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President-Elect’s Column: International loneliness, Population Health and Group Work

Martyn Whittingham, Ph.D.
Martyn Whittingham, Ph.D.

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.

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President-Elect’s Column

Martyn Whittingham, Ph.D.
Martyn Whittingham, Ph.D.

Call to Action on Awards

As the incoming President-elect of the Society, it is my privilege to seek out nominations for Society awards. Awards are important because they give recognition and encouragement to people and programs that have poured their heart and soul into making groups work. They can provide an important boost to the mission of promoting group therapy by attracting the attention of stakeholders such as university Presidents, CEO’s and local or regional partners.  However, awards do require submissions of names and a rationale, which becomes difficult for several reasons. First, we are often too consumed with the day-to-day tasks in front of us to find the time to put together a packet that recognizes someone else.  Much though we might want to, we get busy and then later feel guilty for not having done so! Second, we are often loathe to self-nominate because it seems too self-aggrandizing. Humility is a quality that many of the best therapists possess, but in this case, it can get in the way of sometimes overdue recognition. Third, it is sometimes difficult to evaluate whether the award is something you, a colleague or program are worthy of? We are seldom aware of the efforts of others, so it is difficult to benchmark against others’ accomplishments.  These and other factors often result in people and practices not submitting very worthwhile potential awardees for consideration.

However, without nominations and the public recognition that awards bring, effective group therapy programs, teaching efforts, research or skilled group psychologists become a success story that are under-recognized.  Awards not only validate hard work and accomplishment but also elevate the awardee and their efforts within their agency, community and region.  They also serve to inspire others to greater feats or show that seemingly impossible tasks can be accomplished. That can give a lot of hope and inspiration. So, this is the call to action. Put aside your reservations about self or other-nomination and do this for the field. Take a minute as you finish this article and write a name down for each award and then rally some help from others to put together a submission. Group needs to celebrate its worth and its success stories.  Not only does it provide validation to the people nominated, but it also promotes the field and allows a light to be shone on what talented and dedicated people can accomplish with and through group therapy.

Please also note, that many of these awards also come with a financial prize as well as the award itself.  More information can be found on our web page at: http://www.apadivisions.org/division-49/awards/index.aspx. The awards are:

Professionals

  • The Arthur Teicher Group Psychologist of the Year Award
  • Award for Outstanding Professional Contribution to Diversity in Group Psychology or Group Psychotherapy
  • Excellence in Teaching of Group Dynamics
  • Excellence in Group Practice
  • Division 49 research grant
  • APF/Division 49 grants

Students

  • The Student award for outstanding contribution to diversity in group psychology or group psychotherapy
  • Student travel awards for the APA Convention
  • Student Poster Awards for the APA Convention

Send your nominations to: division49awards@gmail.com

Nomination Process:

To submit a nomination, the following is required:

  • A letter from the nominee that describes and illustrates the individual/agency/organization’s commitment to group intervention (e.g., nature of the nominee’s commitment, commitment to supervision and training, use of research or best practices to enhance group services, etc.). The letter should be no more than three pages long.
  • Three letters of support from individuals familiar with the nominee’s group psychotherapy practices (these letters can be from current or past employees, a collaborating partner or agency, or members of a Board of Directors, etc.).
  • Copy of current CV.
  • All materials should be submitted via a zipped/compressed folder in one email with the following subject line: [Candidate’s First and Last Name] – Application for Group Dynamics Teaching Award. For example, DIANA PRINCE – APPLICATION FOR PRACTICE AWARD.zip.

All submissions must be received by May 1, 2018 to be considered.

Thanks for taking the time to do this!  It means a lot to our field to recognize and celebrate the hard work and dedication that these awards highlight.