Group Therapy: Lessons from the Guinea Pig Club

During World War II, the number of soldiers, particularly fighter pilots, suffering from disfiguring burns skyrocketed, which inspired a revolution in the field of reconstructive surgery. Prior to the 1940s people generally died of severe burns due to the shock. One doctor in Britain, named Archibald McIndoe, was charged with treating hundreds of RAF pilots whose hands and faces were often barely recognizable, and therefore did a lot of experimenting, both in keeping people alive and in putting their faces back together. What’s fascinating about McIndoe’s story is that he put just as much energy into healing the veterans’ psyches as he did their bodies. 

The result of McIndoe’s approach was ‘The Guinea Pig Club’, a group of veterans who had been ‘experimented on’ by the doctor, and had survived, though generally with significant disfigurement. Instead of isolating the men to protect them from rudeness and ridicule and treating them as though their new appearances would severely restrict life’s possibilities, McIndoe did just the opposite. He treated them like ambassadors for the war effort, encouraging regular clothing and socializing in the hospital wards, and launched a public relations campaign that insisted that the men were heroes and had a significant contribution to make to their country’s morale. The result was a serious amount of healing: reintegration into society for the men, a mental shift for their communities, a rowdy drinking song and a group that still exists today.

(Sadly, many wounded American pilots did not recieve the therapeutic social benefits of McIndoe's crew; American communities demanded the burns victims be isolated.)

Different times, you might say. Unusual circumstances. Really? I think there’s a lot to be learned from what started out as a drinking group.

Why the ‘Guinea Pig Club’ Was Great Group Therapy

  1. It broke the isolation for a group who normally would have been driven into hiding. Therapists often work with populations who experience a lot of shame and fear of being ridiculed. If you can show your clients that they aren’t alone, you’re achieving a lot.
  2. It gave its members a sense of purpose, and placed focus on their strengths (also known as good ‘ole empowerment). Acknowledging the horror of what people have been through is essential; letting that experience define them is not.
  3. It refused to accept the traditional view of a ‘burn victim’. We don’t have to accept what the rest of the world assumes about us to be true, and we’re doing our clients a great disservice if we don’t try to help them see themselves in new ways.
  4. It was fun! It had a sense of humor, and a theme song! While more traditional support groups have a lot to offer, there are a ton of different options out there. People run therapeutic writing groups, and there’s an addictions agency near me that has a whole recreation therapy department! They go skiing, and dancing, and bowling, and to bingo... and meditation... and yoga…..

The social aspect of mental health is important.

Sometimes our focus on ‘treatment’ can cause us to overlook the healing power of aspects of daily living that we often take for granted: seeing friends, feeling accepted, being part of a community, having something to do that makes us feel productive.

Group work is a great way to actively address this stuff, because a lot of it is built into the model to begin with. Just think what we could do with a little creativity - maybe a bi-polar knitting club, a garden club for the anxiety prone, card playing, hiking, horseback riding, art or poetry therapy groups, cooking groups - the possibilities are endless.

Your Turn: What kinds of occupational/mental health group therapy mash-ups would you like to see?



Or maybe viewing, and re-viewing short videos like this one:
It can make you re-think your life, and maybe even re-make it into something better, that will serve others, and thereby serve yourself.
For it's doing unto others that we become a better version of our self.
Selfless, and definitely a less agonized life.
I would offer these things in my waiting room, if I were a typical body work therapist. Healing emotions is as important as healing bodies.
Group therapy, inspirational themes, new therapies, all are necessary to reconstruct our damaged selves.
Speaking of repairing BURNED BODIES, please watch this short video showing how a new skin gun repairs severely burned skin in 4 days -- without scarring! A true miracle! It used to take months, and a long agonizing recovery, with resulting scar tissue. Not anymore!

Should be a great asset to doctors working with vets returning from these insane middle east wars...


This is SO true! While I participate in several "groups" and find them all to be therapeutic on some level (or I wouldn't keep attending) - what I wouldn't give to be a part of a recreational/social group whose FOCUS was on and about my particular issues. The few "support" groups I have tried for my various aliments have turned out to be only a place for large "whine parties" (I'd rather go to the drinking club; and I don't drink!). Not all that supportive - just places to vent. That's okay once in a while - we all need to vent some. But we also need to sing, dance, laugh, and play in whatever way brings us any joy at all. To have the freedom to do that - knowing that if I have a "bad day" - I can still go to my group - because they all understand and have been there, too - gives me the opportunity to get out more, to learn more, and to get out of my own head and my own world of problems. I think the most important of the for enumerated "Whys" above is #2 - sense of purpose. What I won't do for myself, I often will do for someone else - and I am not unique in this feeling. Give me a reason to go on - and on I will go. Thanks for sharing that thoughtful article with us. Now let's see if we can't find/start some REAL group therapy going on in more places.

I so agree with your points about groups Denise, particularly about the danger of them becoming places where people just tell their stories over and over with no change, and the real benefit to having a group tailored to a very specific group. I think this is especially important with populations who suffer in ways that are largely misunderstood or minimized- validation in that context can be SO healing, I think. I'm a big fan of closed therapy groups, for that reason (structured, weekly, same people begin and finish together); participants are there for the same reason, they move through the process together, and so the feeling of shared experience only increases.

As for the repeat story-telling, I've been involved with (initial stage) trauma groups where one of the agreements is that the trauma stories don't get told. The focus ends up being on present healing and coping, and it reduces the tendency for group members to be overwhelmed by hearing terrible stories- as any helping professional knows, hearing a lot of terrible stories can be really hard to handle! It seems counterintuitive, but further to the ideas in the article, sometimes bringing another focus into view can be more helpful than continually ripping off the band aid.

Well, Denise... I think this is the perfect time for you to start that particular Focus Group which is attuned to your specific needs at this time in your life. And what you can do for starters, is set up some 'group rules' or a small 'Club Charter' which will make it necessary to spend the last 15 minutes of the sessions in a gleeful manner, be it dancing, singing upbeat songs with a glass of sangria/fruit juice/smoothie. You will have to have a "dollar jar" for members to drop in their change as they come in to supplant your cost for the Refreshments, whatever they may be, such as dip and veggies, crackers and cheese, cookies, bagels and spreads, etc. This way, the sob sessions can end on a happy note, with music and food and mutual back rub, dancing, singing, something that energizes everyone as they leave your happy place. There are a lot of places which will allow you to use a room in their building (churches, for one, libraries, VFW sites, etc) in case your home cannot accommodate 10 or so people. Even a secluded park setting once the warm weather arrives would be beneficial. A lakeside beach even, or a ymca campground. There are many varied and interesting places to meet, outdoors or inside.
I wish you the best of luck on getting your own Focus Group started, with those boundaries and happy endings.

[I have a twice monthly 'sewing and sharing' afternoon, where anybody on my street (mainly gals come) are invited to bring their sewing, mending, knitting, etc projects, and we sit around the living room or dining room, and talk or not talk, just listen sometimes, about all topics near and dear to our hearts. I provide the drinks, others bring whatever they have around to share, (once I got a 6 pack of TP!) and there's always plenty to go around. Stories about kids are shared, grief is shared, prayers are said, celebratory events are planned, and a certain amount of discretion is advised, as well as a no gossip attitude. That's the extent of the 'Charter' and it's worked OK. The handiwork keeps our hands busy, and helps towards a feeling of accomplishment, no matter what kind of trouble is brewing at home or at work. Advice is asked for, and those who offer it do it with kindness and experience. I keep my old sewing machine out, and those who need it can use it or ask others to help them use it. A Singer can withstand anything! And I always have music in the background. So if nothing else, you can come to be with sincere people, eat and drink, listen to music, and hem those new slacks. No talking is necessary, and it's sometimes a relief just to get out of the house and be in a secure and comfortable setting, without any demands being made.]


DD - You have some excellent ideas and practical advice shared right there. As a matter of fact - I do belong already so several "social" clubs that provide some of what you are talking about - interestingly enough; most meet for the weekly or monthly meeting in either a church or the YMCA. And I DO get a lot from them, and have also been told that I contribute to them quite a bit, too. I've made many great friends and some casual acquaintances in this manner. Unfortunately, because of other issues going on in my life right this moment, now is NOT the time to start a FOCUS GROUP of my own, or even to put much time and energy into expanding my at-home tiny small business - which I do want to do as soon as circumstances allow. But as you said in a comment on another article - what goes around comes around - and right now it is my turn to be a giver (I am part of the "sandwich generation/crowd" - both children and parents who need care) which takes about all I have - for now. I love the idea of the "bring whatever you can" to the get-togethers, though. Who can't use a 6-pk of TP? And that lets the participants get really creative with what they share. And what can't be used by the group, can always be donated - we have several agencies around here always looking for donations to help those less fortunate. Having once been, and ever-mindful of the fact that I could, at any time, be again - one of those "less fortunate" - I think the idea of community/group sharing of both time and materials absolutely needs more promoting -everywhere.

Denise... you are certainly correct in last comment! If everyone just swapped goods and services, there would be more than enough to go around, and no one would go to bed hungry, like many children do right here in the good old US of A! That's simply a disgrace, in my humble opinion.
And furthermore, Uncle Sam/Federal Reserve wouldn't get their mitts on 20% of our gross income either! It bugs me to no end that General Electric had $16 BILLION in profits, yet paid no taxes last year! What's with that?
And it's not like they're doing such a great job of building nuclear reactor plants in Japan either! Will they be fined for gross negligence, I doubt it!
And even if they were, you'd just see your light bulbs cost 50 cents more!
What with the oil companies setting the hawkish agenda in the middle east, taxes are just going to increase, as well as energy prices. A year and a half ago, Obama said 'energy prices will skyrocket'. . . and you can take that statement to the bank! That will leave less money for all the other essentials, like food. it's incredible to me that the C.O.L.A. for senior citizens on Social Security has not risen in 3 years! Obama said that there hasn't been any inflation. I'm sure those gray haired folks at the grocery store wouldn't agree with that thoughtless assumption. But what can a group of oldsters do? The most vulnerable, historically, have been the first to see inequities happen to them, because they cannot protect themselves.
Sure, they can go to their kids and a food pantry, but let's face it, they paid into the S. S. system for more than 45 years, so it would be nice if they wouldn't have to be degraded in their 70's and 80's, after a life of service.
And I don't expect AARP to step in and do much, they're in big with big Pharma, who fund some of their enterprises, like their magazine, full of their toxic prescription ads, which are nothing but windfalls for the insurance companies.
Don't get me started... just thinking of the government, big business and lobbyists makes my blood pressure soar! Then I'll have to take a hawthorn berry capsule followed by a butcher's broom capsule! I'm not insured with those cutthroats anymore. They didn't come through when needed, so what's the use? Trust in God, a loving neighbor, a helpful kin, and yourself.
And of course, Dr. and Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, who both have excellent health information.


DD - well personally I just started taking ginger capsules (for my debilitating nausea) and a newer tumeric derivative called Curamin for my FMS and arthritis pain - especially in my aggravated lower back. I have generic versions of the "big boys", but can't take them because they make me, well - let's just say they don't stay down. And then I dehydrate quickly. So, like you, I turn to "natural" medicine, and food as medicine, when I can. I'm hoping both these things end up working out really well for me (though the latter is not inexpensive!) so that I can be one of those productive people we keep talking about. And the seniors living only on SS payments? My parents. And grocery and other commodity prices (as well as the gasoline prices we all know about because we see them posted every day) most certainly HAVE risen. I don't have enough knowledge to go all "political" and frankly; I don't really want to, either. My message is more about how we can all be "pseudo-therapists" to one another (which in no way negates the need for true therapy/bodywork of any kind!) by combining forces and helping each other out. I may be showing my age here, but - "time was when..........

Dear Denise,

I can feel your pain and sympathize.... Inflammation of all sorts begins in your 40's and keeps on increasing with arthritis and other medical conditions all through your life, and sometimes even when younger.

For a very inexpensive but high quality turmeric capsule go to the webiste I post below. I tout Turmeric like it's going out of style. I found out through the Alzheimer's Foundation website and their links, that turmeric stop the disease in its tracks, much better than the pharmaceuticals, and for a whole lot less!! It was in a link to a British medical journal, where they discovered that the elderly in India generally do not get Alzheimer's, and their population is like 1 Billion people, living in all kinds of decrepit and not-so-clean conditions. And what they finally analyzed and found out, was that Indians eat curry (it's like salsa to Mexicans, they put in on everything) almost every day. They make it milder in the northern regions of India, and hotter towards the southern parts, and also it comes in red, green and yellow varieties. But what any curry sauce (vegan or with chicken/lamb/fish) has at all times, is TURMERIC! And when you have a headache, you guessed it -- a glass of milk with a teaspoon of turmeric. And when you fall down and have a bump or sprain, whaddaya get? It's turmeric in some juice! And they apply it as a paste to wounds, as it turns out it's antiseptic as well. And to their animals wounds also.
So for just eating purposes, get some in your local spice isle, like McCormicks brand, or the organic powder, usually, believe it or not, cheaper than the brand name. Put a pinch in every egg dish, like scrambled or quiches, put a teaspoon in a pot of chicken soup, or beef stew. Put it in everything you can, because you will never get Alzheimer's. It does not reverse the disease, but stops the amyloid protein from breaking down and causing the sticky plaques from forming on the neurons and eventually damaging them, just like plaque on your teeth causes tooth decay. And further, it melts down the sticky plaques already formed on the neurons. Medicines out there like Aricept and Namenda try to do this job, but don't do it as well, and say so on the insert.
Nor do they dissolve the sticky plaque that's already in place. And Turmeric does it all.

Also, Turmeric attacks cancer cells, and virtually destroys them, especially colon cancer.
So it's good for inflammation, Alzheirmer's, and also cancer. It's considered the #1 medicinal plant in the world!
It was just featured in my March 'Organic Gardening' magazine, but, hehe, I already knew it! They use it as a coloring agent for yellow in a lot of foods, even eggnog. It's plant based, not FDC chemical, and it goes a long way to making things yellow. Make a tiny bit of paste with water on your hand, and see how long it takes to come off! Since it's used in a lot of foods and drinks, for it's coloring capacity, only a small amount is needed and so it's very inexpensive to use for this purpose. Look up on a google search "health benefits for Turmeric" and you will thank me for this tip, if for nothing else!

Denise - you would make a fantastic asset on a Kibbutz, someplace I've always wanted to spend a year or so.
Communal living (not communist living -- a forced thing with the elite still reigning!) is my cup of tea, because everyone can put forth all the talents and qualities God gave them, and feel appreciated, and never go wanting.
In my neighborhood we do a lot of sharing, and I donate garden surplus, child-care, wine, and fishing in our pond.
Also there are areas for 'primitive camping' for those who want to enjoy the outdoors for a couple of days.
There are the few small livestock animals we have, goats and chickens, and we board horses for extra income.
Also our well water is excellent, like 8.0 ph on the alkaline scale, which is good for your system, and so people bring their empty gallon jugs and fill them up here. A maple tree grove rounds up the experience with about 3 gallons of syrup per year; a thousand blackberry bushes along the edge of the forest for those who don't mind staining their hands during August. I also sew some, helping people with their projects, like curtains. Other people plow the driveways (and in Northeast Ohio that is a blessing!) or have yard sales where they take care of other people's stuff, so we don't all have to host our own garage sale. We all just try to be helpful, loan out extra lawn chairs to a neighbor when needed for a BBQ or party, tables, etc. Someone rototills my garden, and then I let him plant his melons and pumpkins at the far end of the garden (plus I get some!) Share, and share alike is my motto. The neighbor's son spreads my mulch in the flower beds, then he can go fishing with buddies all afternoon long.

Oh - these are the websites for high quality Turmeric, and I don't mean taste wise, but CURCUMENOIDS percentage. This is what does the trick, the high percentage of this active ingredient.

For Info on this magnificent spice/herb (which is not spicy nor hot):

Also try to find one or both of the following products:
Zymflamend or Inflama-rest.
What's good about them is not only do they have the turmeric but also some of the following:
ginger root Ashwaganda Silymarin Bromelain Quercetin Chinese skullcap Holy Basil Oregon Grape
feverfew Stinging nettle Boswellia White Willow Resveratrol Natto Rosemary etc.

Most of the above have anti-inflammatory properties, and taking 2-3 capsules per day will really make a difference in your lifestyle. I would add an extra Turmeric capsule for it's great benefits.


Heather - I agree with you 100% about the value of "closed group therapy" - thank you for defining it for others - so now I don't have to!:) One challenge in our suburban area is that there really is only one place to go for such groups within a reasonable driving distance (and that place has a very mixed-review reputation by old-school methods of review - I haven't seen an online review of it; and can not do one myself for reasons previously stated). There are no special "closed" groups that I am aware of (and I look - for issues other than my own, too - as I advocate for others) accessible via public transit (which is a joke out here) and the one I referenced above - it charges $30 per person per session (peanuts to some; but an entire day's take-home pay to some clients) and isn't "completely" closed. Crisis centers that are more likely to run trauma and other support groups are found mainly in the city - and very immediate suburbs - and often serviced by public transit. So - if you are rural or not really rural anymore, but not exactly truly a suburb - where many of us end up while in need; you can find yourself out of luck. Back to the "self-help" aisle in the library (or book store, if you have the means) you go. But essential pieces are missing - the social/camaraderie aspect, the direction provided by the facilitator, the assurance that if something is REALLY wrong, there is a chance for a professional to catch it; the opportunity to learn from several others, and not just the book's author, etc. I would like to see the general focus of therapy spread wider to include more "old-school, closed-group, weekly" therapy sessions at an affordable rate and held in accessible places for those who are most in need. As for just repeating the "trauma" - whether physical and/or emotional - my personal opinion is that it NEEDS to be done at least once to a qualified therapist (which could be in an individual session) because trying to "un-remember" it does not often work well. The point is not to pretend that it did not happen; the point is to not DWELL on it and let it become a wall or stumbling block in one's forward progress as an ever-growing individual. That said, I admit that even for my own self - I find this very hard to do (refrain from repeating out loud what particular injuries were done to me by whom and when - and speculating on why). Re-training one's focus is not nearly as easy as it sounds coming from the mouths of friends OR therapists. Which is why clients need the right support, from the right people, at the right time - in the first place.

Denise -- Right on -- Re-training one's focus is not as easy at it sounds is sooo true. It takes time and determination and support and the love of friends and relatives. And good books on the topic and a great therapist to listen, listen again, and re-direct the victim's life to a new purpose, just like after a major surgery, having to live with a big scar or lost limb type of thing.
I truly believe that when these points are not met, and other things crop up in the victim/patient's life, pretty soon a 'victim's mentality' starts to form.

I know I suffer from this syndrome: being a victim of some kind since childhood, due to experiences endured, without much help to work them out, and then redirecting energy into re-training my focus. It's all by the grace of God I'm still standing, if you were to hear my complete story.
People say I should write a book. But it would be written in tears and blood, so who wants to read that, except for the fact that I'm still going, functioning, and apparently in great shape, and happy most of the time, in spite of previous and current problems. Like who doesn't have a tale to tell when they're close to becoming a 'Senior Citizen'? Others have had it much worse than I, and are still standing.
I guess it all comes down to we're stronger than we think we are, and we are a storehouse of experiences and remedies, and this has all been like an experiment, and we've been the guinea pigs that survived the trials.
My solution has usually been to do 'forward thinking' insofar as knowing things will get better, wounds of all kinds do heal, people change and grow, God's love and help will get us through just when we think we're toast, and that tomorrow things will look better. And then helping someone in need seems to regenerate me, push me forward, realize I still have something to offer, and that life is often sunny, not always raining. And that the rain falls on the just and the unjust. What goes around comes around, and I want to receive blessings, not curses. And that there's a reason for most everything.
Many songs have this theme, and so it must be with many people. I'm not alone or the only one who's had to endure, and that's why there is such a call for decent therapy, which I hope we can find on Leigh's Wherapy!