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Interview with Our 2020 Spring Conference Presenter, Kristi Vera, LCSW-C - Mid-Atlantic Group Psychotherapy Society (MAGPS)

Interview with Our 2020 Spring Conference Presenter, Kristi Vera, LCSW-C


Interview with Our Spring Conference Presenter,

Kristi Vera, LCSW

with Lisa Haileab Daniels, PhD

I was excited for the opportunity to interview Kristi Vera in preparation for our Spring Conference. Here is a preview of our upcoming weekend. I hope you’ll consider joining us.

Lisa: MAGPS members are looking forward to you leading us in our spring conference, which you have entitled “Post-Processing: A Means to Being Seen.” How did you become interested in the conference topic and how do you define what it means to be “seen?”

Kristi: I was initially trained using post-processing as part of an interpersonal process group model, so its use has always been my norm. Both what the literature discusses, and what some qualitative research suggests is that it brings to light processes unknown to the client, although during group these processes are experienced and made known to the other members. So, the client is seen in the most basic sense, in that their interpersonal functioning is brought to light, and to their conscious awareness. As they become more aware of their own process, they also tend to become more aware of that of the other group members. This, I believe to be a first step toward mentalization when they can begin to hold the other members in their heart and mind, and thus, a step toward building greater empathy as well.

Lisa: As an experienced group therapist, that has taught group psychotherapy as well as facilitated groups, can you share how technology has impacted these experiences?

Kristi: Our group members are often members of various types of online groups. These can be both helpful and non-helpful. These online groups can help them find others similar to them, or with similar struggles, evoking universality. We find with our clients, especially concerning social media, that online groups can also evoke social comparison. Research has suggested this is a contributing factor to the depression and anxiety that our clients experience. In some ways, they are comparing themselves to only what the other presents online, and not to their full self. Also, online groups without video don’t evoke social engagement in the same ways that face-to-face interaction does. At Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), where I work, we videotape all of our groups and use the tape in various ways.  First, group leaders participate in group supervision where we share our work with other clinicians with the goal of getting feedback to improve our facilitation skills. Second, we provide clients with the opportunity to review tape if they want. While this is rare, clients do ask to see the tapes, and it is typically in response to a process comment made where they are unaware of something they do. We have an agreement that they then have to share that experience with the other group members the next time group meets. In this way, that part of themselves that is both known to self and known to others is expanded.

Lisa: Can you share some background history on the post-processing technique and what led you to use it?

Kristi: I was initially trained in group therapy by Jack Corazzini, Ph.D., the co-founder of Division 49, Society of Group Psychology and Group Psychotherapy. Post-processing was part of the group model he practiced, so I have used post-processing from the start. Its antecedent was the T-group where Kurt Lewin was trying to train leaders from Connecticut who could train community leaders to address racism and ethnic tension. Community leaders described the experience of getting feedback about their behavior as “electric”. Given the current socio-political state of our country, I think we all could benefit from some form of post-processing if we were willing to listen.

Lisa: Given your expertise in working with trauma survivors, can you talk about the utility of post-processing in addressing trauma in the group?

Kristi: Some Ph.D. students from VCU have done their dissertational research on post-processing.  What some of the qualitative feedback suggests is that post-processing also serves a containing function, and provides a cognitive framework that has allowed our clients to do their work, but then also walk out the door and into class the next moment and be able to function. Successful trauma treatment helps clients stay within their window of tolerance enough to be able to digest the trauma work they’ve been doing. Post-processing can help frame that work for them and provide a container in which members can psychologically leave their traumatic material, knowing that we can return to it next week in therapy.

Lisa: How has technology impacted your work as a certified sensorimotor psychotherapist?

Kristi: Level 1 Sensorimotor psychotherapy uses moment-by-moment tracking to identify possible truncated action tendencies with the goal of helping clients complete those action tendencies as a way to resolve some of their trauma on a body level. This requires attunement from the clinician since many movements are quite small, such as a shudder across a client’s cheek. This is not always noticeable on video. What video can show is movements of which the clinician was not aware, or places where interventions either contributed to a client getting stuck/frozen, or where their nervous system experiences a release. Technology can also record “acts of triumph” which can serve as a record for both clients and clinicians of where clients have broken through and experienced some trauma resolution. Diana Fosha, Ph.D., is not a sensorimotor psychotherapist, but she uses technology and offers clients the opportunity to take video home from their session. The video focuses on the face of both the client and the clinician, thus helping the client to see mutual social engagement systems functioning together hopefully. It is the metaprocessing of these experiences that contribute to the client’s growth. I would argue that the same metaprocessing is inherent in group psychotherapy as a natural component of the work.

For more information about our upcoming conference, please click here. We will look forward to seeing you April 18-19, 2020.

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