Group Psychotherapy Column

Tevya Zukor, Ph.D.

A Call to Action

These are troubling, unsettling times.  The world is changing at a record pace and many of the bedrock principals that formed the United States of America seem to be more in question than ever before.  To quote the great Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:

“It is time to ask yourself what you believe.”

Who are we as a society?  Who are we as a country?

At the most basic level, the question is always -Who are we as a Group? How do we want to define our values? How do we stand and support one another, even when we may have disparate thoughts and opinions? How do we identify as individuals who are also a member of a larger whole?

These are the questions that millions of Americans have been asking themselves in the recent days, weeks, and months. These are questions about values and identity. These are questions that shape who we truly are as people; and just as importantly, who we actually want to be.

These questions can be anxiety-provoking.  What happens when we look in the mirror and we don’t like the reflection that stares back at us? As with all potentially troubling questions; it is far scarier, and more isolating, when we try to answer them alone.

We feel better, and more secure, when we ask such questions and get feedback from others.  We benefit from perspectives that we often lose when fear takes hold. We take solace in knowing that even if the answers may sometimes be troubling or uncomfortable, we are stronger when we can lean on others and we are braver when we are part of a larger group.

As group practitioners, we know this to be true.  We have lived these experiences and we have directly beheld the power of group.  We have seen courage and witnessed bravery that would not have been possible if a person had attempted to do it alone. Our wisdom, derived from years of experience and education, allows us to understand these concepts both theoretically and practically. This is our area of expertise.

In the uncertain times that our nation now faces, we are needed more than ever.   We have experienced this journey, both personally and professionally, many times before. It is NOT new to us. It is NOT uncharted territory. Our livelihoods and passions have literally been organized around assisting people through the darkest times in their lives and allowing them to experience the immense strength they have that they never knew existed.  That is the work we do every single day. We know how to do this.  We walk this path with countless clients.

Now that the very fabric of our Republic feels like it is in jeopardy; our work does NOT change – just the scope of our practice does.  This is our call to be leaders (Or, in the parlance of our profession, “facilitators” if one so prefers). Our work is no longer contained to the clients who walk through our office doors.

Our profession is about serving the needs of people and right now, the people of the country are struggling. Most of us are used to working with small groups of 6-10 members. Now it’s time to serve the large group – possibly the largest of large groups – it’s time to serve ALL members of this great country.

We, as group mental health professionals, are uniquely qualified to meet the needs of the group right now. 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.

We know it is possible because we have experienced it countless times before.  We have worked with the desperate, despondent client who is convinced that the world will never change.  We have challenged the hopelessness of clients when they have told us that things will never get better and their lived will never improve. We understand that their fears are often based on a lack of knowledge and perspective. We teach and encourage coping skills even to those who are unconvinced it will be successful. And most importantly, we show our groups that they are stronger and more resilient than they ever knew possible.

This time is no different; it’s just more present and the scope is a bit bigger. It’s time to do what our years of training and experience has taught us to do – It’s time to lead the group.