Monday, September 20, 2010

Reflecting onTherapy Groups: Valley Ridge Art Studio

  • Porch at the Farm House at Valley Ridge
What makes a great group experience?

I taught a Focusing Group at Valley Ridge Art Studio a couple of weeks ago and it was one of those amazing, group experiences. As a facilitator, I always want to be able to understand why that happens and be able to recreate the conditions again. I have taught many groups, many places and had many different experiences. Usually, the experience is good, very good. Yes, sometimes there are people who attend therapy groups who disrupt it for others, are too needy, and/or take up too much space. Sometimes participants struggle with other participants and me or the way I am delivering the material we are studying. During groups many feelings, behaviors and patterns get played out as they do whenever a group of people gather. In a therapy group or a group where people gather to do deep personal growth, many obstacles and issues emerge for individuals and the whole group. I love facilitating groups and deeply enjoy working with the complex, confusing, exhilarating, inspiring and sometimes magical energy that emerges.

So, after all these years with facilitating art, art therapy, Archetype, Mindfulness, body image, mothering, addiction recovery, and many other groups what have I learned?

For me, it is always a fresh, new, and an unpredictable experience.  As an artist, that is why I love it. I love the art experience of taking all the confusion, rawness, excitement, wanting, and not wanting; and making it into a positive, personal and collective experience where everyone feels seen, heard, acknowledged, valued and that they find in the comfort and safety of that group what they need personally from it.
Process Art: expressing a part of her that hides in a leaf covered cave

 So why was the group experience at Valley Ridge so successful?

It's safe and contained. I wanted the group members to be able to go as deeply into their own process as they needed to and we created a safe container for that to happen. That happened because the other members and I were Present for each person when they talked, did art, processed and rested. There was a consistent attitude of genuine respect, care, and allowing for others to be just as they were without having to change or justify themselves. That created an atmosphere where we could relax, and simply be.
It was nourishing. Kathy provides food, atmosphere, and love for her guests. Taking a workshop at Valley Ridge feeds the soul and the body. When we gather to do deep personal work, we want to be held in a place of care and comfort.
It was the right mix of being challenging and safe. Every therapist perceives that tension of participants wanting to move forward in their lives and embrace change and when they need to back away from it. The first night during the introduction some people felt that they may not be able to learn Focusing, but they stayed, worked in a safe supportive atmosphere and every one of them did connect with their bodies, inner process and was able to feel some change because of it.
A large part of it was the dynamics of the women who attended. That cannot be planned, but is a blessing when it occurs. The women connected, respected and listened to each other. The group atmosphere was charged with creative energy. There was one woman who did not find Focusing to fit for her and she never really entered the circle that we had created around us and the work that we were doing. That too, was part of the magic and learning for the group and I: how to be with someone who is not ready to do deep personal work or at least the kind that we were doing. We chose to see her experience as a gift not an obstacle.
Process Art: drawing the part of her that was barely visible

We were present. I think this may be the most important ingredient. We were authentic, awake, Present, in the here and now and available to the moment.  When 14 women are Present with themselves and each other in a room, how can magic not happen?
People took risks. This allowed us to be able to embrace the unknown and step away from our habitual way of being in the world.
 If you are reading this and you are a therapist, what are your ingredients for a great group experience? If you are reading this and you take part in art therapy or other kinds of growth groups, what are your ingredients for a good group experience?


katie said...

this sounds like it was a beautiful experience, a blessed experience. i certainly wish i could have been there. yours was my #1 valley ridge workshop to attend.

i believe we get what we need when we need it, and thre is nothing so powerful and dynamic as a group field where participants join in a a united intention for truth and openness.


Jennifer White said...

You were the gift for this workshop...without you, we wouldn't have been able to do what we did to feel safe and open our hearts, minds and soul. Love you...xo

Karen Wallace said...

Katie, I am sure we will get the chance to work together sometime. Thanks for your comment. Jennifer, you are so sweet. Love Karen

NynArt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NynArt said...

Hi Karen,

Have you already been in the Netherlands for the focusing congres?

Congratulations with your Top Art Therapy Site award!




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