Early Career Psychologists

Notes from the North: History of Experiential Groups in Canada

Kasra Khorsani, M.D.
Kasra Khorsani, M.D., President, CGPA

CGPA multi-centre Experiential Training Groups (ETG) are on Saturday May 13, 2017. This is the second annual ETG day run by CGPA. This was a very well received event in 2016, with 50 people who participated in five groups in Toronto, Winnipeg, and Calgary. This year Halifax and Vancouver have joined the program.

The day consists of two three-hour process groups divided by lunch. These groups offer an opportunity for therapists of all modalities to learn about group dynamics by participating as members of the ETGs. Transference and countertransference issues, intimacy, attachment, boundaries, group cohesion, and issues around termination are reflected upon by the members who are committed to examining their own process.  For more details please see

For over six decades, ETGs have been an important part of group psychotherapy training in Canada.  According to Dr. John Salvendy, these can be put in three categories. The first two categories are all trainee process groups and all trainee therapy groups. In both cases, members could be from the same program or from different programs. In these instances, the frequency could be one time, periodic, or continuous short- or long-term.  Finally, an all patient group that trainees could join have also been used in some programs as a requirement for training (3).

Initially, the training groups in Canada were based on the Tavistok group therapy model (which many experience as an anxiety provoking model). However, since the early ’80s the model applied has been a relational/interpersonal model. This shift has resulted in almost uniform positive assessment of ETGs by trainees (5).

The most prevalent training groups in academic centers are the training process groups. The members of the groups are trainees in the same programs and depending on the size of the program, members may or may not know each other in their professional settings.  The frequency of meeting varies from one time to multiple meetings for the duration of the program. The largest and longest running program in Canada was started in University of Toronto in 1977 and continues to be a successful once per year all day experiential group for the psychiatry residents. This is a very successful and well rated event by the participants. Seventy out of 140 residents attended the latest goup day which was a four and half-hour group experience divided in to a morning and an afternoon session (4,5).

The various non-university group psychotherapy training programs in Canada started in the mid 1960’s in Toronto (Ontario Group Psychotherapy Association), followed by programs in Montreal in early 70’s. With inception of CGPA in 1980, additional training programs were established across the country. These included ones in Calgary, Ottawa, and Winnipeg. The Toronto Group Psychotherapy Training Program operated from 1978 until 2008. They had twenty-four 90-minute experiential sessions led by three different group leaders over the two-year program. The present Toronto-based taining program, Toronto Institute of Group Studies, includes a 90-minute experiential component on each of the 12 days of the program (2). This highlights the variety of training experiences available, as the Calgary program required each trainee to have 90 hours of experiential training obtained either through an all trainees process group or joining a patient interpersonal group.

The CGPA May ETGs is a one-time process group, for mental health professionals (including trainees) from different professional backgrounds and from different settings. CGPA has had a noteworthy history of offering process groups for therapists (initially modeled after AGPA Institute groups).  CGPA’s first national conference (Banff Alberta, 1980) was exclusively experiential/process groups. Impressively, 160 therapists participated in 15 two-day training groups during this first conference (1).

CGPA has continued to offer ETGs in its annual conferences since then. From 1980 until 2007 the conference began with two days of process groups. More recently the experiential groups have been a day to day and half duration and offered at the end of the conference. Over the years, the experiential/process groups have been lead and monitored by exceptionally experienced group psychotherapists from across Canada.

With the start of the multicentre May ETG event now we offer this special training opportunity twice per year, once at the annual meeting in October and again in May at multiple centres simultaneously across Canada.

I would like to thank the following colleagues for their communications regarding this summary: John Salvendy, Molyn Leszcz, Allan Sheps, Joan-Dianne Smith, Anthony Joyce, Linda Goddard, and Eric Jackman.


  1. CGPA News Letter March 1981 vol. 1, No 1
  2. Joyce, Anthony S. Ph.D., Tasca, Giorgio A. Ph.D. & Ogrodniczuk, John S. Ph.D. (2015) Group Psychotherapy in Canada, International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 65:4, 583-593
  3. 3. Salvendy, John T.: Group Therapy Trainees as bona fide members in patient groups. Group and Family Therapy 1982, Brunner/Mazel, Inc., NY 1983, 166-181
  4. Salvendy, John T. M.D., Stewart, Mary F.: Periodic T-Groups for Psychiatric Residents, Journal of Psychiatric Education 7:4, 287-295
  5. Sunderji, Nadiya, M.D., Malat, Jan, M.D. Leszcz, Molyn, M.D. (2013) Group Day: Experiential Learning About Group Psychotherapy for Psychiatry Residents at University of Toronto, Academic Psychiatry 37(5):352-4.