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Editor’s Column

From Your Editors at The Group Psychologist

The role of language, particularly how we use language to teach children about emotions, was recently featured in the New York Times Family section (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/15/well/family/talking-to-boys-the-way-we-talk-to-girls.html?smid=fb-nytimes). This struck a chord with me when thinking about several adult male clients (ranging from 20s to 50s) that I see for individual therapy, both who I am preparing for going into an interpersonal process group. These clients struggle to express their emotions. We’ve explored what norms and expectations were set by their parents regarding feelings and what’s “appropriate”. Now, as adults, they struggle tremendously with vulnerability; intellectually they know it’s a path towards connection, yet emotionally the fear and aversion to it is immense. Becoming a member of a psychotherapy group is one way I’m hoping they can have new experiences of what it’s like to witness and share their own vulnerabilities. We know group therapy is a way to have corrective emotional experiences, and what are more powerful corrective experiences than those dealing with emotional vulnerability?

Integrating interpersonal process techniques creates a powerful and effective group process enabling participants to address problematic situations with support of group members. Students and clinical populations respond well to the combination and find them helpful in becoming aware of their habitual dysfunctional thought patterns and belief systems that play an important role in mood regulation.  As group members recognize the usefulness of interpersonal process techniques, intimacy and spontaneity tend to increase, creating and supporting a safe space for sharing.

As Brené Brown said, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” So, as we move into the summer months, we challenge you to explore your own darkness. Who can you confide in? What story can you share that hasn’t seen the light of day recently? Who supports you in your path towards opening up to more belonging and joy? Finding friends who can listen empathetically, respond with their own vulnerability, and hold space for emotions that we might have once been taught are “bad”, are precious. Do those friends know what role they play in your life?

I know several of those friends have come from my membership in Division 49. And as we look forward to gathering again at the APA Annual Convention, I’m going to be sure to tell them how important they are to me. We hope you’ll be able to join us in Washington DC in August. Throughout this newsletter you’ll find updates about what to expect and how to best participate.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Tom Treadwell, EdD, T.E.P. C.G.P.
Tom Treadwell, EdD, T.E.P. C.G.P.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Editor

Leann Diederich, Ph.D.
Leann Diederich, Ph.D.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Associate Editor

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President-Elect’s Column

Giorgio A. Tasca, Ph.D.
Giorgio A. Tasca, Ph.D.

“I would never want to be part of a group that would have someone like me as a member” – paraphrasing Groucho Marx.

When I ran for President of the Society I was asked to think about and write a statement for what my priorities might be if I were elected. It really didn’t take me long to come up with the key priorities of supporting students and young investigators who were interested in group psychology and group psychotherapy research and practice. The statistics that I have seen about the age of members of our Society were sobering and reinforced this focus. The average age of members of Division 49 is well over 60 years, which means that most members are looking at retirement in the coming decade. On the face of it, it seems that this is a serious challenge for our Society. Without replenishing the membership with younger people, we could face a crisis within a short period of time.

It is important to say that we are not alone with this problem. Most societies and professional organizations are facing the same trends in demographics. Some of the trend is simply a fact of broader societal factors related to aging baby-boomers who in many cases were leading figures in the development of organizations like Division 49. Also, one could speculate that GenY and Millenials tend to congregate in very different ways than their parents and grandparents (i.e., with social media, and more amorphously organized groups), and tend to have different expectations and definitions about community service. One could also take a more optimistic view that people don’t tend to join organizations and societies until they get older – similar to what Erikson described as the generativity phase of human development. That is, at a younger age one is more invested in personal and professional achievements and/or demands of raising a family, whereas later in life one begins to give back to society to create meaning in one’s life by mentoring those who are younger.

With this in mind I hope to spend my time on the Executive of the Board of Division 49 discussion ways in which we can better engage younger members of our organization, particularly those in the 30 to 40 year old bracket. The Division has already invested a portion of its budget to providing the Richard Moreland Dissertation of the Year award, and a student poster award.  We hold a division social that is well attended by students at the APA conference. We are also looking into ways of engaging new members and students and to retaining members who have not renewed their memberships. One possible avenue is to open membership to the Society to non-APA members around the world who nevertheless identify themselves as group psychologists. Further, we are supporting an application to the Commission for the Recognition of Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology for recognition of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy as a specialty in professional psychology. This would bring to the attention of the broader professional community the importance of specialized training in group psychology.

Those of us involved in group practice and group research in clinical, social, organizational, military, and sports settings know the importance of group psychology and know the impact of and strength in numbers. For that reason it is important to have a vibrant Society like ours to support the work we do and to support the next generation of researchers and practitioners in group work. I strongly encourage you as a member of the Society to reach out to your younger colleagues. Encourage them to join, and tell them why it’s important to join. Come to our events at the APA conference including the Division Social event on Friday August 4th at 6pm – bring a student or younger colleague with you.

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President’s Column

Craig Parks, Ph.D.
Craig Parks, Ph.D.

The Psychology of Building 20

I recently had the pleasure of reading about the history of a long-demolished building on the MIT campus, Building 20.  It existed from 1942 to 1998.  Building 20 has no place in the history of group dynamics, but it should.  

First, some background: Building 20 was constructed to accommodate MIT’s Radiation Laboratory in its need to expand its research into radar for World War II.  In fact, Building 20 was not so much constructed as it was thrown together: The architectural design was executed in an afternoon; its three stories were supported entirely with wooden posts; its exterior was covered with dark asbestos shingles, which absorbed heat; the flat roof was sealed with tar and gravel, which also absorbed heat; the ventilation system was insufficient for a building of its size; and the small windows did not fit well.  The building was thus hot and humid in the summers, which necessitated the installation of noisy, industrial-size ceiling fans.  Floor numbering, for unknown reasons, used the European system of the ground level being floor 0, the level above it floor 1, and the level above that floor 2.  The wings of the building were lettered, but not alphabetically.  To imagine how the building looked, open your left hand and dangle your fingers toward the ground.  Your palm is the “B” wing, little finger “A” wing, ring finger “E” wing, middle finger “D” wing, index finger “C” wing, and thumb “F” wing.  None of this was a concern, however, because the plan was to tear the building down once the war was over.  

The importance of the wartime work in this building cannot be overstated.  In a short period of time the scientists in the Radiation Lab developed the weather, aerial, naval, and undersea radar tools that are the bedrock of today’s systems.  And true to plan, at war’s end in 1945, MIT initiated plans to raze Building 20.  However, implementation of the GI Bill introduced space shortages at American universities, and MIT was no exception.  The administration decided to keep Building 20 for the time being.  The Department of Electrical Engineering, which was all that remained from the Radiation Lab, stayed, and a hodgepodge of other units got moved into the rest of the space: ROTC; the Ice Research Lab; the Particle Accelerator; the Tech Model Railroad Club; the Atomic Physics Lab; and the Department of Linguistics, to name just a few.  In effect, any unit that had unusual space needs moved out to Building 20.

And this is where it gets interesting.  The weird layout of the building meant that residents often got lost (remember, the first floor is above you, and wings A and E are next to each other) and wandered by a lot of rooms where people were doing a lot of different things.  Further, that people just got put wherever there was open space meant that the lab next to yours might be from a very different discipline than you.  This led to an amazing array of spontaneous group discussions and idea generation.  For example, Amar Bose, an MIT graduate student in engineering in the 1950’s, was frustrated with the speakers in his home hi-fi system.  His office just happened to be next to the Acoustics Lab, so he wandered in one day, started asking questions about sound production…and ended up founding the Bose speaker company.  Noam Chomsky’s theory of the deep structure of language was influenced heavily by his interactions with the computer scientists and biologists who had labs in Building 20.  At the more nefarious end, students in the Model Railroad Club who were responsible for wiring the track’s relays and switches began talking with the computer scientists about better ways to do this; these conversations were a prime impetus to the development of hacking.  

Further, because MIT had no interest in updating the building, users modified the building to meet their needs, usually without asking permission.  (Jerrold Zacharias, developer of the atomic clock, removed the two floors above his lab so that he had a 30-foot ceiling clearance.  As a useful contrast, ask your department chair what would happen if you painted your office without permission.)  A common modification was to move walls to create group conversation areas that could be used for continuation of the spontaneous discussions.  These discussions were so fruitful, and led to so many novel cross-disciplinary ideas, that Building 20 came to be known at MIT as the “magical incubator.”  As well, the building’s status as an unpretentious, ignored structure cultivated in its users a wonderfully creative mindset, on the grounds that they could do and try pretty much anything, and MIT administration would never know.  

This narrative conveys much of what I love about the dynamic of groups.  Unstructured encounters led to the formation of interpersonal connections, emergent groupings, idea generation, and enhanced performance.  Group members altered their physical space to facilitate these experiences.  The unusual circumstances fostered a subgroup norm that benefitted the process, as well as a sense of ingroup-ness, yet also inclusiveness.  Status differences were minimized.  Yes, the denizens of Building 20 were far more capable than the average person, but in my view this had the potential to be a hindrance rather than a help.  As we introduce students to the groups arena, we might want to teach them about life in Building 20 as a case study of the potential of the group setting.

If you would like to learn more about the history of Building 20, I recommend Stewart Brand’s book How Buildings Learn, and the web site MIT created on the eve of Building 20’s demolition, now archived at https://libraries.mit.edu/archives/mithistory/building20/ .