Recovery Canada - Overcome fear, anxiety, and anger!

Recovery group helps people change
destructive thinking

KITCHENER - Fearful thoughts played in Anita Nickerson's mind like a recording.

She couldn't escape the worries, the distressing thoughts so automatic she didn't even realize them.

"It's like a groove in your head," Nickerson said. "You've been saying them to yourself for so long, you completely believe them."

Debilitating fear plagued her from childhood, pushing her to seek out special programs, counselling and medication.

"It didn't help what was going on in my head," Nickerson said. "In my head I was still obsessed with the fear."

Then she joined a Recovery International self-help group.

"I learned to change my thoughts," Nickerson said.

Anita Nickerson of Recovery International, left,
and Claudette Spencer at Anita's home.
Philip Walker, Record staff


"Today I feel I'm a very confident woman. I like myself."

The recovery program was started more than 70 years ago by American neuropsychiatrist Dr. Abraham Low based on cognitive-behavioural techniques for controlling behaviour and changing attitudes. There are about 500 groups in the United States and Canada, including Kitchener and Cambridge. Attending meetings is free.

"This is a program that can help almost anyone," said Nickerson, who started the Kitchener group three years ago after several years in a Sarnia group.

People coming to the weekly meetings are coping with a range of problems of varying intensity, including fear, anxiety, anger and diagnosed mental illness such as depression.

Low's books teach most of the problems people face are day to day, Nickerson said, and "if we can change our reaction to the things in daily life, then we can get well."

National Mental Health Week is May 1 to 7. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the annual awareness event.

One in five Canadians will experience a mental-health problem. People of all ages, educational and income levels and cultures can suffer from a mental illness.

Events are being held across Waterloo Region this week. A Wellness Walk was held in Kitchener on Tuesday and another was planned in Cambridge on Thursday morning.

A barbecue and silent auction is being held in Kitchener on Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Speakers Corner at the corner of King and Benton streets. The $5 barbecue includes live music and an auction in support of the local peer-led group called WAYVE (Working Against Youth Violence Everywhere).

Between six and ten people come to meetings of Nickerson's Kitchener group, including Claudette Spencer. The Kitchener woman struggled with depression

after suffering several big losses in her life, from a marriage ending to losing her job and home.

"I just fell into pieces," Spencer said.

She also tried medication and counselling with little relief until she found Nickerson's group, and began putting into practice the tools she learned to turn around the way she was thinking. The program was a revelation.

"Most of us don't know there's a way to change yourself and be the person you want to be," Spencer said.

The meetings are structured, starting with reading and discussing a passage from Low's books, followed by people taking about specific situations they've encountered to gain insight and endeavour to overcome destructive thought and behaviour habits.

"It's helping me discover naturally who I am as a person," said John Whitman.

The Kitchener man joined about a year ago, worried his depression would be with him for life. It's all too easy, he said, to start defining yourself by a diagnosis of mental illness and feel helpless.

He realized he was creating many problems himself, and then began working on changing his way of thinking to discover a new joy in life after years of being unhappy despite his success.

"That pressure starts to melt away," Whitman said.

Facing fears and changing thoughts is difficult, especially at first, and takes diligence, Nickerson said.

"This is work," she said. "Recovery is work, but it's well worth it."

Find out more about Recovery International and its Canadian branch at Meeting times and places are listed on the site, along with contact information.

The Record