In It Together - Support and Therapy Groups

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Sharon Dornberg-Lee, L.C.S.W., Clinical Supervisor, Counseling Services, notes that not only do people feel supported by other group members, but it’s really therapeutic for them to help their fellow participants as well by providing practical tips and sharing their own experiences (in conjunction, of course, with the guidance of a professional facilitator).

She cites the guru of group therapy, Irvin Yalom, who identified the following now well-known therapeutic factors of therapy and support groups:

"There is something really special about the group process when peers come together and they’re bouncing things off of one another and supporting one another. There’s a special level of energy, and there’s a great potential, I think, for profound revelations and for help and healing. People come away really changed and affected by these groups."
—Sharon Dornberg-Lee, L.C.S.W.

  • Universality (you are not alone)
  • Altruism (helping others)
  • Instilling hope (feeling better is possible)
  • Guidance (nurturing support)
  • Imparting information (teaching about a problem)
  • Developing social skills (new ways to connect)
  • Interpersonal learning (finding out about oneself and others)
  • Cohesion (feeling of belonging)
  • Catharsis (release of emotional tension)
  • Existential factors (accepting the reality of life and death)
  • Imitative behavior (modeling another’s skills)

These factors are unique to group therapy and support groups, as opposed to one-on-one therapy where only the client and the therapist meet. In one-on-one counseling, the therapist in a way is holding up a mirror to their client. For members of a group, there are many people involved, and thus many mirrors, each offering new sources of insight and empathy. This can be of great help, which is why the group experience can be so powerful.

Dornberg-Lee singles out two of CJE support groups as especially unique—our cognitive therapy group and our Linkages group. The former, an eight-week group titled “Coping with the Challenges of Aging,” is scheduled to start up in the spring and is very popular. She explains that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) refers to the fact that our thoughts can affect our feelings and our behaviors.

Often, we are not even aware of the thoughts that are spinning in our heads, thoughts that can, at times, be damaging or negative and hold us back. The goal of CBT is to bring these thoughts (or mind-tapes) into more conscious awareness and then to really work on changing these thoughts so that we are giving ourselves more positive, balanced and realistic messages. Dornberg-Lee says this is a lesson-driven, skill-based program in which people learn to

focus on first becoming aware of their thoughts and then work to gradually modify them. Some other skills taught in the group include: relaxation, improving communication skills and getting more out of our relationships. Dornberg-Lee notes that cognitive therapy is an evidence-based mode of treatment with proven outcomes.

Our Linkages program offers another unique support group. Older adults who have adult children with disabilities are able to come together in this support group and share their experiences and ideas about community resources. According to Mariana Sanchez, L.C.S.W., Linkages Coordinator, “This group can really serve to instill hope! These families have historically been underserved and are dealing with really unique challenges. This group and the rest of the Linkages program services can provide a sense of community and understanding that is a meaningful and important source of support.” Linkages also has family social activities and provides expert speakers on disability-related topics in addition to information and referral services.

Here is the complete list of Support Groups offered by CJE SeniorLife (details regarding times, dates and locations are on our calendar at the back):

  • Adult Children of Parents with Early Onset Dementia
  • Parkinson’s Caregivers (Caregivers of persons with Parkinson’s disease)
  • Coping with the Challenges of Aging (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)
  • Family Caregivers Deerfield (for ADS caregivers and the community)
  • Family Caregivers Evanston (for ADS caregivers and the community)
  • Making Connections: Seniors with Adult Children with Disabilities (Linkages)
  • Living Life Through Loss (Bereavement)
  • Russian Tea Time: Chicago (open) and Wheeling (filled) (Holocaust survivors - Russian)
  • Caring Conversations (Caregivers of Holocaust survivors)
  • Coffee & Conversation (Holocaust Survivors)
  • Russian Tea Time: Special Topics (Holocaust Survivors Bereavement Group - Russian)

Support groups have helped innumerable people get through difficult times for short-term issues or over the long run. Many people are often astounded by a group’s effectiveness, even though the work can be difficult at times.

Find out how you can receive help dealing with your own transition or issue. For more information about Support Groups or Individual Psychotherapy, call Counseling Services at 773.508.1000.

If You Prefer … Individual Psychotherapy

Another service of CJE’s Counseling Services is individual psychotherapy. CJE’s Licensed Social Workers meet individually with older adults and their caregivers to help them find more effective ways to manage difficult situations in their lives. Our therapists are also aging specialists, helping older adults deal with depression, anxiety, and adjusting to the many changes and adjustments that come with getting older, including retirement, financial stress, moving, a change in one’s health, end of life issues and the death of a loved one.

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Led by Manager of Counseling Services, Rosann Corcoran, the staff suggests that if you have some of the following symptoms on this checklist, counseling might be helpful: Inability to relax, difficulty concentrating, avoiding social situations and friends, insomnia or sleeping too much, changes in appetite or weight, loss of interest or pleasure in life and activities, feeling irritable or angry, loneliness, difficulty with relationships and feeling that life isn’t worth living.

CJE offers counseling in English, Russian and Spanish. We collaborate with geriatric psychiatrists and primary care physicians who provide medication monitoring for CJE counseling clients. Medicare and Medicare Advantage and other private insurance are accepted.