illnesses are the clearest high-risk group for developing psychic illness.
In spite of this knowledge there are little efforts done anywhere in making preventive actions. It seems like the ideas of biological inheritance have blinded researchers and clinical workers all over the world. Truly biological inheritance may play a significant role. But we also know - as our famous writer Henrik Ibsen describes in his play “Ghosts”- that suffering and distress are transferred through social mechanisms. – And is not necessarily the same illness you see in the next generation.
Our project have got the name “Prosjekt Andungen”, or translated to English “Project Duckling”, with reference to the widely known fairy-tale “The ugly Duckling” of the Danish writer H. C. Andersen. The project offers conversation groups for adults who in a longer or shorter period of their childhood have experienced a mother or father with psychic illness. The conversation groups are meant to be a tool for them in understanding, and coming to terms, with their difficult feelings, reactions and memories - and last and not least - making it possible for them to get hold of a more bearable self understanding.
The project was at first (in 2001) established as a free standing enterprise, based idealistic and unpaid efforts. The ideas and results proved however so promising and convincing that the project after short time became included as a part of the ordinary activity in our psychiatric department. The work is at the time located to DPS Solvang.
The groups have each 6 - 8 participants and 2 leaders. One of the leaders has the qualification of “surviving” a childhood with a parent suffering from psychic illness. The other leader is an experienced group therapist.
New group leaders are recruited trough a practical training program, and all leaders attend weekly supervision.
The participants have all self taken actions to be group members after reading about the project in newspapers, brochures or on Internet. It seems as about 2/3 have self had a crisis and have got psychiatric help. Many have, in meeting the eyes of their own children, recognized needs of coming to terms with themselves.
The groups are running over 11 weekly sessions, each of 1 ½ hour duration. The last session is used for each member to recapitulating and evaluating their experiences in the group.
The first 4 sessions are opened with a short lecture about common human capacities and reactions. We do so in order to get joint language and focuses. The lectures span over the 4 themes: “Means of understanding and use the group”, “Affect and affect consciousness”, “Reactions after terrifying experiences or losses” and “Transactional Analysis”.
The rest of time and sessions are used to free conversation. The roles of the leaders are then restricted to make the conversation flow in a safe and meaningful way, without lecturing or in other ways staying in focus.
After the 11 sessions are completed, the participants have the possibility to be member in a so called “slow open and long lasting groups”. About 2/3 of the participants enters such groups and attends in weekly sessions average a year.
Up to now about 100 persons have attended the groups, and mostly all find the groups deeply meaningful and useful. Only exceptions among them have needed further psychiatric treatment.