In recent months, I have been fortunate to have spent considerable time traveling across the country and internationally, delivering workshops and working with therapists hungry to improve their group skills. In these travels, I have discussed with these therapists how they see overlap between culture, interpersonal relationships and identity in their setting, region or country. As I have been teaching, I wanted to make sure that any underlying principles, techniques and assumptions were always held in check to allow local therapists and systems to engage in rigorous questioning of when to adapt and when to adopt a model of working. Listening to them talk about their local issues has been fascinating and illuminating. Chinese therapists discussed the implications of a massive shift in their culture toward service industries and how this has increased stress on their population, leading to increased mental health problems. The government in England, my home country, has created a Minister of Loneliness to address serious national mental health problems that have been identified. America is struggling with issues of identity, culture and politics, with issues becoming increasingly polarized, leading to significant schisms in society.
Shifts within and between cultures create considerable stress on societies and individuals in those societies are constantly adjusting to meet them. However, we are at a point in history where these shifts are occurring so rapidly that our ability to meet them is stretched to the limit.
Social support is a major stress buffer to these forces. They can support our identity, help us manage stress, help us to emotionally regulate and can offset the need to engage in more self-destructive behaviors. Moreover, the impact of a lack of social support impacts more than just mental health. There have also been multiple articles and news reports recently, pointing out the research showing that loneliness can lead not only to mental health issues but also problems with physical health such as increased likelihood of heart conditions, diabetes, increased risk for dementia and overall mortality.
The problem has been identified. People are not able to generate the social support they need, and this is impacting not only mental health but physical health as well. The impact on people at the individual, micro level is obvious to therapists, as we see it every day in our offices. However, the societal, macro level impact of loneliness and lack of social support is now beginning to be identified by societies and their governments. This represents a major shift in thinking and a significant opportunity for group therapy to utilize its strengths.
The idea of what constitutes a group therapy has never been more germane. There are many types of groups that are essentially individual therapy in a group. They focus on individual techniques and strategies and can be enormously helpful. However, as I have travelled I have become even more convinced that group as a treatment modality, and not a delivery mechanism for other therapies, has a very significant role to play in helping world population health. Group has inherent power in helping people connect with others. Understanding and working on attachment styles, interpersonal inflexibilities, social skills, cultural identity, cross-cultural dialogue, and simply learning to bond and connect with other human beings, has a healing power that operates at many levels. It has lasting impact on the physical and mental health of both individuals and whole societies. It is time for group work to claim its place in the field not just of mental health but of global population health and to begin to assert its true worth.
At this year’s APA convention I will have the honour to introduce Irvin Yalom at a special conversation hour on Thursday August 9 at 11am. Dr. Yalom will receive an award from our Division celebrating his lifetime of work as it pertains to group psychotherapy, and acknowledging the great influence he has had on the field of study and practice. My first initiation to Yalom’s writings was as an intern back in the 20th century. I was given his book The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy (3rd edition), and told to read it by my supervisor because I was to participate in an inpatient group with her the next morning. Well, for those of you who know The Book, it’s not a volume that one reads in a day, rather one studies it over many days/weeks/months/years. Nevertheless, I gamely pored over it, understanding some but not much of the content. All I remember from the next day’s group was that most of what happened went over my head, and that my supervisor seemed to know what she was doing, though I didn’t know why. Maybe that is why it felt that the post-group discussions that day (and others in which I’ve participated over the years) seemed like fiction to me – that is, narratives constructed by therapists to make sense of what had occurred. I wonder if that is why Irvin Yalom turned to fiction particularly later in his career when trying to bring to life the complexity and mystery of what occurs in human interactions and group psychotherapy in particular. In Every Day Gets a Little Closer, Yalom told a true (?) story of treating a young writer, Ginny, who had writer’s block and limited funds to pay for treatment. They struck a deal in which Yalom and Ginny wrote parallel journals of each therapy session. Sure, there were some similarities in what they wrote, but there were also striking disparities that showed how widely two people can diverge in their narratives of the same events. Was this two people simply telling their versions of what occurred or was this fiction? What happens when you put 8 people together in a group – do we get 8 versions of events? Recently, a member of one of my groups, Jim, retold a distressing incident that occurred several weeks ago, but this time he described the event with considerably less distress and even flippantly. Another group member piped up and said: “that’s not how you described it last time!” What ensued was one of those discussions in group therapy about who said what, that as an intern I would have found pointless. Except it’s not pointless. People construct narratives (fictions?), and the narratives say something about who we are and how and what we need to do to manage. And just as importantly, the construction of the narratives tells us something about the nature of the relationships we are in when recounting the story. Jim needed to retell the story to his self and to the group differently this time, and to some extent this said something about his relationship to the group. In his novel When Nietzsche Wept, Yalom writes in part about the start of modern psychotherapy through a fictional encounter between Friedrich Nietzsche and Joseph Breuer. Psychotherapy, or psychoanalysis, likely had its start with Studies in Hysteria by Breuer and Freud – including the Case of Anna O. So, why did Yalom write of a fictional encounter between two historical figures to describe the birth of “the talking cure”, when perfectly good case studies written by the founders already existed? Was Yalom’s fiction more compelling or instructive than Breuer and Freud’s truth (can one even say that Studies in Hysteria was the truth)? Similarly, what I wrote in a few lines about Jim and my group was a distillation of a 90-minute session and a longer history of relationships between group members – how “true” can that be? (Should we go down that rabbit hole?). Irvin Yalom has had an important impact on my work and on my outlook on what I do as a group psychotherapist and group researcher. Some of that impact has come from his scholarly work (especially The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy), but his fiction and his “non-fiction” has had an equal impact. I will try not to gush when introducing him on August 9th, but I may not be able to help myself – and that’s the truth, I think.
The past several months witnessed a range of natural disasters, from hurricanes, to earthquakes, to the recent wildfires. Our hearts go out to all those impacted by these events. These disasters are traumatic for those living both near and those connected to the communities who might be living far away. They have a number of long-term consequences on a given community. Yet after each disaster, stories start emerging of neighbors, small groups, and emergency personnel who offer tireless services and come together in service to others. As a famous quote from Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers) highlighted, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping’.”. When we wear our group hats, we notice that he stated the plural, helpers, not the singular, helper. Helpers are often able to do their best work because of their working in a group. Imagine what one lone firefighter is able to do, yet when they are working as a team, the complementarity and synergy from roles and responsibilities allows a much greater response.
We hope this issue of The Group Psychologist lets you see how many of our authors wear their “group hats”. This issue provides a range of thought provoking topics, from reflecting on the dynamics present in an NFL team (sneak preview: “a nice demonstration of why group managers need to balance interpersonal relations with task focus”), to pointing out how group research techniques have caught up to what group practitioners have been seeing (sneak preview: taking into account the impact of the group on the individual), and encouraging Society members to participate in our new Mentoring Program (for questions, contact the mentorship director, Rosamond Smith firstname.lastname@example.org).
We especially want to highlight this last program, the new Mentoring program developed by the Student Committee. The responsibilities for a mentor are as follows:
Provide your mentee an email address or phone number where you can be contacted to answer questions related to professional development (e.g., coursework, future employment, practicum, training experiences, etc.), as needed.
Be accessible to have a face-to- face meeting (e.g., lunch, dinner, coffee) with the mentee one to two times per year, such as at APA or convention and/or be available to meet through another means, such as by phone, email or Skype.
Assist mentee in networking and meeting with other professionals and/or students in Div. 49 or APA at large. This networking could occur at the Div. 49 social and/or other events.
Commit to a one-year mentorship relationship.
Refrain from entering into a supervisory relationship with your mentee.
Respond to mentee challenges and follow grievance procedures, as appropriate.
Maintain Division 49-member status.
We hope you’ll consider becoming a mentee to one of our fabulous students! The application form is here: http://www.apadivisions.org/division-49/membership/mentor-program.aspx.
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Statistics
One of the things that I have noticed over the decades of providing, training, and supervising group therapy is that each group appears to have its own qualities and trajectory. That is, each group seems to have its unique characteristics and growth patterns that set it apart from other groups of its kind. (I don`t mean to imply that there aren`t similarities across groups, but only that in many ways each group is unique). We know from group research that sometimes the group’s path is determined by its pre-group history (personality characteristics of the individuals that pre-dated their membership in the group), sometimes it is affected how members get along with others of the group in which they happen to find themselves (group composition), and sometimes the trajectory is affected by qualities of the leaders. These constituent components (individual characteristics, group composition, and leadership) then interact in complex ways. Gary Burlingame and his colleagues referred to these complex levels of interaction as the structural aspects of groups (member to member, member to leader, and group as a whole). The results of interactions across these structural aspects over time result in what some group researchers refer to as emergent properties of groups. This is akin to what the gestalt psychologists refer to as the “whole being more than the sum of its parts”. It is only recently that group researchers have the tools to catch up to these complexities of groups.
For practice oriented group psychologists and for group psychotherapists the concept of group emergent properties from its structural elements was implicitly known. However, there wasn`t a whole lot of research to quantify, demonstrate, or test these fundamentally group concepts. For decades, group researchers did their best by borrowing methods from individual psychology and psychotherapy to study group phenomena. This severely limited what the researcher could do and could say about groups and the individuals that made them up. For example, in the past, when we studied if an individual`s personality affected their outcomes in group, we simply did what individual therapy researchers did – correlated a pre-treatment personality scale score with change in an outcome. This method essentially ignored the group – even though we knew that the group (composition, leadership, group as a whole) likely interacted with individual personality and outcome. Until very recently there has been little research on how the group affects an individual’s experience of cohesion or alliance and vice versa. New research shows that if the individual and group agree on their experience of the alliance, then the individual`s outcomes are better. This is an example of group researchers finally being able to test what clinicians implicitly knew to be true.
This small revolution in group research has come about because of advancements in statistical theory and methods, and because of powerful computing capacity that is now readily available on anyone`s laptop. For example, multilevel modeling (a statistical advancement in regression equations) has transformed how we conduct group therapy research. For the first time, we are able to: take into account the impact of the group on the individual, test hypotheses about member to member or member to group interactions, and model the unique trajectory that each group takes across time – just to name a few. For years group practitioners have been far ahead of researchers in terms of theorizing about how groups work and advancing the need for more groups. Finally, group research methods have caught up to these rich theories. I envision a day in the near future in which group researchers not only test group concepts, but by way of testing these ideas they will also lead the development of new theories and models of how groups work and how they can be more effective. For that we need young group psychologists who are just as comfortable running a computer model as they are running a therapy or work group.
Kneeling, Disharmony, and Group CohesionAt this point, most Americans, and many who live outside of the United States, know that the National Football League is embroiled in a controversy surrounding players who choose not to stand during the playing of the national anthem. The goal of this column is not to provide yet another analysis of the situation and subsequent appeal for each side to tolerate the other, but rather to take more micro focus on the impact of the controversy on the individual teams. What has transpired provides a useful demonstration of the dynamics of group cohesion and harmony, and raises questions about how well groups of experts can overcome disharmony.
My focal point is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had a well-publicized snafu regarding how the players chose to handle the anthem. Before a game in Chicago, they decided as a team to stay in the tunnel and not come out until after the song was over. In this way, no one would have to reveal on which side of the debate he fell. However, one player, offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, was out on the field looking around when the anthem began. A former soldier, Villanueva felt it disrespectful to walk away while the song was playing, so he stood, alone, at the entrance to the field. The rest of the team joined him after the ceremony was over. His actions misinterpreted as a protest against his teammates, and his statement at the post-game press conference, that he does not consider kneeling an affront to the armed forces, largely ignored, the team became a flashpoint for the issue, and internal dissensions appeared. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said that he did not agree with the team staying in the tunnel, and wished he had not gone along with the plan. Linebacker James Harrison expressed surprise that not everyone agreed with the plan, as he had been given to understand. Offensive lineman David DeCastro and defensive lineman Cam Heyward each said that they had spoken with Villanueva to confirm that he was not trying to show up his teammates. As a result of all of this, many observers expected the Steelers to struggle in succeeding weeks. How can a team succeed if there are factions among the members? In fact, as of this writing, three weeks after the incident in Chicago, the Steelers have not crumbled, sit in first place in their division, have the second-best record in their conference, and in their most recent game beat the only undefeated team left in the league.
This episode provides a nice demonstration of why group managers need to balance interpersonal relations with task focus. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has not melded the players’ differing viewpoints on Chicago, but rather has oriented them toward the task at hand, reminding them that they are professionals who need to work together to accomplish the task that they were brought together to perform. While the players can differ in the locker room on the propriety of kneeling, when on the field all of that needs to be set aside so that the job can be done. This makes me think of Fred Fiedler’s contingency model of leadership, which (among many other things) argues that certain situations require a leader whose focus is on interpersonal relations, while other situations require a leader whose focus is on task needs. An example of the latter situation is one in which each group member has a structured, defined role and needs to know what to do to fulfill that role. If successful collective performance offers the possibility of recognition, typically in the form of raises, promotions, and awards, and if group members feel the leader is moving the group is moving toward success, interpersonal disharmony will usually have little impact on the group. This example clearly fits a sports team, and right now, the Steelers are moving toward successful task completion. Thus, the Chicago controversy does not seem to have caused problems for the team.
While I would never argue that interpersonal relations within a group are always secondary—I am, after an interpersonal relations researcher—I think that we sometimes get too focused on the relational dynamic at the expense of task needs. It is good counsel for a group leader to analyze what the situation demands and act accordingly. Of late I seem to have been on far too many committees in which a major focus has been on making sure everyone gets to hang an ornament on the Christmas tree and no one feels unhappy with anyone else. What the Steelers, or the 1970’s Oakland Athletics baseball team (three consecutive World Series titles despite regular fights between players in the dugout), or Abraham Lincoln’s “team of rivals” cabinet show us is that people who might not care for each other can and will pool their efforts and produce at a high level if the situation demands that they do so.
Recently Division 49 participated in a resubmission of a petition to the Education Directorate of the APA Commission for the Recognition of Specialities and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology (CRSPPP) to have Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy receive designation as a specialty. This is a joint effort of your Division, the American Group Psychotherapy Association, the American Board of Group Psychology, the American Academy of Group Psychology, and the International Board of Certification of Group Psychotherapists. Together, these organizations developed the Group Specialty Council to prepare the petition. Members of the Division 49 Board did an outstanding job and have contributed to the petition, including: Sally Barlow, Martyn Whittingham, and Nina Brown. The petition is an impressive 500-page document outlining a cogent argument for the unique aspects of group work and why specialty designation is important. Anyone can see the document and comment – and we certainly encourage our members to do so at: http://apaoutside.apa.org/EducCSS/public/.
Below are my comments on the petition on behalf of our division.
On behalf of the Society for Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy (Division 49 of the American Psychological Association) I endorse this Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy Specialty Petition in the strongest possible terms. Increasingly, group work is playing an important role in the delivery of health and mental health care in a variety of organizations. Many settings (health care, education, counseling, workplaces) rely on group work to deliver effective and timely interventions, including psychoeducation and psychotherapy. The evidence is mounting that group psychotherapy works for a variety of disorders, it is as effective as individual therapy, and so it is cost effective. In 2017 alone there were 17 meta-analyses of group work, group factors, or group psychotherapy. Despite this evidence, it would be a mistake to assume that a practitioner who is solely trained as an individual therapist, for example, can effectively transfer their skills to a group setting. There is important overlap between knowledge of individuals and knowledge of groups, such as the role of individual psychopathology in treatment, for example. However, it is well known that groups have unique properties that diverge significantly from individual contexts. The multiple interaction networks that develop between individuals over time represent emergent properties of groups that impact outcomes, and these emergent properties cannot be predicted from knowing about the individuals alone. And so practitioners require specific skills and knowledge to manage the complexities that come with group work. These complexities are now reflected in and studied in the research literature. Novel methods of multilevel statistical modeling, for example, are opening up venues of new knowledge and scholarship about the unique functioning of groups, the impact of the group on the individual, the multiple levels of interactions that occur, and the specific skills required by a group leader to make the most of groups and their interactional properties. Lack of knowledge, expertise, and training in group psychology and in group psychotherapy could result in negative outcomes for clients and antitherapeutic events for social groups. And so it is imperative that this specialty designation is successful in order that public who seek or require the input of group psychologists receive the best possible of evidence-based care. This specialty designation will go a long way to ensure that trainees, therapists, practitioners, supervisors, training programs, the public, and funding partners are appropriately aware of the unique properties and effects of groups, and the skills and professional training required to lead groups.
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.
“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.
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.
In this issue of The Group Psychologist you’ll find authors speaking to the powerful roles that groups can have in our lives. While at the recent American Group Psychotherapy Association Annual Meeting, I (Leann) experienced this in many ways. However, one depiction of the power groups have, that caught me off-guard, was while watching the musical Cats. Arguably, one of the most emotional plot lines in the show is that of Grizabella, the old “glamor cat” who is an outcast from the Jellicle tribe of cats. Her anguish at not be accepted, the impact of being shunned, and the loneliness she feels is palpable. One of the most magical, and at times haunting, songs comes from her singing Memory. Without providing too much of a spoiler, it’s a moving moment in the musical when she is accepted back into the tribe. There is a dark side to groups, their ability to shun, to cut-off, and to wound individuals. Yet, Cats, provides a beautiful visual reminder of the healing power of groups: through acceptance, welcoming, and re-incorporation into something bigger than one’s self.
We encourage you, dear reader, to send us your reactions to the articles in this issue. Better yet, post about them on Facebook! Start out by checking out our President-elect’s recent experiences wondering what attending the Division 49 Mid-Winter Board meeting will be like. Our current President, Dr. Craig Parks, while reflecting on the current state of political discourse takes on the question, “How important is it for opposing groups to be calm and friendly while discussing their differences?”
In a different sort of response to the current political state, in his Group Psychotherapy Column, Dr. Tevya Zukor, points out, “We have the training and experience to understand the dynamics of scapegoating, oppression, and irrational fear-based behavior. Not only do we understand how these processes emerge, but we have thousands of years of combined experience helping people navigate through the worst times of their lives and being there as they to emerge from the darkness that once overwhelmed them.”
Finally, we encourage you to check out the range of awards described in the Diversity Column. These include cash awards of $500 and $1000 for members (or those whose membership is pending) of Division 49. These awards are to “recognize excellence in group psychology practice, research, service, and/or advocacy with a focus on promoting understanding and respect for diversity.” It’s not too early to start thinking about the APA annual convention. The Diversity Committee is hoping to use the Suite to foster dialogue among Division members about diversity in group psychology and group psychotherapy in an informal setting. Please email Dr. Joe Miles (email@example.com) if you have ideas or requests about what could be offered.
I am thrilled to join the Board of the Society of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy. I have been a member of the Society for years and have served on the Group Dynamics Board as a regular member and as an associate editor. But, to be honest, I really did not know what specifically the Board of the Society did and how it operated (well, I should clarify that I know what Boards do in general: they set policy and bylaws for the Society, run the academic journal, produce a newsletter for members, set the programming for the convention, keep a responsible budget, encourage membership, maintain records, etc.). What I did not know was how this Society’s Board operated, how the members got along, what the climate would be like, how decisions were made, how formal was the process, and did it have an effective leadership. After all, I was a virtual outsider – I mean I knew a few people on the board, but I had never been part of this particular system. To make matters more interesting, I came onto the Board in an emerging leadership capacity as president-elect. I wondered how that would go over with longer serving members. In reflecting back on my first Board meeting I was struck by how the process of joining this Board paralleled many such group processes (spoiler alert: it went very well, the Board members were very warm and welcoming, and I felt that I can make a real contribution to an already well-run group/organization).
I have been running, researching, or teaching about therapy groups for over 30 years now. Of all the hats that I wear, my role as a group therapist, teacher, and researcher is the most satisfying and rewarding. Yet why was I somewhat surprised that similar concerns, expectations, and pressures that new therapy group members face were also on my mind at that first Board meeting? Before I got there I wondered if I would feel included, engaged, and effective – and I hoped that the meeting and my role would be a good use of my time. I am well aware that group processes operate in many organizational contexts, and I have experienced this first-hand in multidisciplinary health teams, on other organizational boards, in classrooms, group supervisions, research collaborations, and on academic committees. So why was I surprised? I think, in part, it has to do with group therapists and group psychologists operating as if in separate silos. We inhabit different worlds of work and so we assume that the concepts we work with and interactions we participate in are independent. But clearly they are not.
I was on a multidisciplinary health team early in my career in which one of the professionals seemed somewhat agitated as she repeated the same point about a patient to the rest of the team. The team did not openly disagree with her, but nevertheless there was a palpable tension and discomfort in the room. The psychiatrist, who I did not know well at the time but grew to respect over the years, turned to the professional, said something understanding and calming, and repeated something similar to the rest of the team. The professional seemed calmer, the tension dissipated, and we moved on to review the next patient. When I asked the psychiatrist some time later about the incident, he said that people in the room were not feeling heard, and all he did was to repeat what everyone had already said. Whether he knew it or not, the psychiatrist did more that simply repeat the words –he offered respectful leadership, security, empathy, and direction to the team in what was developing into a tense situation. So in this team-based organizational context, I saw group therapy dynamics play themselves out and managed skilfully (albeit implicitly) used by someone who was attuned to the group’s climate.
One of the impromptu discussions we had during the Society Board meeting was about how many people assume an overlap between group therapy and group psychology (e.g., organizations, sports teams, classrooms, work groups), but how little is written or discussed about these common areas of research, theory, and practice. One of the unique and special roles of the Society for Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy is that it is a big tent in which both group therapists and group psychologists can dialogue, find common ground, and feel included.