I forgot how much I love teaching group counseling.
Maybe I forgot because I haven’t taught Group Counseling at the University of Montana since 2017. Whatever the reason, last week, I remembered.
I remembered because I got to provide a group-oriented counseling training to seven very cool program managers and staff of the Big Sky Youth Empowerment program in Bozeman. We started with a structured question and answer opening, followed with a self-reflective debrief, and then re-started with a different version of the same opening so we could engage in a second self-reflective debrief. I’ve used this opening several times when teaching group; it’s getting better every time.
I love the experiential part where I get to flit back and forth between process facilitator and contributor. I love the opportunity to quote Irvin Yalom about the “self-reflective loop” and “The group leader is the norm-setter and role model.” Then I love getting to quote Yalom again, “Cohesion is the attraction of the group for its members.” And again, “I have a dilemma . . .” Boom. When teaching group counseling, the Yalom quotes never stop!
Groups are about individuals and groups and individuals’ learning from the power of groups. I get to learn and re-learn about strong openings, monopolizers, closing for consolidation, and the natural temptation of everyone in the group to fix other group members’ problems—and the need for group facilitators to tightly manage the problem-solving process. We get to “go vertical” and back out through linking and then “go horizontal.”
Tomorrow I head back to Bozeman for more training with the fabulous BYEP staff. Part of the day we’ll focus on specific group facilitation techniques, which reminded me of a handout I created back in 2017. The handout lists and provides examples for 18 different group counseling techniques/strategies. For anyone interested, the group techniques handout is here:
I hope you’re all having a great Memorial Day and engaging in something that feels like just the right amount of meaningful or remembrance for you on this important holiday when we recognize individuals who made huge sacrifices for the sake of the greater and common good of the group.
Yesterday I submitted a manuscript for publication in a professional journal. The journal portal insisted that the telephone number linked to the University of Montana began with a 770 prefix. For us Montanans, that’s blasphemy. We are 406.
The automated message from the journal portal arrived instantaneously. That was amazing. The fact that the automated message was also copied to a former doc student from Pakistan who wasn’t listed as an author was less amazing. That’s the point now, I suppose. We live in a world where we’re pummeled by glitches and errors into desensitized or over-sensitized submission. Every time I start up my Outlook program it drones on about “Profile error. Something went wrong.” At this point, even Microsoft has given up on figuring out what went wrong with its own programming.
My high school friend who has an answer to everything tells me this is a universal experience wherein our expectations that things will work are repeatedly and systematically crushed. That could be a Buddhist outcome, because we’re forced to let go of our expectations. Unless, of course, we have the anti-Buddhist experience of outrage over our overattachment to things working.
This morning I’m checking in for my flight to Atlanta for the American Counseling Association conference. I’m worried by a message in the fine print from ACA implying that I may need a special adaptor to connect my computer to the conference center sound system. I’m also worried about why Delta has decided to charge me to check a bag, even though I have their coveted American Express Skymiles card.
Good news. My worries are mostly small. If there’s no sound system at the conference center, I can yell and mime the video clips I’m planning to show. I can easily (albeit resentfully) pay to check a bag, or I can reduce my packing into a carry-on. If my doc student from 10-years past gets the email, she’ll be glad to hear from me.
Delta is now telling me that the card I downgraded to a couple years ago—because of minimal travel during pandemic lockdowns—doesn’t include a free checked bag. In response, I have to check my emotional response to my overattachment to not paying a baggage fee. Easy-peasy (maybe).
On a brighter note, if you’re planning to be at ACA, I hope to see you from behind our masks. I’m presenting three times. Here they are:
Friday, April 8 at 11am to noon: The Way of the Humanist: Illuminating the Path from Suicide to Wellness in the Georgia World Congress Center, Room B302-B303.
Friday, April 8 at 3:30pm to 4:30pm: Using a Strengths-Based Approach to Suicide Assessment and Treatment in Your Counseling Practice in the Georgia World Congress Center, Room B207-B208
Saturday, April 9 at 10am to 11:30am: Being Seen, Being Heard: Strategies for Working with Adolescents in the Age of TikTok (with Chinwe Uwah Williams) in the Georgia World Congress Center, Room B406.
There’s a button on the Delta page saying “Talk with us?” I click on it and am directed to pre-prepared answers to common questions. Sadly, none of the common questions are my uncommon question. Like Moodle and Quicken and Microsoft and Qualtrics and Apple and Verizon and Grubhub and Tevera and Garmin and Xfinity and Chase and the many other corporate entities in my life, Delta doesn’t really want to talk with me. I suppose I could get into the weeds here and complain that pre-prepped answers aren’t exactly the same as talking, but we all know how this ends. My high school friend’s hypothesis would be affirmed. My expectations would be crushed, only to rise again, in the form of a rising blood pressure event not worthy of my time.
Speaking of time, as I get older, the decisions over how to spend time get pluckier. Do I write something silly like this, or do I go out to the garden, or do I set up another speaking event, or do I work on our Montana Happiness Project website, or do I volunteer somewhere, or do I wash it all away with family time?
This afternoon, I’ll fly to Georgia, where, on Thursday, I’ll teach my happiness class and engage in various consultations from a hotel, before giving three presentations at the American Counseling Association World Conference on Friday and Saturday, before I fly to Portland to see my ailing father in Vancouver, WA, before I fly back to Billings to get back to gardening. I’ll miss my 8-year-old granddaughter’s play in Missoula . . . and many (I was tempted to say “countless” but as a scientist, I’m philosophically opposed to the words countless and tireless) other possible events.
Irvin Yalom likes to point out that one choice represents the death of all others. Truth. There is no multitasking, there’s only the rush to sequentially tasking as much or as many life permutations as possible to fight Yalom’s existential dilemma of choosing and freedom and the angst and weight of our decisions.
My internal editor is complaining about how many “ands” I’ve used in this speedy essay. Even more sadly, the last editor-friend who told me about my penchant for too many “ands” and too many “quotes” has passed away. I miss him.
As a consistent voice and source of support, Rita is recommending I let go of my rigid hopes and expectations and pay the extra $120 to check my bag. At the same time, I’m resisting the death of multitasking, which is why I’m downsizing my packing for seven days into a carry-on bag.
I suppose that’s what the 1970’s band Kansas might say.
Carry on my wayward son
There’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more
At the risk of worrying you all more than I’m worrying myself (I’m doing fine; this is just creative expression or long form slam poetry), I’m in disagreement with that last line from the Kansas band. Don’t you cry no more is terrible advice.
Maybe the lyrics from that old Leslie Gore song fit better.
It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to . . .
That’s not quite right either. It’s more like,
I’ll cry when I’m moved to . . . for Ukraine, for the forgotten children, for the marginalized and oppressed, for my father, for the hungry.
We all have many good reasons we to cry. Grief, whether from the death of friends or ideas or choices, is a process; it comes and goes and comes and goes.
It’s easy to forget that grief is what’s happening in between our times of being happy. Happiness begets grief. And . . . that sounds like something my friend who has an answer for everything might just agree with.
My family of origin had its own mythical creation story.
In the beginning, we (my two sisters and me), were playing cards in my mother’s stomach. Somehow Gayle won (I suspect she cheated), and got to be born first. Peggy won the second round (more cheating) and was thereafter dubbed first loser. Being lonely for about 33 months, I finally managed to win a game of solitaire, and was officially born second loser (aka Pokey II).
My parents named Gayle, Gale Caren. Being smart, independent, and convinced she knew better than anyone, at about age 12, Gale protested. She convinced my parents to take legal action to spell her name correctly. Who does that? From then on, she was and is Gayle Karen. I will always remember her spelling it, loud and clear, G-A-Y-L-E. Whenever the speech-to-text function on my phone misspells her name, I immediately change it. From early on, Gayle knew what was right. As it turns out, according to the Freakonomics dudes, children who grow up with oddly spelled names experience worse educational and achievement outcomes. Duh! G-A-Y-L-E knew that back in 1964, took matters into her own hands, and changed the arc of her destiny.
As we know from developmental research, girls who grow up with a clear sense of identity and an assertive (I know what I want) style, do well in life. Gayle knew what she wanted. She became known as the “bossy” one. But Gayle was much more than bossy; she was a leader.
The famous existential group psychotherapist, Irvin Yalom (who, by the way, at age 88 will be keynoting again for the American Counseling Association in San Diego in April), says that group leaders are, by default, role-models and norm setters. Whoever takes the lead, implicitly and explicitly sets behavioral standards for everyone else. As group members, we cannot help but be influenced by the leader’s norms and behaviors. Group leaders show us the way.
In my family, more often than not, Gayle showed us the way.
In her early teens, Gayle designed and produced a neighborhood newspaper. Who does that? At age nine, I got to be the neighborhood sports reporter. Gayle mentored me as I wrote my very first publication. How many nine-year-old boys get big sisters who publish their first article?
Gayle organized backyard carnivals. Among the many backyard activities, we had fishing booths; fishing booth are like portable walls that carnival attendees sling ropes over. Then, two people behind the wall who are running the booth, grab the rope, and use clothes pins to clip on the “fishing” prize. These were big events. Gayle was a legacy in the neighborhood; she was a genius at organizing events and willing them to happen. Gayle was often the force that led us to organize ourselves into a family team that made things happen.
Not only did I learn skills of leadership from Gayle, I also learned skills of followership. Put in terms used by the famous psychological theorist Alfred Adler, Gayle taught me how to be in a community and how to cooperate. Gayle didn’t (and still doesn’t) know Adler or Yalom or any other famous names in psychology, but sometimes when I study them, I think to myself, ah . . . I started learning about these things before I turned 10, from Gayle.
Sometimes Gayle made mistakes and taught us things we shouldn’t do. Older siblings are great for that. I remember and tease Gayle for some of her quirks. But I think the only reason I get so much delight in remembering a few of Gayle’s neurotic behaviors is because they were exceptions. Most of the time (and I’m talking directly to you now Gayle), you weren’t just the bossy one; you were the smart one, the organized one, the relentlessly focused one, and the one who helped your subordinates (Peggy and me) learn how to be smarter and how to contribute to the good of the family and neighborhood.
Later in life when you experienced challenges and sadness, you modeled for me how people can cope with unplanned hardships and come out stronger on the other side. You were (and are still) a role model for me for that, and for so many other things. But in particular, your ability to sift the wheat from the chaff and focus like a laser on what’s important in the moment is illuminating.
Somehow, despite no college education, you took yourself from waitressing at Earl Kelley’s buffet diner, to being a bank teller, to being a bank vice president, and on to becoming an IT leader with AT&T and Blue Shield of Oregon. You are the epitome of American success. You worked your way to the top.
I hope you know that I know, despite me having a Ph.D., and Peggy (who bit me) having a Master’s degree, in our family, you were always the smart one. You were always the leader. You could discern the right and moral direction without a compass or a Bible. I am amazed and humbled at your success. I am happy and grateful to have been led by you, to follow you, and to learn from you. I am forever grateful that you cheated in our first card game, because, really I was the winner; I won the prize of having you as my big sister.
G is for Gratitude. G is for Gayle. G is for a tie (with Peggy, even though she bit me), for the Greatest sister of all time.
Happy late birthday from your brother, who, as you know, is usually late in all things.
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