By Jean Dixon
The Houston Group Psychotherapy Society’s annual Institute was held on April 10, 11, and 12. We were proud to have had Houston’s own Dr. Glen Gabbard to begin our annual event by speaking for the Ethics presentation on Thursday evening. Although ethics plays an important part of our work lives, readying, or rather, bracing, oneself to attend and “attentively” listen to three plus hours of an assumed lecture on the subject can easily generate anxiety.
Fortunately for our group, Dr. Gabbard offered a pleasant surprise with his presentation “Ethics—Ethics and Professional Boundaries in Psychotherapy: In The Office and in Cyberspace.” Dr. Gabbard’s interactive approach with his audience made for a enjoyable event.
For example, he challenged us with ethical dilemmas we currently face with regards to technology. Dr. Gabbard used a common sense approach rather than a right or wrong approach to his ethical dilemmas, always keeping confidentiality and privacy as his point of reference.
Due to Dr. Gabbard’s inviting demeanor, as well as the unease many of us feel about this topic, there was lots of audience participation. Social media, email, texting and computer communication will continue to be a challenging feature, to say the least, with regards to ethical requirements of confidentiality and protection of privacy and therefore a real challenge in our field.
But despite the ongoing problems this ethical dilemma will continue to present to us, Dr. Gabbard’s made it less scary. His openness and comfort both with the topic and the audience established a weekend in which we, the participants, learned and practiced being more comfortable, confident and open with each other.
The Friday and Saturday portion of the Institute was one of many long-time attendees adjusting to a new location. The medical center can be difficult to maneuver through and the journey in can easily become the emotional “stuff” we bring with us as we anticipate participating in Group Process training. However, as the Friday progressed and attendees settled into the rhythm and flow of what has become tradition and habit, a relaxing, comfortable connection began to descend and envelop us all.
The main presenter, Dr. Phil Flores, was exceptional in his ability to further connect, calm, and bring us together. As we listened, we learned, and, especially for those participating in his “fish bowl” groups, we gradually grew more intimate, as we embraced the experience and were all sharing. Dr. Flores is almost magical in his teach by connecting/engaging approach. His captivating presence naturally invited questions, and, for those who participated in the fish bowl group process, his skill as a group leader was both powerfully useful and impressive. For those who did not participate in the fish bowl, it was just as much a valuable experience; we were able to really see how he uses what he knows with what he does.
Dr. Flores’ presented material, “Interpersonal Neurobiology And Group Therapy: An Attachment Theory Perspective,” may seem to be intellectually challenging just by reading the title, and indeed, it is not simple. It is quite complex how the mind is altered by trauma. Dr. Flores’ usual slides, theories, and examples of studies were beneficial and thought provoking. But, like Dr. Gabbard, with his ability to make ethics fun and relevant, Dr. Flores’ memorable contribution was his naturalness with the crowd.
By the end of the weekend, the audience was singing together to songs that represented and symbolized the necessary repair when pain is experienced in attachments and trauma occurs.
Participating in a two-day process group can feel like trauma as it touches upon vulnerabilities. By singing songs about healing, the audience expressed to each person present, the purpose of the training, the message of which is, “people hurt and people heal.” We were reminded that we are capable of hurting together, singing together and, hopefully, healing together.
Although the topics of ethical problems of professional boundaries, confidentiality and privacy, and the topics of attachment, trauma and theory can be, at first, thought to be dry and even cold or impersonal, the very personal approaches of both Dr. Gabbard and Dr. Flores were a wonderful compliment to the mission of Houston Group Psychotherapy Society’s mission: Wonderful things can happen when we are in a group together.
When we arrive to participate in a group, we have assumptions, and we may even be unconsciously (or consciously) readying ourselves to defend our vulnerabilities, later only to realize that by being real, genuine and open we learn so much more. Concluding the end of the weekend, we not only left feeling more informed and confident in our work, we also left, as at the end of any group experience, having learned more about ourselves and hopefully feeling closer to each other.
We offer much appreciation to all of those who contributed to making the Institute a memorable one. We have so many wonderful, talented, committed members that volunteer their time, energies and skills to make HGPS such a wonderful community.
Big kudos goes to, of course, the Institute Committee, who works tirelessly to make it a success. This is no easy task but the friendships and connections that are created make it worthwhile.
To the group facilitators, also a big thank you, as it is such a blessing and thrill to see our own at work, fostering and teaching us their therapeutic skills and inviting us to participate in further developing unique skills and talents.
To our consultants, often the pillars of our community, thank you for giving of your time and your exceptional knowledge of group work to help train us in this approach.
And, finally, to those who attended, it is with each and every one of us being present and contributing that we made this year’s Institute one of the best.
As the institute committee is already underway for 2015’s Institute, we wish to show appreciation for all those who continue to support, participate and promote our annual event. And, for those who attended for the first time, we hope that you benefited from our weekend together. Participating in Group Process for two days does not leave you unaffected. It is impactful and will stay and grow with you even after you have returned to your normal life and to your not so normal job. We hope that you have grown and deepened your understanding of yourself and that you will want to come back for more.
HGPS is an organization that challenges us to be more open and vulnerable; by participating with us in this organization, you will also experience a sense of belonging and value. For those new members wanting to find a new place to get involved, joining the Institute Committee is a great way to begin that connection. HGPS is a community, like so many other professional groups, but it is one that really makes an effort to be what we teach.
Groups are what we do, and groups are who we are.