For the Grantsville Recovery International group, it was a meeting like any other. One member took the floor to speak about the difficulty of changing diapers. Afterward, the rest of the group praised her handling of the situation.
The goal of these meetings, which follow the same format week after week and focus on life’s little disruptions, is to reinforce the idea that “sometimes, life can be distressing, but it’s not dangerous,” said group leader Mary Ann Johnson.
Though the Grantsville group itself is small — about three or four members come regularly, Johnson said — Recovery International, as the name implies, has a broad following.
Illinois psychiatrist Abraham Low founded the first group in 1937 as a sort of outpatient program for his clients. Low had observed that his patients would bring their symptoms under control while in therapy, only to relapse after leaving the program and re-entering the outside world. So he devised a special group format designed to help his former patients cope with day-to-day upsets.
His group was effective, and the program’s popularity spread quickly. Today there are community groups in all 50 states as well as Puerto Rico, Ireland and Canada. For area’s without an active local group, the national nonprofit provides telephone and online chat-based meetings as well.
All meetings follow the same format, using guidebooks created by Low. Members take turns sharing their daily frustrations, describing the incident, the way it made them feel, how they ultimately reacted and how they might have reacted before therapy.
After they share, the group discusses the speaker’s situation, making an effort to acknowledge small successes.
But they take care to avoid discussions of traumatic events from their past, Johnson said, because these topics can be upsetting to people who are already emotionally fragile. Recovery International also asks participants to avoid discussing, or even naming, the specific disorder with which they struggle. Potentially controversial topics such as religion, politics and sexual matters are also off-limits.
Rather, individuals within the groups strive to help each other deal with the mundane, day-to-day occurrences that over time can lead to relapses, Johnson said.
“It’s not as subjective, less emotional,” she said. “People start to see things as ordinary, everyday happenings — where previously everything was a big deal, everything was traumatic.”
The program has proven effective for people struggling with everything from stress and low self-esteem, to major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, according to the Recovery International website. It is especially helpful for people working through anxiety, anger and depression.
However, it is not a substitute for professional therapy. When serious concerns do arise, Johnson said she will refer the affected individuals to professionals for treatment.
Johnson said she can attest to the program’s efficacy. She first stumbled upon Recovery International 32 years ago while living in Salt Lake. When she later re-discovered the program as a single mother living in Ogden, she saw something in the older participants that she wanted for herself.
“Here were these people, and they were all so calm and pleasant,” Johnson said. “They had learned how to handle conflict.”
She said she has participated actively in various Recovery International groups on and off since that reintroduction, and was attending a group in Salt Lake about three years ago when she decided to form one closer to her home in Grantsville.
Johnson now assists with two separate groups in Grantsville. One, intended for seniors 50 years of age or older, meets on Wednesdays at 12:30 p.m. at the Grantsville Senior Center, 120 S. Center St.
The second, which is open to people of all ages and backgrounds, meets at 10:30 a.m. every Saturday at the Grantsville library, 42 N. Bowery St.