August 6, 2021

Q&A with our Family Support Group leaders

Abigail Callard, LLMSW, and Alexandra Kritzmacher, LLMSW, answer questions about their work, education and interests 

The Department of Psychiatry offers several free support groups to patients and members of the community. 

These support groups and family education workshops offer additional therapy options and learning opportunities for individuals and families with mental health conditions. These groups and workshops offer patients, their families and community members a chance to develop a support network and learn more about bipolar disorder and depression. Participants discuss risk factors, treatments, coping, healthy communication methods, the importance of family support and stigma. Due to COVID-19, these groups are currently held virtually. 

Abigail Callard, LLMSW, and Alexandra Kritzmacher, LLMSW, both currently lead the “Family Members of Persons with Depression and Bipolar Illness” support group. This group is for adults who have a family member or loved one with a mental health condition.


Abigail Callard, LLMSW 

Q: Tell us about your background – where are you at in your education?  

Abbey: I am a first year Social Work Post Grad Fellow here at the clinic and was an intern during my MSW field placement last year. I am the "anxiety fellow" so I will be on our adult anxiety team for the remainder of this year as well as next.

I graduated with my B.A. from Alma College in educational studies with concentrations in early childhood education/child development (I had thought I might teach at that time). I then attended the University of Michigan for my M.S.W. (master of social work). I have a strong interest in anxiety/OCD spectrum disorders which is why I am on the team that I am on now and is also why those diagnoses make up the bulk of my case load. Though I have a particular interest in Habit Reversal Therapy for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors which I am actually creating a group for currently as well as co-facilitating the basic CBT for anxiety group.

Alexandra Kritzmacher, LLMSW

Alex: I’m a first year Social Work Post Grad Fellow here at the clinic, along with Abbey, which is a two-year program. I earned a B.A. from University of Florida, M.A. from Duke University, and my M.S.W. from the University of Michigan. Prior to this position, I was working in substance use/mental health treatment and a drug court program as part of my M.S.W. I’m currently working with adults in the perinatal clinic, co-facilitating a DBT skills group, and engaged in other learning opportunities as part of the program.

Q: How did you come to facilitate this group? Is it a part of your educational requirement?

Abbey: All of the first year post grads facilitate support groups which run on the same evenings. They want us to have this experience in the program running support groups versus just educational as most of our clinics are. Alex and myself focus on the family members and loved ones of individuals with various mental health concerns. I was particularly interested in this group and requested to facilitate it as I have always felt that family needs support as much as the patient does.

Alex: Abbey and myself focus on family members and loved ones of individuals with depression and bipolar diagnoses. The other groups are specifically for people who identify with each of those diagnoses. Laura Nitzberg, LMSW, has been running these groups for quite some time, and often joins groups, along with providing supervision.

Q: What have you learned from group attendees about being a family member or a friend of a person living with a mental illness? What topics do you discuss the most?

Abbey: I think most often we end up discussing boundary setting with family members and self-care as supporting loved ones can be so challenging. I have learned a lot about what support can look like in various forms for family members and just how challenging it can be. As someone that deals with anxiety myself I think that it has given me a perspective into my family's experiences with me over the years as well.

Alex: It has been interesting to gain this alternative perspective since we are typically engaged with the patient-side of things. I’ve personally learned so much about the resilience and dedication loved ones and family members have, despite various challenges and stressors. Many of our participants are very proactive in trying to learn more to support their loved one, and the group often discusses how they have coped over time.

Q: Tell us a bit about group dynamics: how does a group differ when you have a small attendee circle vs. a large one? What’s the largest group you’ve led?

Abbey: We have really start to build a good core group of regulars, but it does vary each week who all attends. With a larger group, Alex and I talk much less as the group tends to lead themselves and offer their own ideas. Generally, it lasts the entire hour and a half or longer versus a smaller group when we might cut it shorter. In smaller groups, we tend to do more probing depending on the personalities that we have present. The largest group I think was around 13 attendees, ranging from individuals, to couples and multiple family members in the same session.

Alex: The family support group has a really great dynamic, participants have been active, vulnerable, funny, and great supports to one another. With a small group it sometimes limits the variety of perspectives we can gain in one session, versus with a larger group where many can chime in. 

Q: Who are these support groups targeting?

Abbey: The groups the department offers are free and open to anyone who wishes to learn more about depression and bipolar and find support for themselves or a family member.  

Alex: The groups are currently offered via zoom, but we hope to go back in person eventually. You have to pre-register to be able to attend, and you’ll be asked to complete a confidentiality form before joining the group. 

Q: What motivated you to go into a career in social work?

Abbey: I have a special interest in work with Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors as I have dealt with them most of my life and have found that there is very limited resources or people able to treat them. As I was trying to find my path in undergrad I found that social workers can do exactly that: treat individuals with these problems! And after completing an internship at the Anxiety and OCD Treatment Center of Ann Arbor, where I was able to observe therapy in practice, I was hooked.

Alex: I have always been interested in understanding mental health, neuroscience, and trauma. I’ve done a lot of interdisciplinary work in my degrees and career overall and I appreciate that social work enables this holistic approach. I enjoy collaborating with patients in individual and group settings, and am always learning new things, which I love!

Q: Can you recommend any books related to mental health that people may find interesting?

Abbey: I have some that I recommend depending on what people are looking for. Since I do so much with anxiety, I have had people really like "Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts" by Sally M. Winston, PsyD and Martin N. Seif, PhD. This is great for those experiencing OCD. I also have recommended "The Body Keeps the Score" by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., which is great for understanding trauma, and "Feeling Good" by David D. Burns, M.D., for depression.

Alex: In terms of books related to this group, we have had a few books recommended by participants, which include “Loving someone with Bipolar Disorder” by Julie Fast and “An Unquiet Mind” by Kay Redfield Jamison. More generally I’ve enjoyed “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” by Lori Gottlieb, “The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook” by Kristin Neff, and “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World” by Vivek Murthy.

Q: What summer plans do you have this year that you’re looking forward to?

Abbey: Planning to spend time with friends and family, hopefully doing more outside/in-public as COVID restrictions change. But I will especially be spending time with my partner as he will be going into his training camp for work towards the end of August.

Alex: I’m planning to enjoy time with friends and family now that vaccinations are widely available, and eat at all the great Ann Arbor restaurants! 


***Please note that the free support groups are separate from therapy groups for children, adolescents, and adults that require a referral from Department of Psychiatry staff members.