Reflections on the Spring Conference from Scholarship Attendees

From Jen Bissell:

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have received a scholarship to attend this year’s Mid-
Atlantic Group Psychotherapy Society’s Spring Conference. This is my second conference that I have
participated in through MAGPS and each time I have left the weekend feeling as if I have personally and
professionally gained something of great value that is difficult for me to immediately articulate or to
name, but I know is there.

The combination of the faculty fishbowl, the demonstration groups and the small group experience,
created an emotionally powerful and fulfilling experience. Each component enhanced my skills, but
in very different ways. The fishbowl discussion was intellectually stimulating and provided wonderful
validation for how each of us integrates theory into our practice differently and develops individual
relationships with theory. The small process groups continue to be such a tremendously moving
experience for me, one that truly affirms the power of in vivo learning. To participate in these small
groups and see how the group connects, develops, addresses conflict and transforms over just three
sessions in two short days, is a powerfully moving experience that reaffirms my belief in the power of
the group.

Thank you for providing me with this opportunity to attend and participate so fully.

From Steven Spatz:

I consider myself very fortunate that I was given the opportunity to attend the Spring 2012 MAGPS
Conference held in Washington, D.C. this April. Receiving the Louisa Schwartz scholarship enabled me
to have an enriching experience, as I was able to gain insight into the use of specific group counseling
theories and learn from more seasoned clinicians. From the moment I arrived, I felt welcomed and was
pleased with the variety of familiar and new faces I encountered throughout the weekend.

Being in Mike Stiers and Rose McIntyre’s small group was a valuable experience for my own growth;
it was interesting to see how each member brought unique characteristics and life experiences to the
group. I also really appreciated the support of my mentor for the conference, Rob Williams, as he
helped me learn the nuances of the MAGPS conferences and discussed his own group experiences with
me. Watching the group demonstrations by Steve Van Wagner and his modern analytic approach and
Mary Ann Dubner and her relational approach was informative and I appreciated seeing use of specific
techniques in action. Additionally, I must thank my supervisor, Katherine Thorn, and my group professor
from graduate school, Dr. Robert Bernstein, for their wisdom and insight during the course of the two
day conference. Thank you again for the wonderful opportunity to attend the Spring 2012 MAGPS
conference and I look forward to attending again in the future!

From Katrin Ana T. Haller:

What I have learned in my clinical encounters in a more structured clinical setting is the need for sustenance and how to use systems to get enough sustenance. This requires a greater awareness of self and other in the awareness that we are both: self and other. Winnicott (1960) comes to mind in that “There’s no such thing as a baby (p. 39).” Whether you apply theory in order to facilitate the creative process of change or the other way around, or in the more confined interplay of both in the (often asymmetric) circle of the group, the essence of the change process remains the quality of a genuine connection with its layers embedded in the many contexts of life.

Having participated in this conference, and honored to say that I have been a recipient of a scholarship, has somewhat facilitated me, in varying degrees, to de-clutter the mindset of my own professional self in my conscious attempt to connect. I found the group to unravel psychotic parts of the self in their multiplicity within it. The group seems to contain these parts with much force yet with less shameful exposure of the individual self. Hence, in my experience the group provides comfort and grinds. The definition of any ongoing approach remains a matter of both theory and experience. I personally wonder though whether any group can provide enough sustenance considering the multitude of enactments. Like in the small group, can there be healing that lasts?

Winnicott, D. W. (1960), The theory of parent-infant relationship. In: The maturational processes and the facilitating environment. New York: International Universities Press, 1965, pp. 37-55.

From Liz Marsh:

The MAGPS Spring 2012 conference was quite a gift! The intimacy of a small conference allowed me an opportunity to interact with many talented clinicans in my field and to feel included in a way that I haven’t before at bigger events. I left feeling that I had several mentors to connect with in the future.

Besides the intimacy of the conference and my small group expereince, which was maybe my best yet, I have to say that my personal highlight was the discussion group on the value of theory. It was a treat to be able to listen to more experienced therapists talking about how they work. This is something that I wish I had more opportunities to witness. It fostered a great discussion and I left considering my own use of theory.

Thank you again for the opportunity.

From Rachel Miller:

I have already been urging all of my classmates in my graduate program to attend MAGPS in the fall! My first clinically-focused conference, I found it to be an enlightening experience which I will take with me throughout my clinical training. From the large group sessions demonstrating various modes and theories of group psychotherapy, to the small group session, I am grateful to have observed and partaken in process-oriented groups for the first time. My small group co-leaders provided an excellent model for effective ways of facilitating group therapy. I was blown away to be in the same group with some true pioneers in psychology, and was humbled by their genuineness and warmth. Thank you for this experience, and I look forward to attending MAGPS in the future!

From Anonymous:

As a training psychiatry resident, I was able to benefit significantly from the Mid-Atlantic Group Psychotherapy Society’s Spring Conference held at Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital, April 21-22, 2012. I currently lead a weekly psycho educational group therapy with another resident where the aim is to educate individuals in care about important issues related to mental health education. This has been my first and only exposure to group psychotherapy and the conference provided new insights into different aspects of the group process.

In general, I was aware of the fact that group therapy is intended to help people improve their ability to cope with difficulties and problems in their lives. However by listening to experts in the field at the conference, I now realize that group therapy also focuses on interpersonal interactions within the group setting. Particularly by observing members in the two large group sessions on both days, I was able to see how group psychotherapy helps to address emotional difficulties and encourage the personal development of the participants in the group.

The smaller group sessions were particularly enlightening because I experienced what it is like being a part of the group process – which was initially very intimidating. The psychotherapy group I participated in differs from the group that I normally lead, in that group process is emphasized more in the former compared to a psycho educational group which simulates a class setting. I found that it was initially difficult to decide in what way I wanted to introduce myself to the group members (i.e. state where I was from vs. my profession vs. my interests) and to participate in an activity without any clear direction. For example, subject matter for discussion was not determined by the leader but instead rose spontaneously from the group which was also new for me. It was at this juncture that I realized exactly how task-oriented I am and self-conscious. My group members were able to help me by discussing personal issues that they were facing alongside the feelings they were experiencing in the room. I was able to identify with them and in turn they gave helpful feedback, encouragement, support and criticism to my words/contributions.

In addition, I realized how important the leaders’ roles were as I found myself paying attention to both their verbal and non-verbal communication. At times I would react both positively and negatively to their position depending on how the group process was developing. It took us awhile to get into a rhythm (i.e connect with each other) and although I understood that there were key points that the leaders wanted us to appreciate based on our discussion, I found that the timing of their interventions was not always helpful and/or appropriate. It was at this point that I was able to question my interpretation of resistance to the material being discussed (i.e. psychotropic medication) from my weekly group members as being possible resistance to the group process and/or the leaders. Overall, I found the conference stimulating and an enlightening and based on my experience, I now have better understanding of psychotherapy principles, the stages of group work and process, and the role of the leader in different types of group therapy which should enhance my skills in group psychotherapy.