As I write this, I am sitting in a hotel room in Boston, Massachusetts. On the 15th Floor of some generic Westin. My body is exhausted and it is freaking cold outside but my feet are warm and my energized heart is even warmer. For downstairs somewhere, in multiple meeting rooms, sit a countless number of people from all parts of the world that I have come to love over the years. They are my people. My collegial community. My fellow “groupies.”
I have grown-up in this organization – the American Group Psychotherapy Association. And I do not mean just professionally. We group therapists learn to lead groups experientially – by being in a group. So yes, I have been poked, prodded, appropriately shamed and loved up on by the best in the field.
I will never forget the first time I attended AGPA. It was many moons ago in Houston, Texas. As casually as flipping a coin, I randomly picked some two-day process group. “Ah, this one sounds ok” and off I went. After spending two days in a room with close to thirty people and a brilliant laser-like miner of a New York modern group psychoanalyst, I was hooked. Sign-me up again next year.
In those earlier years, I was frozen. Silent, quiet. (I know … hard to believe, right?!) I just watched and took it all in. I wanted to speak and yet my body was immobilized … it would not let me open my mouth. I was like a baby being offered a full bottle and refusing to drink. But something kept taking me back. And that same wonderful, awful wise man I met in Houston kept hounding me to open my damn mouth ’cause I had things to say.
He was onto something. My defensive radar was as strong and stringent as the TSA. No one is coming close to me. Everyone is a potential threat. No one is getting on that plane, my plane. But he knew what I needed and chose to persevere. He was determined to get me to dance – with him, but mostly with myself. He offered me the patience and the safety I needed to re-evaluate my defensive posture. Did I really need to be that walled-off to dangers that I perceived but may in fact really no longer be present? He spoke with mother-ease yet did not shy from the much needed nudge I required toward the risk of exposure.
And somewhere over the years, perhaps without my even consciously knowing it, my body, mouth and spirit started to thaw. I no longer needed to play dead and stop breathing. I could engage in greater and greater contact with spontaneity and play.
I am grown-up now (or at least “enough so,” they said). And just yesterday, I finished leading my own two-day group of young, spry, teachable yet terrified beginning group therapists. What an honor. To now be the parent and rock my own babies. To provide a setting that diffuses defenses and increases neural circuitry. To intuit needs, wants and feelings when their mouths can’t let them tell me with words just yet. To hold them as they taste the deliciousness and the restoration of real human contact. To provide space for the unspeakable to not only be spoken, but for it to be accepted as authentic and courageous.
I am once again awed and humbled. I have a front-row seat to all things most human. Others entrust me with their journey and I have the opportunity to do this most crucial life-saving work. Thank you.