Diversity Column: A Paradigm Shift from Safe Space to Brave Space Dialogues in Multicultural Group Therapy

A Paradigm Shift from Safe Space to Brave Space Dialogues in Multicultural Group Therapy

Jeanne Steffen, Ph.D.
Jeanne Steffen, Ph.D.

The focus of the last column was balancing etic (culturally universal) and emic (culturally specific) approaches in group psychotherapy and I suggested group interventions that highlighted both approaches, as well as included theoretical support for both approaches. Hopefully, the practitioner found the review and suggested interventions helpful in some way, if even to validate current practices. To continue the plan to focus my columns on building multicultural competency in group therapy practices, with an emphasis on providing something useful to the practitioner, I’d like to highlight some emergent theory regarding facilitating multicultural and social justice dialogues in group work. Specifically, I’d like to review the development of moving from “safe” space dialogues to “brave” space dialogues and then suggest a culturally universal example of integrating a brave space intervention into your current group process.

If you are a counseling psychologist of my generation and you were interested in social justice and diversity, you probably first heard of the term “safe space/place” sometime in the 1990s when you signed up to receive training in sexual orientation and gender identity, probably from your community or university LGBT center. During the training, you learned a whole lot more about sexual orientation, heterosexual privilege and power, and gender identity (regardless of your sexual orientation or gender identity) and became a proud ally, as well as the proud owner of a sticker with an upside down pink triangle surrounded by a green circle. The intent of the triangle symbolism was to communicate that your office/room was a safe space for others to express themselves without fear of rejection or discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Therefore, displaying your triangle communicated to those with invisible and non-dominant identities that “you are not alone!” (Sexual orientation and transgender identity can be successfully hidden in a way that race, ability, age, and other aspects of identity cannot, which can add to the isolation one feels if they identify into one of these non-dominant groups).

It’s not a large jump to then suppose that the pink inverted triangle enclosed by the green circle symbol began to generalize and become a symbol of safety and educational awareness related to diversity and social justice in general. From there, it is again not a large jump for us to imagine diversity educators working with groups and describing their group space as a “safe space” for exploring social justice issues. And from there, we can imagine a group practitioner somewhere receiving diversity education and then adopting the safe space concept as multicultural group therapy intervention that was intended to facilitate discussions about diversity. This is at least what I imagine happened when I try to connect the dots, since I was there experiencing the concept of safe space twenty years ago and last year suddenly found myself being introduced to the concept in a new way–of creating safe space dialogues versus brave space dialogues in group. When I tried to do a literature search last year to prepare for this column, I came up with a lot of “safe space” references, and it wasn’t until recently that I found explicit references to the concept of “brave space”. Thank you Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens for publishing a chapter on the topic!

Arao and Clemens (2013) began to notice that when they used the framework of safe space in group, it didn’t really do much to facilitate discussions about diversity, in fact quite the opposite. After much reflection, they surmised that group members’ expectations interfered with any sort of spirited exploration of social justice because conversations regarding privilege, power, and other aspects of group dynamics related to diversity and social justice are not without some discomfort. This was then definitely counter to group participants’ expectations about safety, defined as “…security from danger, risk or difficulty…”, and it was no wonder that group members were observed to withdraw rather than engage from difficult discussions based on their expectations (Arao & Clemens, 2013). Through their exploration, Arao and Clemens were introduced to Robert Boost Rom’s 1998 paper which discussed the unintentional consequences of the safe space concept in undermining critical thinking (he had suggested that learners “have to be brave”). They were also influenced by the concept of “courageous conversations about race” (Singleton & Hays, 2008; Singleton & Linton, 2006; Sparks, 2002). Consequently, Arao and Clemens are credited with introducing the concept of “brave space” and the presentation of the brave space framework in groups.

I can’t help but reflect upon the agreement between ACT theory and research and the use of the brave space framework as an intervention. ACT really began to take off in the late 1990s and it emphasizes the problems that occur when human beings focus on avoiding discomfort and how this avoidance relates to the learning process (Harris, 2007, 2008). For example, what I tell my patients and students: when avoiding that which is scary or uncomfortable, one accidently teaches the midbrain that the thing being avoided is dangerous, and this results in fight or flight. It takes exposure, or becoming more comfortable being uncomfortable, to reteach the midbrain. Despite my mini-lectures on anxiety and avoidance, I admit that I am guilty of referring to the group as a “safe space” to explore vulnerability. I would like to say this is a habit from my past training; however, I am newly aware that the use of a safe space frame may set up an expectation that keeps group members from exploring difficult dialogues. Needless to say, this topic really got me thinking of both etic and emic implications of safe versus brave space interventions and how I’m framing group work. For instance, I want to be more intentional regarding how I introduce members to their responsibilities in group. Specifically, this means letting group members know that it is a universal human drive and inherent in our DNA that safety comes first; however, also introduce group members to the dialectical that change rarely occurs when one is comfortable and that’s where the brave space concept comes in—an adjective that assists members in approaching uncomfortable explorations. This then becomes the culturally universal “brave space” intervention: to use the brave space framework to explain that the group members’ role is to become more comfortable being uncomfortable in order to learn and grow in group.

In this column, I described how the concept of safe space may have developed over the past 20 years so that it was eventually used in group therapy interventions. I also reviewed the concept of brave space as a more accurate and helpful framework for a universal (etic) group intervention because the term brave, and associated cognitive brave space frame, helps group members approach uncomfortable discussions. This approach behavior is essential to growth and change, as well as to critical thinking in general. In my next column, my goal is to focus on reviewing culturally specific (emic) brave space interventions. Many emic interventions are suggested by Arao and Clemens (2013) related to the process of developing ground rules for groups focusing on diversity and social justice issues. You are more than welcome to read ahead and look up the reference article!

As always, I welcome questions, concerns and ideas for future columns. Please email me at:


Arao, B., & Clemens, K. (2013). From safe spaces to brave spaces: A new way to frame dialogue around diversity and social justice. In L. Landreman (Ed.), The art of effective facilitation: Reflections from social justice educators (1st ed., pp. 135-150). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Fischer, A.R., Jome, L.M., & Atkinson, D.R. (1998). Reconceptualizing Multicultural Counseling: Universal Healing Conditions in a Culturally Specific Context. The Counseling Psychologist, 26, 525-588.

Harris, R. (2007, 2008). The happiness trap: How to stop struggling and start living. Boston, MA: Trumpeter Books.

Rom R.B. (1998). ‘Safe spaces’: Reflections on an educational metaphor. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 30(4), 397-408.

Singleton, G., & Hays, C. (2008). Beginning courageous conversations about race. In M. Pollock (Ed.), Everyday antiracism: Getting real bout race in school (pp. 18-23). New York, NY: The New Press.

Singleton, G., & Linton, C. (2006). Courageous conversations about race: A field guide for achieving equity in schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press

Sparks, D. (2002). Conversations about race need to be fearless. Journal of Staff Development, 23(4), 60-64.


Editors Column

Spring has finally come! For many of us on the East Coast it has been [and still is] a long hard winter. The glimpses of new growth, birds singing, and warmer days are always a special treat this time of year. What elements of spring do you appreciate?

With this new season, we also have an opportunity to reflect on what keeps us connected and grounded. In his column, President Dennis Kivlighan highlights the roles that social rituals have for him, both personally and potentially for Division 49. President-elect Craig Parks plans on connecting and furthering the group experience through collaboration with fellow group workers, such as organizational, clinical, and sports group psychologists.

Spring is also a time of change, which is present in Division 49 as well. In this issue you can read about the nominees for the President and Member-at-Large. We hope you will take the time to learn more about these wonderful members who want to step into leadership positions. And be sure to cast your vote when ballots are sent out!

Since we have moved to an electronic format (this is our first anniversary year) we are in the process of collecting and analyzing information from membership regarding the friendliness of our new format. See Leann Diederich’s summary in this issue on the results of The Group Psychologist satisfaction survey. Eyeballing early career psychologists data we see this group is busy with entering the workplace or in many cases, internships, and not having time to read the newsletter (or at least not participating in our survey to tell us they are!).

This issue has links to individual articles, tabs across top of pages (for current issue, past issues, guidelines or instructions to authors, link to website, about TGP/the Division, how to join the division, and a link to Facebook ). Other features include a photo gallery, a way to sign-up to follow the site (e.g., get emails when it’s updated), a search feature, archives by month, and categories (types of articles) and tags (descriptors). If you like one of the articles you read, be sure to comment, send it via email to a colleague, or “like” it on Facebook.

We encourage your feedback regarding this electronic format and want you to share your thoughts with us.

Articles or brief reports and news items can be e-mailed directly to Tom, Letitia, and Leann at, as can Letters to the Editor.

Tom Treadwell, Ed.D., T.E.P, CGP
Tom Treadwell, Ed.D., T.E.P, CGP

Tom Treadwell, Ed.D. C.G.P. T.E.P


Leann Diederich, Ph.D.
Leann Diederich, Ph.D.

Leann Terry Diederich, Ph.D.

Associate Editor








President-Elect Column

The Ubiquity of Groups

Craig Parks, PhD
Craig Parks, Ph.D.

One of the many attractive features of Division 49 to me is that we are one of the few divisions that focuses on an entity that everyone deals with: Groups. It is impossible to get through your day without performing as a group member, often many times a day. Most of us work with other people. Almost all of us are part of teacher-student or therapist-client (or both) relationships. We all regularly engage with our groups of friends. We get involved with community groups, special-interest groups, political associations, recreational teams…the list goes on.

Despite this, the research on group processes and dynamics is in silos. The social psychologists (my cohort) are over here looking at why group discussion is so inefficient. The group therapists are over there studying therapist-client interaction dynamics. The organizational psychologists are in the far corner looking at work groups. The sport and exercise researchers are back there testing whether particular compositions of exercise groups are better or worse at encouraging members to stick with the workout program. The especially unfortunate result of such isolation is that we miss golden opportunities to work together and learn more about principles that are common across the various types of groups that intrigue us. It would be fascinating, for example, to know whether composition is as influential on member behavior in a workplace group as it is in a workout group. Does Leader-Member Exchange theory describe how a group therapist interacts with his/her clients as well as it does a work supervisor and his/her subordinates? Could Yalom’s ideas about the therapeutic factors associated with group psychotherapy be used to help social psychologists move past the stubborn problem of task group inefficiency? Dozens more cross-domain questions like these can be generated without too much thought. Yet it is rare to see such projects undertaken.

The groups’ area has not always been so segmented. In the mid-1950’s, Morton Deutsch augmented his research into the social psychology of conflict by becoming a licensed therapist, in order to better understand the entire spectrum of human behavior. Deutsch’s advisor, Kurt Lewin, helped lay the foundation for modern group therapy with his development of T-group procedures. In writing The Social Basis of Consciousness, Burrow drew upon a number of concepts that would be familiar to a social psychologist today: Power differentials, socialization of norms, trans active memory, shared cognition. Rogers wrote about how his person-centered therapy approach could be applied to problems of group conflict, leadership, and more broadly, interpersonal relations. How these connections fell apart is too complicated of an issue to take up here, and at any rate is mired in more philosophical politics than any of us cares to think about. The important point is that a call for those who are interested in different types of groups to start looking at each other’s bodies of work is hardly unprecedented.

The response that many researchers might have to such a suggestion is that it is a huge challenge to keep up with all of the developments in one’s area of focus—how can one possibly also keep abreast of what is being published in these other areas? This is indeed an issue. I am to the point where I consider myself “up to date” if I have merely scanned the tables of contents of the many journals that I receive. I only visit clinical, counseling, sport, or management journals on rare occasions. But this is exactly why I place such value on Division 49. I know that every year at APA I will get to spend time with other members, who are studying groups of types other than those that I study (groups of unacquainted individuals who are confronted with mixed-motive collaborative tasks, in case you were wondering), and hear about what they have been working on. I am consistently struck by how easily I can ask questions about their work, and how many suggestions for my own projects they provide to me. As importantly, I consistently come away from our conversations with a different perspective on the dynamics of human cooperation, and some of these perspective shifts have been profound. At one of my first divisional meetings, I was telling someone, a counseling psychologist, about my interest in learning how to encourage people to be more cooperative more frequently, and he asked me whether Carl Rogers’ ideas were of any value for the problem. All I knew of Rogers was what I had learned as an undergraduate, so I collected some references from my new friend. The outcome of this reading was a conviction to more strongly integrate personality variables into my thinking, which eventually resulted in my contributing a chapter on the interface between personality and social-group processes to the Handbook of Personality and Social Psychology. This is a piece I would have never dreamt of producing before my chance encounter.

I would love for Division 49 to become a place where, once a year, all of the psychologists who are curious about any type of group come to share ideas and learn from one another. Undeniably there are hurdles that have to be cleared in order for this to happen. Those philosophical issues I alluded to earlier will not dissipate overnight. But I am convinced that some outreach on our part, some effort to show members of other divisions that we share common ground, can indeed result in more people coming into our tent. My goal for my year as president is thus to start building these connections. Such would benefit not only those of us in the division, but psychology as a whole.



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.

Committee Reports

Membership Committee Report

Leann Diederich, Ph.D.
Leann Diederich, Ph.D.

Leann T. Diederich, Ph.D., Membership Chair

APA recently released the demographic characteristics for all Divisions for the 2014 membership year, so I wanted to take an opportunity to let you know a bit about who we, as a group of almost four hundred Division 49 members, are.

Across all types of Division members (e.g., associate, fellows, members) we are 61% men and 38% women. We are predominately White (78%), with 16% unspecified in race, and less than 3% Black and Hispanic, and less than 1% Asian or multiracial. As has been true for a number of years, 71% of all members are over the age of 60, with the mean age of 66 years old. However, 11% of members in 2014 were early-career psychologists (ECPs). Most of us live in the Middle Atlantic (26%), followed by the South Atlantic (18%), and the Pacific region (15%).

While we all share a common bond of a love of group, in what ever form, most of us are in the health service provider subfield (71%; including clinical and counseling psychology), with 10% in other fields such as counselor education, 6% in research, and 8% with a “science designation”. Members identified their primary work settings including 38% in independent practice, 26% in university or four year colleges, and 12% of all members working in a hospital. However, when members are asked to identify their work activities, you can see a more representative split between the founding traditions of our Division (research, practice, and education). Sixty-seven members selected research as one of their work activities, 95 members selected education, and 100 members selected mental health services (note that these choices are not mutually exclusive). However, when members are asked to choose their primary work activity, 47% choose mental health services, 16% choose education, 9% choose management/administration, and only 7% choose research (18% did not specify).

Division 49 members are not exclusive, we also belong to other APA divisions. In fact, 42% belong to four or more other divisions with only 19% belonging to only one division. The divisions with the most overlap in membership to ours, include: Psychotherapy (Division 29; 102 members belong to that division as well), Psychologists in Independent Practice (Division 42; 95 members), Clinical Psychology (Division 12; 75 members), Counseling Psychology (Division 17; 69 members), Psychoanalysis (Division 39; 53 members), Personality and Social (Division 8; 43 members), and Psychology of Women (Division 35; 43 members).

If you are interested in the full data set, check out the Division Profiles:


Committee Reports

Secretary Report

Jennifer Alonso, Ph.D., CGP
Jennifer Alonso, Ph.D., CGP

We had another success mid-winter board meeting this year in Washington DC. We worked diligently for a day and a half to identify ways to continue to serve and support the Division’s members and field of Group Psychology. All of the submitted committee reports are available for members to view on the APA’s MyCommunities site. After logging in, you will find a heading called “My Neighborhood.” Underneath that, you will see a link for “Division 49” which will take you to the Division’s page of materials. In addition, we have a list of the mid-winter board minutes available here.

midwinter mtg

We identified that the Division’s listserv is an underutilized resource for members. We discussed the benefit that could come from using this forum to create a community among us, where you could solicit and provide resources related to research, practice, consultation and teaching. The email address is: and is currently moderated by Dr. Lee Gillis and Dr. Joe Miles. You are encouraged to begin using the listserv today.

keep-calm-i-m-a-group-therapist-2I am looking forward to seeing or meeting you at this year’s convention in Toronto. Given the hit of our “Keep Calm, I’m a Group Therapist” buttons last year, our Division buttons will be returning! Please find a board member, or come to any event at the Division Suite to get your free button.

Committee Reports

Diversity Committee Report

Jeanne Steffen, Ph.D.
Jeanne Steffen, Ph.D.

January 2015 Diversity Committee Report

Jeanne Steffen, Ph.D.

Members of Committee:

Eric Chen

Maria Riva

Cheri Marmarosh

Joe Miles

Lee Gillis

Brittany White

Joel Miller

Jennilee Fuertes


Brief Summary of Activities Undertaken:

Last January, we identified tasks for the year, which included:

1)  Identify at least one new method to attract underrepresented members to the Division/Committee.

2) Create a formal process to engage people to nominate Diversity Award candidates.

3)  Create diversity programming to help in diversity education for the division.

Our activities since the summer report have included:

August: Eric arranged a diversity programming event at APA (Aug. 7-10 in Washington DC) entitled Evidence-Based Practice and Multicultural Competencies in Group Therapy: Multiple Perspectives. This four-paper symposium aimed to highlight the complex intersection between evidence-based practice and multicultural competence perspectives within the group therapy context from the perspectives of researcher, educator, trainee, and practitioner.

September-November: the diversity committee focused on getting our student members more involved in diversity programming. We worked together to put together a proposal for the 2015 APA Conference in Toronto entitled: Multicultural Skill Development in Group Psychology.

December-January: The committee reviewed the two candidates nominated for the 2015 Diversity Award and selected the finalist in January 2015.

Committee Reports

Treasurer Report

Rebecca MacNair-Semands, Ph.D., CGP
Rebecca MacNair-Semands, Ph.D.


Amy Nitza, PhD
Amy Nitza, Ph.D.


Submitted by: Rebecca MacNair-Semands, Ph.D., CGP, Past Treasurer and Amy Nitza, Ph.D., Treasurer

Division 49 ended 2014 with over $47,000 in income, including royalties from the journal at $43,077 (above the projected amount of $40,000). Dues exceeded those of last year and were above projected numbers this year after gaining some new members, for a total of $3,978 of income this year.

Newsletter costs were reduced from 2013 by over 28% to $2,171 by using the website for more detailed reports and shifting fully to an electronic version. This has been a huge savings in the past two years, as we spent over $6,200 in 2012. These costs will be further reduced next year without the fees for initiating the on-line formatting. After contributing to the Foundation and coming in under projected budget at both conferences, our final expenses totaled $35,936 (under the 2014 projected expenses of $38,828). We remain strong in our net assets with investments totaling $43,620.

Following the newsletter stipend of $2,000 beginning in November of 2013, the board approved a $1,500 contract for a social media consultant in 2014. We were able to split the journal editor monies between the current Editor and the affiliated university beginning this year as well, to provide more flexibility in the release of funds.

The Finance Committee explored shifting a portion of our short-term investments to funds that bring in more interest, as our balance has been stable for several years. However, we postponed this decision as we discussed and further explored the potential to start a new journal. This conversation can now be revisited as the journal process is likely to take several years. Our Foundation balance is now at $80,000, and we will reach our $100,000 goal in 2015. Please see the entire projected budget for 2015 for details, which will also be placed on the website.


Group Specialty Petition Materials

See below for the Group Specialty Council’s petition and appendices for consideration by the Commission for Recognition of Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology.


Petition – Final

Criterion I – Appendix A

Criterion I – Appendix B

Criterion I – Appendix C

Criterion I – Appendix D

Criterion IX – Appendix

Criterion X – Appendix

Criterion XI – Appendix A

Criterion XI – Appendix B

Criterion XII – Appendix

Criterion VI – Appendix

Criterion VIII – Appendix