After sending my latest article on Socialisation and the Spirit of Internet Mental Health Chat Rooms to a Buddhist acquaintance of mine, he wrote back saying that he was left wondering what my impression might be of group therapy, face to face. I wrote back saying that this was a very good question, but also a subtle and complex one.
To answer his question in very simple terms, yes I am in favour of group therapy face-to-face. I did say in my article that Internet chat wasn't as good as face-to-face social interaction, but I just thought that Internet mental health chat rooms have a uniqueness and spirituality to them, and which is what I was trying to say about it. I'm in favour of mutual aid, and my impression of free and equal group therapy face-to-face, is that it is a very good thing, and conducive to spirituality and well-being.
It also all depends on what he meant by group therapy, because there are two types of group therapy - psychiatric and non-psychiatric. As Thomas Szasz points out, there are also two different types of psychiatry - coercion, and psychiatry between consenting adults. I'm all in favour of non-psychiatric group therapy and psychiatric group therapy between consenting adults, but not coercion. I found the group socialisation interesting and therapeutic in the Shoshu Buddhist group meetings, because people actually talk about and learn from their own and other people's experiences, but this is not the nature of most psychiatric group therapy.
On the more complex matters, I believe that a person can have a unique perception and awareness of things from being within a group, and because I'm a socialist, I believe in some collectivism and solidarity. On the other hand, I'm also a libertarian, and I believe that a person can have a unique perception and awareness as being an outsider of a group, and sometimes outsiders can have a better and much more imaginative and clearer vision and understanding of things. Nichiren Daishonin was such an outsider in his time and society as I understand it, as was Jesus Christ, and as are most very creative people.
I don't believe that all so-called delusions are merely individual, because there can also be mass delusion and mass deception, and which are even more dangerous than the occasional dictator who comes along (R. D. Laing in The Self and Others, and Noam Chomsky, talk about this).
The trouble is with outright capitalist society, is that it tends to use and exploit people as non-participants in the system, but I believe that it's beneficial to have a society that doesn't create marginalisation, and which tries to socially integrate everyone, and with respect to the persons privacy and solitude as well.
I've always been very interested in Buddhism, chanting, and meditation. I used to meditate a lot, and I found it necessary to completely empty my mind in order to be mentally and emotionally free of all forced information and indoctrination, and I could then think and feel for myself. Maybe if I was in a Buddhist monastery then I could meditate successfully, but a lot of ignorant people in society don't want an individual to have a free heart and mind. It's the education system which makes people ignorant, and it forces an overload of information upon the mind, without acknowledging the need for a much more calmer or higher and creative awareness.
As Shoshu Buddhism says, I also found the world of Tranquility in traditional Buddhist meditation to be a very fragile state of mind, and one which was very vulnerable to stress and could easily turn into chaos and Hell, although it also gave me a lot of inner strength, even though I couldn't maintain it in the face of the threat of violence, state terrorism, and oppression. This is why I think that chanting is better, and because it is a form of what some traditional Buddhists call "mindfulness" (meditating on thoughts, sounds, and actual activity). Music is also a form of mindfulness for me.
Shoshu Buddhism is also less monastic and more socially integrative. Group therapy is the main therapy used in psychiatric hospitals to treat patients, but from both knowledge and experience, I know that it can often be used to reinforce the prevalent ideas and ideology of society and those in power, and used for oppression, repression, and social control, whilst at the same time any protest about the type of neglect or bad treatment that exists within the psychiatric and mental health system, is suppressed and dismissed by those in psychiatric authority and power. The film One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest shows some good examples of this.
Group therapy should be there for democracy, and to enable diagnosed patients and people to assert their rights for better and more humane treatment. I also think that therapy should be interpersonal, as well as a purely individual or group thing, and that one-to-one counselling and therapy are very important. Just ask yourself why there are no counsellors or psychotherapists in psychiatric hospitals, and why the staff hardly ever actually talk to the patients. Psychiatric hospitals are not places of therapy, but places of medicalisation and control.
I have been in a situation in psychiatric hospital where I knew exactly what another patient was experiencing, and knew exactly how to help her, yet I was prevented from doing so by psychiatric nurses, just because the woman was very desperate for help and was holding my arm. I had spoken to her previously, and knew that she was suffering from the agony of severe depersonalisation (something which most psychiatrists still don't acknowledge or understand), and all she really wanted to do was talk to me. She also needed a sense of physical contact to hold onto the idea of the physical and material world, and which was why she was clinging onto my arm.