Presidents Column

Dennis Kivlighan, Ph.D.
Dennis Kivlighan, Ph.D.

I have been thinking a lot about rituals recently. I was fortunate to receive a Fulbright Award to teach and do research at the Università degli Studi di Palermo (University of Palermo) in Sicily. I have been here since January and will stay through early May. It is a wonderful experience for me both professionally and personally. My hosts, group psychotherapy researchers, have been very welcoming and inclusive. However, I always feel a little out of sync, I do not speak Italian and all of the people and surroundings are unfamiliar. This unfamiliarity is a double-edged sword; it makes everything new and exciting and simultaneously disorienting.

The one time and place, while I am here, that I do not feel quite so disoriented is when I attend Sunday morning service at Palermo’s Anglican Church. I am what American Anglicans call a cradled Episcopalian; meaning that I was raised in the Episcopalian tradition. Therefore I am deeply steeped in the rituals of the Anglican service. My favorite ritual is when the priest leaves the altar and comes into the midst of the congregation to share the Gospel; it is when I feel the most connected and a part of something bigger. Being far away from home and surrounded by unfamiliarity has made me appreciate the importance of the familiar rituals in my life. The familiar rituals give me a sense of connection and belonging in an unfamiliar place.

In his chapter on Cohesion and Development, Don Forsyth reprints Donald F. Roy’s description of “Banana Time”, social rituals that a turned a menial and repetitive job into cohesive group experience for fabrication workers. Roy says that all cohesive groups have rituals that “provide structure and meaning for the group and its members.”

Professional organizations also have rituals that increase commitment and cohesion among their members. I was first introduced to the power of rituals in professional organizations as a young assistant professor at the University of Missouri. I had never attended an APA convention as a graduate student or in my first jobs as a psychologist working in university counseling centers. My Department Chair and mentor at Missouri, Mike Patton, however, was very involved in APA’s Division 17 (Counseling Psychology) and was a consistent APA attender. Mike encouraged me (insisted, demanded) to start attending APA and the Division 17 functions. At my first APA convention, Mike dragged me to Division 17’s Leona Tyler address and the Division 17 Fellow’s Talks. The Fellow’s Talks that I listened to were inspiring, touching, funny, informative, challenging and personal. The Division 17 Fellow’s Talks quickly became an important ritual for me; I have tried to go these talks at every APA Convention that I have attended. Whenever I go to one of the Fellow’s Talks I feel more connected to, and proud to be a member of Division 17.

Division 49 also has its important rituals, but as a “younger” division, not as many rituals as the more established divisions. A number of people have told me how important our annual social is in terms of their connection with and commitment to our Division. The Authur Teicher Group Psychologist of the Year Award Talk is another important ritual for our Division. This award talks gives us a chance to come together as a community to celebrate excellence in group research and practice and to affirm our common identity. I really encourage everyone who will be at this year’s APA Convention in Toronto to attend this year’s Authur Teicher Group Psychologist of the Year Award Talk to affirm and celebrate you connection to the Division and to Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy.

As a newer division, we have not had an established ritual to recognize and celebrate our Division Fellows. THAT IS ABOUT TO CHANGE! At this year’s APA convention we will have our first Annual Division 49 Fellow’s Talks. For our Annual Fellow’s Talks our newly elected Fellows and some of our previously elected Fellows will give talks about their connections with and contributions to Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy. Please put these Fellow’s Talks on your convention calendar and plan help us develop another important ritual for the Division. Stayed tuned-in to these columns because I will have more to say about our newly initiated Fellow’s talks in my next column.