Group Psychotherapy Column: Creative Group Exercises

John Breeskin, PhD
John Breeskin, Ph.D.

I have been collecting group exercises since the bygone days of the human encounter movement, which dates me as a 50 year group therapist.  During this time, I have gradually evolved and become far more radical in the kinds of exercises that I develop and two examples will follow:

My group and I will be attending a Friday, Saturday and Sunday silent religious retreat at the Holy Cross Abbey, which is located on the banks of the Shenandoah River looking into the Blue Ridge Mountains. The retreat is a silent one and the fellow participants are usually noviates and priests. Since there are no cities nearby, I typically sit outside, watch the sun set and the stars appear overhead. It is, to me, a deeply spiritual experience. The group will number eight and will not be able to talk to each other until after the retreat is over.

This is typical of field excursions that my groups and I have made together. We have gone to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Waters, in Western PA, the National Arboretum, in Washington DC and the open air Hirschorn Sunken Sculpture Garden on the National Mall.  We will do at least one visit of this type per calendar year.

The second exercise that I will be suggesting to the group stems directly from a mind-blowing book that I have just read titled The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, by Lewis Hyde. Borrowing liberally from these ideas, I will be giving a gift to one group member and asking him to receive the gift and to pass along a gift of his to another group member. Once the circle is completed, I will be given a gift which is the cumulative product of the exchange in return. It is important to point out that the profit motive in this transaction is completely subjective and even spiritual. We will discuss what it like to first receive a gift and also to give it.

Stay tuned for a further news bulletin as my group struggles with my radical ideas. I hope this makes sense to you.  Please let me know if we have a deal.