New Territory


After completing my research at the Addiction Institute, I felt a sense of accomplishment, pride, (exhaustion), and excitement for what was to come next. I was overjoyed and a bit intimidated when told what was next on my agenda: group therapy observations.

I had no notion of what a real group therapy session was like other than the unreliable picture TV sitcoms and comedies painted. Scenes of  fold-up chairs arranged in a circle, filled with depressed characters, filled my head. Interchanges of

“Hi, I’m ___ and I’m a ___ addict.”

“Hi, ___,”

were among my expectations for how these groups would go.

Would I sit among them? Would I introduce myself? Would they reject the young, naive onlooker? Would they find me to be innocent and privileged, exploiting their emotions and struggles for my own curiosity? My stomach was in knots that first meeting when I walked in, feeling horribly out of place.

The clinician introduced me: “This is Emily. She’s interning here this summer and she’s going to be observing some groups.” I waited for the unison chant of “Hi Emily.” Some people smiled, some said “hi,” others went on with their pre-group conversations. That wasn’t so bad, I thought.

Then, group started. Some groups were emotional, people sharing their deepest secrets, regrets, struggles and dreams. Others were more light-hearted, people laughing about issues they had in common. Some were educational, the clinician taking more of a lead and explaining the biology behind addiction.

After countless groups, I grew to feel like I really knew these patients and really cared for them. However, none of them knew anything about me. I was the mysterious intern, who knew their darkest secrets and most personal feelings, yet they did not even know my last name. It was a challenging role to fill: one who can listen and relate, but only internal, not able to share any of my thoughts, advice, or compassion with them. I soon understood how difficult it could be for the clinicians. Though they can give their clinical advice, they have to struggle to maintain a healthy and professional distance from these people, who they must feel very close to at a point.

At the same time, the clinicians are growing every day in their ability to deal with new situations, personalities, and disorders. They get to learn about humans through a myriad of perspectives, they get to meet some amazing people and hear their moving stories, and, best of all, often times that get to make a real difference in their patient’s lives.

I understand the challenges that this profession can bring after observing these groups, but I also feel more personally connected to it and intrigued by the rewards it can bring than I have ever been before.


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