“Misha, you will never be as knowledgeable as on the day you take your licensure exam” said my supervisor. We were talking about my plans to take EPPP and the amount of material I needed to know. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the study guides, notecards, reading, and memorization. There was so much information that I was expected to know! When it came to the test sections that did not relate to my work as a psychologist, I felt particularly frustrated. I know EPPP tests for general skills… but come on! Three days prior to the test, I lived and breathed the study guides. Woke up at 6:00 am for the exam at 12:00 and memorized until the last minute. I came out of the testing center barely containing my tears. My friends took me to a restaurant, bought me food and drinks, and took me to see a movie. I was convinced that I failed the test (at that time we did not get the results immediately) and continued to study for two weeks. The day I received my result, which was passing, I threw away almost everything that related to the test. It felt like I jumped over the last hoop on the road of becoming a licensed psychologist.
I first heard of Board Certified Psychologists while in graduate school. There was a faculty member that we all spoke of reverently because he was Board Certified in psychoanalytic approach. During my internship, the group coordinator was Board Certified. I utilized the Early Entry application process before finishing up my graduate degree. What drove me to do it? I wanted to be one of those people who I saw as an “expert”. I wanted to have ABPP after my name. I wanted to be one of the 4% who went above and beyond! But, when all of the prerequisites were done… the doubt crept in. I am “only” an early career psychologist. What can I possibly know? Surely not enough to be Board Certified. However, with the encouragement of my mentor and my own drive, I kept at it. My passion is anything group psychology related, so it made sense getting Board Certified as a Group Psychologist. I recorded a group session, wrote a practice sample and a professional statement. The date of my examination was set. For months, I kept reading books and articles trying to anticipate the questions. I felt most anxious about the Oral part of the exam: being assessed by three experts felt way more intimidating than answering “multiple guess” questions on EPPP. Once again, I woke up at 6:00 am the day of my exam and frantically reviewed my notes.
What a difference it was walking out of ABPP exam versus EPPP! First of all, I did not feel like crying. I felt examined, for sure, very thoroughly. The questions directed at me were meant to provoke my thinking and challenge me. I was asked to critically examine the way I prepare, think about, facilitate, train, and terminate groups. Most of it, felt like a deep conversation about group psychology. It was very collegial and the examiners were invested in not only examining me, but also making me a better group psychologist. More than the comprehensive exams in school, graduation, passing EPPP, getting a license… walking out of the exam felt like a true rite of passage. Studying for EPPP made me be the most knowledgeable on the day of the exam. Studying for ABPP exam made me a better psychologist … on any day.
Given the challenging and sometimes divisive world we live in it is no surprise that we are addressing potentially polarizing topics in group. An upcoming community conversation hour (hosted by the early career psychologist task force) is focused on how to navigate polarizing political topics in group.
Join us in a lively informal conversation, sharing your experiences with fellow group colleagues at all levels. Our hope is to provide a space for participants to discuss how we can initiate and facilitate useful conversations and minimize the polarization around political topics such as race, political parties, the “Time’s Up” Movement, etc. as group leaders.
This CCH will be on March 23rd at Noon (Eastern time) and is conducted via Zoom.
Please email the Society of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy for access to this free CCH at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I remember vividly the first group I ever co-led during my doctoral internship. My experience in graduate school led me to believe that group is my love and passion. I participated as a group member in various training groups and even had a chance to co-lead a few of them. All of my experiences led up to that one moment; I was about to co-facilitate with my group supervisor. He had decades of experience facilitating and training numerous interns. Of course, I wanted to stand out. Of course, I wanted to be special. Of course, I wanted to impress him! On the outside, I looked calm and ready to go despite feeling tremendous anxiety on the inside. It was important to show him that I looked calm and competent.
A few minutes into our pre-group meeting, he looked straight at me and said: “Misha, I have two things to tell you. First, you need to make sure you’re having fun doing the group. If we are not having fun, it would not be a good experience for the group members.” The goal of having fun never entered my mind at any point during group training. I wondered what was the other piece of wisdom he was about to bestow on me.
“I need you to CTFD, please”, he said. I must have looked very puzzled because he chuckled and asked whether I knew what it meant. I had no idea. He leaned in and said “I need you to calm the f**k down. If something goes wrong, we will fix it.” We both burst out in laughter! With a sigh of relief and fear, I realized he could see right through my calm demeanor. Suddenly I realized that it was okay to be me. It was okay to have all kinds of experiences as a facilitator including anxiety. I also understood that no matter what happens in the group, we will deal with it. Something will always go wrong. However, we… I can fix it!
I took this idea to heart in my personal life as well. Instead of concentrating on what can go wrong interpersonally, I concentrate on our amazing capacity for repair. In groups, we repair — in more than one sense. In our personal life, CTFDing and engaging in repair, can lead to amazing deepness in any relationship.
I would like to pass this on to anyone about to start a group: CTFD, believe in your capacity to repair, and most importantly, have fun.
Recently, a colleague and fellow ECP asked me to help her solve a problem with one of her groups. She is a psychological assistant in an intensive outpatient program for a local hospital. She noticed that in her new Distress Tolerance class patients were quite disengaged with instruction, often preferring side conversation. Relatively new to group treatments, my colleague was left confused and discouraged for future groups. I am grateful that that through my experience teaching, researching, and associating with Division 49 I was able to set her aright. In our exchange I was reminded of previous publications from Division 49 members (Brown, 2011; Burlingame & Woodland, 2013) regarding conducting psychoeducational groups (PEGs). Drawing on their writings and on personal experience thus far, here are a few simple guidelines to follow for any ECP new to PEGs.
Set the Tone
As with any therapeutic encounter, it is important to be prepared. In PEGs this means having a well-defined lesson plan. This is manifest through study and preparation of the material, as well as clearly communicating group rules and norms once the class has begun. This is especially vital in class-oriented groups in which enrollment is open-ended. One rule of thumb that has worked for me is that if there is ever a new member in the class, it’s safe to assume they don’t know the rules and norms. So, instead of assuming they will “figure it out,” make a habit of repeating the class rules, at the very least by leaving a space on the whiteboard to display them.
Another way in which the PEG therapist sets the tone is in setting up the room such that the environment promotes engagement in instruction. In my colleague’s Distress Tolerance group, the pre-established norm was for group members to be seated along three walls of a large, rectangular multi-purpose room. While this configuration allowed for all group members to see each other clearly, it also created a great deal of space between teacher and learner. This space seemed to invite side conversation, and also put a strain on members trying to see across the entire room toward the whiteboard. Some members also had to re-adjust in their chairs to properly see instruction. The solution to this problem was simple and surprisingly effective: chairs were placed in two rows of semicircles around the instructor. This moved the dead space in the room from between the teacher and learner to behind the entire class. And more importantly, side conversation was nearly eliminated.
Focus on Emotional Learning
If you were to ask group members what they learned in their last group, chances are the majority would not be able to recite the principles that were taught, much less grasp the content in the way in which the therapist intended for them. Rather, group members and class members alike retain what they are ready to learn. And in most instances, this learning is tied to an emotion. With this said, it is important that the PEG therapist not be committed to “getting through” all the lesson material. They should, rather, reward active engagement with reflection, expounding productive comments, and setting a foothold for engaging other class members. Focusing on emotional learning can also lead to the use of experiential activities, which if used properly can enhance understanding.
For example, I recently taught a PEG on ADHD. As might be expected, “telling” about things like executive function was not as effective as having them experience it. An activity we called “Sound Ball” was particularly effective. In this activity, participants were asked to make nonsense sounds while passing a ball in a circle. They were required to repeat the sound produced by the ball-thrower as they received the ball. They were then required to make up a nonsense sound as they passed the ball to someone else. For almost all patients this created a challenge in executive function, a fair share of awkward moments, and was a powerful teaching tool. Class members readily reported that experiencing difficulties mentally shifting, processing, and storing information during the activity illustrated a type for these same challenges in their daily lives.
In PEGs following up can be incredibly important. For example, using homework assignments can help clients gain clear direction about the message the PEG therapist is trying to communicate. If the PEG only constitutes one session, creating a memorable experience in which the therapist polls “takeaways” can be a useful tool. This may also be effective for the final class in a multi-session PEG. Either way, if the instructor has done their job, there was likely a small change wrought upon the patient. The proper handling of that change can help clients retain important knowledge and skills, and will enhance learning of principles to guide their own lives.
Recently I employed the “takeaway” strategy in a pain management class. I asked class members what (if anything) they would take with them after the class was over. One member expressed an excitement for instruction on mindfulness meditation, and stated that she would try mindfulness on a daily basis to help cope with her pain. Conversely, another stated that mindfulness was not for her, but that she preferred coping with a hot bath and a good book. While at first it may seem that the first class member “got it” while the other did not, both reactions to the instruction were valuable! Both class members left with greater knowledge of how to cope with their condition: one found a new tool that works, and another confirmed to herself what didn’t. As the instructor, I decided to reinforce both types of learning. This not only validated the disparate experiences, but also silently validated the varied experiences of the other members of the class.
As with any therapeutic modality, in psychoeducational groups (PEGs) rests great potential for learning. This may be didactic or “academic” learning, and can also be practical or emotional. When treated with this scope and with the proper preparation, PEGs have the potential to be transformed from the reading of slides to seeing change on and individual and group level. And perhaps most of all, they can be enriching to the instructor. As PEGs continue to gain favor in the therapeutic array, seeing them as fertile ground for therapeutic gain will transform them from classes into therapy that reflects the emotional and interpersonal learning for which group attendees will continue to yearn.
Brown, N. W. (2011). Psychoeducational groups: Process and practice. Taylor & Francis.
Burlingame, G. M., & Woodland, S. (2013). Conducting psychoeducational groups. In Koocher, G. P. Norcross, J. C., & Greene, B. A. (Eds.) Psychologists’ desk reference, 3rd ed. (pp. 380-383). New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press.
*Sean Woodland, PhD is a psychological assistant registered in the State of California, and works at Kaiser Permanente Stockton Medical Center. The opinions expressed belong to Dr. Woodland, and may not reflect those of Kaiser Permanente. For questions or concerns, Dr. Woodland may be reached by email at email@example.com, or by phone at 801-602-8278.
Over the summer, the Early Career Psychologist Task Force of the Society hosted a Virtual Learning Hour (VLH) where participants came together to share resources and discuss the topic of training in group psychotherapy.
Participants discussed their beliefs that process groups are an important part of professional training in learning about group dynamics. There may be some institutional resistance to process groups as things get “stirred up”, however, when done well they are very valuable to the learner. This led to a discussion on how to address power dynamics in staff trainings such as: level of experience, status, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and coming from different degree disciplines. For instance, how does a trainee remain safe, be vulnerable and appear competent in a process group? Another interesting topic was the use of private programs for training, as this can provide less vulnerability and one’s own place to grow and learn. It was strongly supported in the conversation that diversity education be a crucial component of any training program and its effects on both leadership and membership is paramount.
Important topics that might be considered in the future discussions about training in group psychotherapy include: What are the legal obligations or risks in process groups for trainees, staff and patients? What are APA or AGPA ethical and moral guidelines? How is scapegoating and subgrouping managed and how do participants learn to give and receive feedback in process groups?
The meeting concluded with sharing resources that were brought up in the VLH to enhance group training:
1. Video: The Color of Fear Diversity Training Films: Documentaries by Director, Lee Mun Wah of Stirfry Seminars & Consulting
Wah collected over four hundred questions that people of color and Euro Americans have always wanted to ask each other. This product is a tool for educators who want to start a conversation about diversity, but don’t know where to begin. It is a 3-part series. The director has several other educational videos. Students explore how race, ethnicity, gender etc. play out in real life and challenges them to acknowledge and address their biases.
5. Apprentice models – Short-term groups of 22 to 46 weeks versus a 2-year cycle for a didactic and process group. AK Rice Model (http://akriceinstitute.org) provides participants the opportunity to study their own behavior as it happens in real time without the distractions of everyday social niceties and workplace pressures and protocols
We are pleased to introduce TGP readers to a new column, Notes from the North, in which we’ll be hearing from our colleagues in Canada. In this first column you’ll find an introduction and general background on the CGPA from their President, Dr. Kasra Khorsani. We hope that this column can provide a “virtual pen-pal” relationship with our colleagues up north. So, if you have questions for them, please pass them along, firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll feature your question and the response from CGPA in upcoming issues of TGP.
Hello from Canada!
We are CGPA: Group Therapy, Group Training, Group Facilitation. We are a vibrant multidisciplinary association of group psychotherapists who work together to foster and provide education and training for mental health professionals in group psychotherapy across Canada. Furthermore, CGPA aims to encourage research in group psychotherapy; to set national standards for quality in training, practice and research; and to gather together group therapists from various disciplines in a spirit of professional development and mutual learning.
Our annual conference took place October 19 to 21 in Toronto, and was accredited by the American Medical Association, the European Union of Medical Specialists, the College of Family Physicians of Canada and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. We see this accreditation as important as a way to give value to the people south of border to make a trip to our conferences. We will try to carry this forward for future conferences.
We are excited about our recently launched mentorship program in which our senior members are able to support and be a guiding light to our junior and student members. You might hear more about this in an upcoming Notes from the North column.
Let me close with a bit of a discussion how our process groups at conferences might differ from ones that you might be used to. In our groups in general, we tend to be less confrontational and less passionately engaged. We tend to be more accepting and more gentle with each others’ differences and we value tolerance and forgiveness a little more than our southern members might have experienced elsewhere. This I feel is both our strength and our weakness. 🙂
Greetings from the Early Career Psychologist Task Force!
In the past six months, the ECP Task Force began hosting Community Conversation Hours (CCH) with our own Dr. Barbara Greenspan (a member of the ECP Task Force). She presented on the topic of Women in Leadership. She discussed unique challenges facing all women in leadership positions in the world, as well as group psychotherapy. Sixteen attendees were present and it was a great start to this new initiative. We utilized ZOOM as our new medium and our hope is to provide a space to discuss relevant group topics three times per year. Our next one is scheduled for July 13th 2016 on the topic of supervision and training (see flyer).
ECP Task Force will host the Divisions social hour at the APA Annual Convention 2016 on August 6th at 6:00 p.m. Be sure to join us! There will be wine, cocktails, and catered food. We welcome everyone!
At APA, check out our convention programming which features various skill-building sessions as well as symposiums. Skill-building session on the basics of interpersonal processing and the symposium on evaluating group psychotherapy processes might be especially useful for any ECPs!
Finally, don’t forget to check out our Facebook page!
The Early Career Psychologists from the Society of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy (Division 49 of APA) would like to invite you to join us in a free conference call on The Co-Leadership Relationship in Group Therapy. The call will be on Monday, November 9, 2015 at 12pm (EST). Please email the Society at email@example.com for instructions about how to access the call.
We wanted to take this time to update our membership with some of the recent highlights of activities from the Early Career Psychologist’s Task Force.
The ECP Task Force worked to create criteria and standards for a new Group Psychotherapy Practice award the Society will offer in 2016. The award will be given to recognize outstanding commitment to the practice of group psychotherapy. Our intention is to reach a broad audience, so any individual, agency, or organization that provides exemplary group services to the community will be eligible. Stay tuned for an announcement on the listserv about how to nominate a recipient for this award.
The ECP Task Force is going to continue its tradition of providing free conference calls to anyone (not just Society members). But in 2016 stay tuned for a new addition….webinars! We are hoping to host webinars in February 2016 and September 2016, with conference calls in November 2015 and June 2016. In addition, there are plans in the works for a special series of webinars focus on research techniques for group research in 2016 as well. Good things, they are a comin’ in 2016!
Finally, we’d like to welcome two new members to our ECP Task Force, Drs. Elina Kanellopou and Barbara Greenspan. Dr. Janellopou lives in Athens, Greece and received her degree in psychology from Columbia University. She is post-doctoral fellow at the University of Athens School of Medicine and Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Unit of Sismanoglio General Hospital in addition to working in a private practice. In her personal life, she has a passion for performing arts, yoga, singing and dancing. We’ll be introducing Dr. Greenspan in a future column, so stay tuned for that.