The Power of the (Small) Group--Part One

I’ve been a member of many groups during my adult life; some were retreats lasting as little as 4.5 entire days all the way up to those that met monthly for several years. In part one of this post I provide a synopsis of some of them.

As a 21-year-old undergraduate psychology student I volunteered at The Warm Place, a grief support organization for children and their families. I co-facilitated preteen and teen groups. Before each evening of potluck dinner followed by support groups, the facilitators would meet with a staff member and a licensed therapist who monitored the groups. We began by checking in with each person to see how his or her previous two weeks had been. At the time I endured roommate struggles, for some a rite-of-passage in college. My fellow facilitators, mostly middle-aged and from all walks of life, treated me with respect and support as I shared my conflicts. I loved my whole experience there and learned so much about grief, children, group process, and myself. Incidentally, on my final evening at The Warm Place, the therapist told me I would make a good counselor someday. Five years later I met him again, this time as a doctorate student a year ahead of me in our program.

Three years later I was a teaching assistant in a kindergarten of a child development laboratory school while taking classes for a doctorate in Child Development that after two semesters I chose not to complete. On Friday afternoons the head teacher would meet with us two teaching assistants and whoever was the early childhood education student teacher at the time. We planned curriculum for the week, discussed students, and problem-solved. Despite having decades more teaching experience than the rest of us, the head teacher always asked our opinions and collaborated with us as equals. It was empowering.

During one summer in graduate school, I experienced being a member of a true counseling group. I think there was 5-6 of us including the professor who served as facilitator. I had been “strongly encouraged” by another professor to participate, meaning I went into the experience somewhat resistant (not everyone in my cohort received such an invitation) yet my pleasing nature at the time resulted in my being open and cooperative. I began as shy and quiet and left feeling more confident about myself as a result of the support and challenge I received from the leader and other members.

For two semesters I was in a supervision group that included myself, two fellow doc students, and our more advanced doc student supervisor who created a safe place for us to consult with one another on cases, blow off steam from the stresses of graduate school, and use art to gain more awareness into ourselves and our counseling clients. This group was so helpful and making art was so relaxing we often would meet longer than the required amount of time.

A few years ago I was a part of Jamie Ridler’s Circe’s Circle, a 10-week creative tele-coaching group, with 6 other women from the U.S., Canada, and France. The support I received from Jamie and the other women as well as what I learned about myself through the creative activities was just what I needed at the time. I am still in touch with many of these women via social media and have met one of them in person.

I’ve taken many, many ecourses from artists, writers, and life coaches with members anywhere from the tens to hundreds. Some have felt therapeutic like a supportive community while others have been more like a class. There are a host of possible reasons for this including the topic; leader’s knowledge, skill, and experience level; characteristics of the group members themselves; and my own interest and effort level.

For years I was a member of a book club that unfortunately disbanded as other members were taken away by their children’s activities. I do so enjoy discussing books, eating dessert, and the fellowship of other women. I have led many other parent education groups and internship groups for counseling supervision. Today I still lead internship groups and teach undergraduate group counseling courses. I prefer smaller class sizes when feasible so the students and I can sit in a circle. This format allows more intimacy and focus on experiential activities.

Part Two of this post will focus on the necessary ingredients for a successful group.

A Centering Hymn

I recently heard the following hymn. It was new to me. I am drawn to its words, like poetry. Of course, you can substitute any word for God or Spirit if those words don't work for you.

Come and Find the Quiet Center

Words by Shirley Evena Murray

©1992 Hope Publishing

 

Come and find the quiet center in the crowded life we lead,

Find the room for hope to enter, find its frame where we are freed:

Clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes that we can see

All the things that really matter, be at peace and simply be.

 

Silence is a friend who claims us, cools the heat and slows the pace,

God it is who speaks and names us, knows our being, touches base,

Making space within our thinking, lifting shades to show the sun.

Raising courage when we’re shrinking, finding scope for faith begun.

 

In the Spirit let us travel, open to each other’s pain,

Let our loves and fears unravel, celebrate the space we gain:

There’s a place for deepest dreaming, there’s a time for heart to care,

In the Spirit’s lively scheming there is always room to spare!

Who I Am

I am a lifelong learner, spiritual seeker, lover of all things creative, dabbler in the visual arts (especially mixed-media painting and photography), book reader, and writer. Artists, poets, writers, and singer-songwriters inspire me and make me happy.

The many hats I wear in no particular order—daughter, sister, friend, wife, mother, professor, play therapist, counselor, blogger, committee and board member. I’ve lived in Iowa, Utah, Indiana, four places in Texas, and now in Kentucky.

I value play, creativity, self-expression, genuineness, honesty, freedom, service, compassion for myself and others, connection and community, and internal and external beauty. I want to use my gifts, talents, education, training, and experiences to help others and make a positive impact on the world. I attempt to see the glass as half full and live life according to my values. I fail at this but then I begin again.

While I love and am fascinated by human beings, my favorite people are 4-year-olds. They are so imaginative, creative, honest, and full of vitality. I am also attracted to those who stand up for what they believe in or what is right even when it’s unpopular. I endeavor to do the same.

I am an INTJ or an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, depending on the day, which means I am an introvert (I need time alone to recharge), I’m intuitive, I’m both a thinker and a feeler, and I’m quite organized. I prefer drama and romantic comedies that make me think and touch me in some way. I have a dry sense of humor. I hate violence so I prefer not to see action-oriented movies.

I was extremely shy as a child and have mostly overcome it. My shyness still comes out sometimes when I am in a new situation with people I don’t know. I am a highly sensitive person. My sensitivity is my superpower. It is extremely helpful in understanding and connecting with students and clients, but sometimes I take things too personally. I am touched by the enormity of the human condition, and I feel things very deeply.

As I a child I wanted to be a scientist, accountant, architect, and teacher like my mother. I was good at math and science. My favorite moments in second grade were when the teacher got out the Creative Writing Wheel and we wrote our own stories. I didn’t like to read because I was a slow reader. (People can change. I love to read now.) I loved to draw floor plans of houses. Today, I am increasingly aware how our physical environment affects us on many levels.

While I’m tall and long-legged, I didn’t play sports as a child. I’m not a physical risk taker and not very competitive. I’m mostly a sports fan when my teams are winning (my alum TCU Horned Frogs, the Dallas Cowboys or Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, and Texas Rangers).

I could get lost in a library, book store, arts and crafts store, or gift shop. I prefer to listen and dance to classic rock, ‘80s pop, and disco. Even though I have allergies, I love to spend time in nature, especially if I’m warm enough. Trees, flowers, birds, mountains, the ocean, lakes, rivers, streams…

I met my husband in graduate school. He is a fellow counselor and teaches in the same department and college as me. We will be married 20 years in May. Together we have a 15-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son.

My “Creds”

Education

  • BS in Psychology with a minor in Biology from Texas Christian University

  • MA in Counseling with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy from St. Mary’s University

  • PhD in Counseling and Student Services with an emphasis in Play Therapy and Human Development and Family Studies

Licenses and Certifications

  • Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor

  • National Certified Counselor

  • Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor

 Published articles and book chapters and presented at local, state, and national level particularly in the area of play therapy

 Interviewed for local, national, and international radio and podcasts including

 Professional Memberships

  • American Counseling Association

  • Association for Creativity in Counseling

  • Association for Play Therapy: Member of Board of Directors (2012-2018) and Leadership Academy graduate

  • International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors

  • Kentucky Association for Play Therapy: Past President

  • Kentucky Mental Health Counseling Association

 I have taught 4 different undergraduate courses (of which 1 I created) and 11 graduate courses (of which 6 I have created).

 I am available as a speaker and presenter on a variety of topics related to play, creativity, play therapy, and counseling.  Contact me here