Insights on Training & Education
By: Michele Ribeiro, Ed.D., C.G.P.,
Member-at-Large for Training and Education
One of my top 5 strengths identified when I completed a StrengthsQuestTM assessment was being a Life Long Learner. Being in psychology, we are so fortunate to have the opportunity to not only be constantly stimulated on new concepts that can be incorporated into our jobs but also into our personal lives as well. Most of us in this field are hungry for learning new ideas, sharing our ideas, and mentoring others on what we have learned. We seek to always be improving our skills on how to be more effective with our clients and help ourselves and those in our personal lives to live happier, more fulfilling lives. As a result, I am pleased to offer this new column each quarter as a way for therapists at all levels of their career to share experiences within the area of group psychotherapy or psychology. Division 49 is our professional home that we hope to share with those new to the field and those who are seasoned and want to stay connected with like-minded professionals. I am interested to hear about your experiences within the areas of Training and Education to showcase in future newsletters. Please contact me at Michele.Ribeiro@oregonstate.edu if you would like to share your experiences with our community.
We are fortunate to have two contributors, who are doctoral students completing their internship this summer at college counseling centers, share some reflections on groups during their internship year. Each was asked to write about their experiences in facilitating a group during their internship year at a college counseling center. Both raise universal issues of feeling unsure of their group therapy skills, examining aspects of themselves and specific social identities, and the confidence and competence they embraced as a result of their experiential learning, reflection, and ongoing risk taking in co-facilitating groups and communicating openly with their co-facilitators. It is in interacting with therapists like Chelsea & Shirley that enhance my excitement to mentor and train the next generation of group psychotherapists. Thank you Chelsea and Shirley for sharing your reflections.
Chelsea Twiss, MS
New Mexico State University, current PhD candidate
Doctoral Intern at Oregon State University (2017 – 2018)
My experience in co-facilitating an interpersonal process group at CAPS has been an evolving process. I am currently in my third term of co-facilitating the same interpersonal process group at CAPS. I have quite a bit of previous experience in facilitating groups in community mental health settings as well as university counseling centers, yet this was my first experience co-facilitating a group with someone who is in an evaluative role for me at the center and identifies as male (I identify as female). Initially, I noticed that I felt more anxiety about how my skills as a group facilitator would be perceived in group than I have before when co-facilitating with peers or female senior staff members.
I began the term feeling uncertain of myself and how my skills as a facilitator would be evaluated by my co-facilitator in the group. This uncertainty was enhanced by the experience of being a trainee in a new environment where I was still in the process of familiarizing myself. As time went on and I became more relaxed in my role, while still sensitive to the power dynamic in the room, and the group members seemed to notice this shift in me as well. Some of the members remarked noticing that I was participating more which seemed to be well-received particularly by female group members.
There were a few instances throughout the year where my co-facilitator and I disagreed on how something should be done in group, but initially I withheld my opinions and would usually defer to his preferences. I used supervision with my female individual supervisor to gain support on how to address this in our co-facilitator dynamic. Ultimately, I became increasingly comfortable asserting my opinions about how group should be run even if they were different from his. I also realized that when I did assert myself in our relationship, it was generally appreciated by my co-facilitator. We began to speak more openly about gender dynamics in our relationship during group supervision as well.
I would describe myself as someone who is generally comfortable and confident in my skills as a trainee and eager to learn from mistakes. So upon reflection, I am still surprised at how noticeable my initial hesitation in my role as a group co-facilitator was. In many ways it felt as though when embarking on internship I was starting fresh and would often forget the pre-existing clinical skills and experience I could bring to the table.
The most impactful things I learned from this experience around group co-facilitation at CAPS would be the extent to which power dynamics between co-facilitators and identities of co-facilitators play out in group dynamics. I recognized a great deal about myself and how I interact differently with male staff members in positions of power than I do with female staff members in positions of power. This also gave me pause to think about the impact of multiple intersecting identities and power hierarchies within institutions and how these impact experiences for those who are both newcomers to the system as well as those on the low end of the power hierarchy within a system – which interns usually are.
Finally, the hesitation and difficulty with assertion due to socialization and messaging around gender were aspects of my identity I thought I had mostly confronted and worked through when starting internship; particularly as someone who has done a fair amount of research and teaching in the area of feminism. It turns out these relational dynamics are ongoing and fluid negotiations that are complicated by so many factors and it never seems to be a “done deal.” This is a realization I hope to carry with me and continue to reflect on as I begin my career as a Counseling Psychologist.
Shirley Ley, MEd
Adler University (Vancouver Campus), current PsyD student
Doctoral Intern at Western Washington University (2017 – 2018)
If there is one important lesson I learned from my individual work with clients is the importance of meaning making, particularly after personally transformative experiences. As I approach the final few months of predoctoral internship, I’m finding the need to make sense of my call to adventure to be a co-facilitator for group therapy. I still remember my first pre-group meeting, including my nervous laughter and unusual giddiness. These reactions were an expression of my inner child who finds excitement in hands-on, experientially-oriented learning opportunities. I was not going to turn down any chance to observe, model, and learn from my highly skilled co-facilitator who carries herself with great compassion, grace, and competence.
During the first academic quarter, I approached group work from a stance that I knew best, that is from an individual therapy perspective. I saw group as therapy with 7 people, all at the same time. Needless to say, this task overwhelmed me, causing my heart to race, palms to sweat, and throat to constrict every time group rolled around. Fearful that I might appear incompetent or inadvertently harm group members, I co-facilitated the group from a distanced and detached perspective. This experience left me feeling conflicted as it countered my humanistic and relationally-oriented approach to individual work. Thankfully, my co-facilitator guided me in understanding and appreciating the power of group dynamics and therapeutic properties found within the here-and-now group process. While this insight moved me, I struggled to translate my new learning in a way that was congruent with my therapy approach.
By the time the second academic quarter approached, I coped with my learning impasse by mimicking and parroting my experienced co-facilitator’s therapeutic style. For obvious reasons, this approach left me feeling disingenuous and stifled my creativity. Seeing that I was frustrated over my lack of learning progress, my co-facilitator invited conversations concerning my multiple identities and how these inform my relational style in everyday life. Growing up as a woman of color, I was socialized to navigate the world through the eyes of others by anticipating their thoughts, feelings, and needs and acting accordingly. Although I now understand that these are normal responses to oppressive experiences, I became empowered knowing that I could use such relational abilities within the group setting.
Now in the third academic quarter of the year, I am experimenting with my sensitivity toward unexpressed and underlying relational needs. I offer assistance in fostering the safety and unconditional positive regard that is needed for vulnerable disclosure to take place. I support group members in learning to attune and listen to each other for information relating to the need to be valued, affirmed, and cared for. I offer guidance in helping group members integrate the pain and suffering of others and convey how they have been impacted and moved. I continue to learn from my co-facilitator about how and when to identify larger group processes such as pregnant silences, anguished facial reactions or body language, there-and-then conversations that detract from present moment emotional and relational contact, or superficial conversations about daily life and unsolicited advice giving that fail to connect people on a deep, meaningful manner.
I know that my road to becoming a competent and skilled group clinician will be lengthy and the challenges that I have already faced is only a glimmer of what is to come. Since my first group experience, my inner child has settled into a more thoughtful and curious presence. As I am currently in the process of securing employment opportunities beyond graduation, my future involvement with group therapy remains uncertain and my learning trajectory will largely depend on opportunities for self-study and close involvement with a group mentor and/or facilitator. At this moment in time, what does seem certain to me is my need to remain self-compassionate, as this is the only key to unlocking my openness, creativity, and flexibility, all of which are essential ingredients to effective group work.