Reflections on the Fall Conference from Scholarship Attendees

From Brian Shavitz, Towson University:

I did not know what to expect at the MAGPS Fall Conference, and I found the experience to be a mostly positive one. The small process groups were especially interesting and intense, as I had never experienced a group atmosphere such as that one. Whereas in “real life,” there is a necessity for small talk when getting to know people (a convention I usually find awkward and annoying), within the small groups any notion of small talk was thrown out the window. The experience of sharing within the group made me feel both vulnerable and empowered. Whereas the large plenary sessions were somewhat boring and a bit corporate-feeling, and the speakers Bill and Vivian left a lot to be desired, the small group sessions made the conference a worthwhile and unforgettable experience.

From Dana Edwards, LICSW, Towson University:

My experience at the Mid-Atlantic Group Psychotherapy Society (MAGPS) Fall Conference was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I didn’t know what to expect upon my entry into the conference. What I got was an encounter filled with fruitful interactions, challenging conversations and insightful reflections. My encounters with the mentors were always helpful and encouraging. I felt welcomed. Everyone seemed willing to experiment in the moment and I enjoyed the freedom of that expectation. I would definitely suggest that any therapist/counselor young in the profession or exceptionally seasoned take a chance and participate in this well organized, insightful, energizing experience.

From Helen Runyan, Old Dominion University:

My experience with the conference began prior to even getting there. I was graciously offered a scholarship, so that was my initial contact. Talk about starting on a positive note! I was also given a mentor. I was told that I could choose to use her or not, but at least I had the option. I applaud this effort by MAGPS to make sure attendees feel comfortable for their first time.

On the first day of the conference, I was late getting there due to traffic. The entire drive (once I realized I was going to be late), I was anxious for two reasons. First, I hate being late to anything. Second, I had been warned by more than one person not to be late to the conference. When I arrived at the registration table, I was greeted courteously and welcomed. A gentleman who (I later learned) was the conference planner even escorted me into the plenary. I felt awkward standing at the back of the room. This same gentleman whispered to me that there were chairs up front. I told him that I really did not want to walk in late past all those people to take a seat up front. We stood there for a few more minutes and then he told me he was going to sit down and I was welcome to join him. I gratefully accepted and took a seat in the front row. The speakers asked us to do an exercise with a partner. Because I had only caught the last part of the instructions, I was grateful that a colleague who had arrived even later than I was willing to be my partner. After the initial discomfort, the rest of the plenary went smoothly. I did not learn a lot, probably due to my anxiety more than anything else. After the session, I checked into the hotel and was grateful to get a room just down the hall from the conference. I retired rather than attend the reception.

On the second day of the conference, the meeting format was interesting. After the plenary, my mentor sought me out and asked me how it was going. She continued to check in with me throughout the conference. It was great to feel so supported.

My main interest was the small group participation, so I was happy when we separated into groups after the plenary. I was also warned ahead of time about the intensity of these small groups. One of my colleagues warned me that I should not feel pressured to share. She told me that two other students who attended the conference with her “broke down.” I was not overly worried about it, but I was a little cautious as the session started. As we all introduced ourselves, I realized that this really was a safe place and that I needed to put myself out there if I really wanted to learn anything. So that is exactly what I did. The morning group really focused on forming the group, with a little storming as group members tried to get some background information from the group leaders.

The second plenary that day was uneventful. By this point, I was much more interested in the group sessions than the lectures. The second group was intense. We talked about family of origin issues. For my part, I revealed that my father had never been there for me. The group was very supportive and used expletives toward him. I think they found it amusing that I used initials to refer to what they said because I do not curse. They said that was okay, they did curse. The female leader invited me to project my feelings toward the male leader as a father figure. She noted that I would not even look at him. By the end of that session, I felt like I had established a trust with the male leader. I felt like he would support me, unlike my father.

The third day, I was puttering around my room, not really worried about being a little late to the plenary. I looked at my schedule and realized that the group was first. I quickly got ready and made it to group just in time. The male leader did not show up until more than halfway through the group. After apologizing and saying that he did not get the wake-up call from the hotel, he said that he was proud of all the work we had done in his absence. I immediately started sobbing; I get a little choked up even as I recount it. After processing it, I realized that it symbolized what I had missed from my own father. The group leader had missed so much, but he came back. Not only that, but he said he was proud of the work that was done in his absence.

I normally keep my spiritual beliefs out of papers, but I feel freer to share in this paper because it is about my personal experience. I believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe that I could have had a great experience had everything not happened exactly how it did; however, I believe that God gave me exactly what I needed to have that awesome experience. On one hand, I am sure that the male facilitator was not very happy about being late. On the other, I do not think that I could have had such a healing experience had he been prompt.

I realize that much of this paper might be more personal than necessary, but I do not think I could relay how powerful my experience was without the intimate details. Many of my friends said that they did not have a great experience at the conference. Personally, I believe that you get what you give. Because I was willing to put myself out there, I was able to receive so much more. This experience has not only given me a personal experience to cherish, it has strengthened and affirmed my belief in the power of groups.

From Jennifer Osing, Towson University:

My experience at the Fall 2010 MAGPS conference was more beneficial than I ever could have imagined. I met a ton of friendly, supportive people who helped me through the entire weekend. The small group discussions were the most helpful for me as a student to learn from experience what being in group therapy actually feels like. I was able to see what groups are like from a member’s point-of-view and this was an invaluable education. My only complaint is that there are only 3 small group meetings! My leaders and fellow members were so warm and caring that I would have loved to continue meeting with them.

From Sarah Nisonger, Towson University:

I found the Mid-Atlantic Group Psychotherapy Society conference to be an extremely valuable experience. As a student, I gain a tremendous amount of classroom experience and the conference added to this knowledge. In addition, an experiential piece was incorporated which allowed me to gain experience and knowledge that you simply cannot receive in the classroom. The opportunity for networking and getting to know other professionals in the field from around the world is an added bonus! Overall, I feel that that conference was an excellent experience and I look forward to attending future conferences.

From Victoria Sanders, Old Dominion University:

I felt the conference was very informative. The guest speakers placed the co-therapist roles into a simple perspective that even a beginner could understand. The role playing activities were exceptionally helpful when demonstrating the dynamics of a group with two leaders. Although the group sessions were not what I had anticipated, they challenged me to grow both emotionally and professionally. This was an excellent conference and I intend to attend again in the future.

From Lisa Early, Towson University:

My experience at the MAGPS conference in October far exceeded my expectations. I was greeted and welcomed warmly. I found the lectures informative but where I was really engaged was in my small group. This was my first time being a member in a group and it was a fascinating encounter from the very beginning to the final few minutes of the last session. I was able to watch the group dynamics unfold while deeply meaningful interactions connected complete strangers in a truly significant way that allowed important issues to be processed. What I learned about myself and the group process is something that I will carry with me into both my professional and personal world. Thank you for the opportunity and I look forward to attending in the future.