by Cele Keeper
Let’s hear it for three tools I consider invaluable in Group Work
In my long-logged hours of supervision with new therapists in our profession, it gives me great pleasure to introduce these techniques and to see the “Aha!” look on these new faces signaling that they “get it.” And, likewise, it is to my surprise when I encounter the occasional veteran who finds her/himself stumbling across these concepts for what is apparently the first time.
I call the techniques Metaphors, Bridging-back and Scenarios.
By metaphors, I mean the use of a word or expression when a person really means something different or something more.
Hypothetical example: I’m dealing with a group and one member opens the group saying, “They had six inches of snow in Omaha last night. Wow!” There follows a series of other weather reports.
The client may mean that it was snowing in Omaha, but, unsatisfied, I pursue: I might say, “Joe, there’s a lot of snow all around the country. Will you tell us how that Omaha snow speaks to you? Thanksgiving is two weeks away. Is there any connection for you?”
While paying close attention to body language and to facial expression, I sense that Omaha remark came from somewhere within the speaker. I try to help my students see what was said as a metaphor for something deeper.
This client may uncover sadness at not being able to visit family, all of them mostly there in Omaha, or shame because of the strained circumstances under which he left, or any manner of other things that prompted his words.
Maybe he used to shoot turkeys with his daddy when he was a little boy and he misses that happy time. (He knows his father is now losing his memory.)
But an opening has been created for this client to do some good work and for others in the group to begin thinking about what they will be missing or wishing for on Thanksgiving. It does, I believe, make my point.
Now a word about bridging-back…
There are so many opportunities for leaders to ask some thing like,
“You have such a satisfied smile of pleasure on your face. That’s a new face that you are letting the group see. Will you be willing to take us back to that time where you felt that pleasure? What are you seeing? What were you doing? Were you alone? Who were you with?
As the client describes the moment or event, reach for the affect that goes with it. “What brought it today in this room? Something another member said?”
You might suggest that the client put that memory in a toolbox when he or she needs to reach for something pleasant on a grim day.
Or, perhaps a couple comes in who are almost always angry at each other, hurling painful words, inflicting grievous wounds.
Why have they come to see you? Believe it or not, they want to save the marriage. Alert: It is bridge-back time.
“Well, there must have been a time when all this felt right and beautiful. Let’s go back there. To partner one: What was it you felt and saw when you first laid eyes on Joe? Then, to the other partner, ask a similar question.
Bring the romance into the room. Talk about the ways and how it was good. “When did you know this was the person you wanted to spend your life with, make and raise a family with?
This may be a chance to start over, find the spark and locate the things that went haywire. Rather than yelling and blaming each other, together we can set about discussing in ways that each of you can let yourself hear. This might be a way back to what you had and lost but want to find again.”
As a therapist, I must try bridging-back. Sometimes, however, you and the couple learn it’s not worth saving. It really is move-on time.
And about scenarios…
One more thing I keep in my head is a bucket full of scenarios.
Recently, in one of my supervision groups, an intern brought up a resistance that a client had displayed in the group. The intern wisely brought her feelings of what she felt to be ineptness on her part into supervision.
First, we need to have a look at why the client’s resistance had been so troubling for the intern. What were her feelings? Being careful about not taking on the role of her therapist, we gently see if there is anything in her own life she is experiencing when dealing with these feelings. I further might suggest that since client resistance is an ever-present part of our work the intern might consider taking this up with her own therapist.
Now back to the client who presented the resistance: This is when I begin to speak to my group of students about scenarios: Is this client frightened? Could this feel to her like a possible replication of an old trauma? Is she crumpling? Sad? Angry? Is her body rigid? Defiant? Does this place have too many rules? Does this facility feel like a prison to her? Had she served any time?
And perhaps all-important: Whose face did she have on the person she was resisting?
How would I suggest that my leaders help this woman? After one leader had honored her obvious distress, they both would go to what they know about this woman’s history that will lead them to the right questions to ask.
This behavior is new to the leaders, to the group. We know she lost a brother in Afghanistan. He had been her rock and her strength. We know her father is a drunken deadbeat with a cruel streak. We know her mother is fragile and pill dependent for her aches and pains. The group knows some pieces of her story. Now is the time for scenarios.
With the group’s help and support, she pokes around at the answer about why she resisted so fervently what had been asked of her. The students all contributed to the discussion about how the client could have been made to feel safe while she explored such threatening territory e.g. parent, boss, teacher, pastor, someone who took control of her life and thoughts while she felt she was losing herself.
Let’s hear it for a storehouse of scenarios. On some of them, you’ll be dead wrong. Take another path.
For some of you who have been doing this since forever, this must sound simplistic. But for those of you on the new side of group therapy, I hope you will find something useful.