Editor's Note

Hello MAGPS Community!

I am very excited about this issue of the newsletter! Even though some of our typical sections are missing due to COVID (e.g., reflections on the spring conference), I received so many submissions for personal essays and creative pieces and there is still so much MAGPS activity to report -- our virtual fall conference with Dr. Belcher Platt, virtual Cinema Series (this weekend!!), and all of the hard work of the Anti-Racism Task Force! I hope that you take the time to peruse this issue and learn about all the exciting news from our community. I’ll end this note with a bit of personal news: we’ve just added a new member to our family group, my newborn daughter, Mavis. I am already learning so much in my new role as mother and am very much looking forward to the journey ahead.

I hope you enjoy this issue of the newsletter and, as always, please send feedback and future submissions to me at newsletter@magps.org!

Rebecca Abell, Newsletter Editor
President's Column:
Reflection on my first year of presidency 
Cristina M. Secarea, MD 

As I look back on my first year of presidency, I realize that dealing with emergencies might just be my legacy. Not only did I step in the President role on a short notice last November, but being the President during the COVID-19 crisis and times of turmoil in our country will place me at top of the list with most emergency Board meetings!

Shortly after the AGPA Connect meeting in New York City in early March 2020, things started to evolve rapidly in our country and community. Some of our members, including Board members, contracted the virus. Fortunately they were able to overcome it and recover. I cannot say the same about the people at Saint Elizabeths Hospital, one place in Washington, DC significantly affected by this virus. Saint Elizabeths Hospital has been the location of our many spring conferences but also a place very close to my heart. I spent five years at Saint Elizabeths as part of my training, and even though I do not work there anymore, I continue to stay connected with my colleagues at the hospital. While trying to be supportive of my colleagues that were front line workers, watching the news about patients and staff losing their lives over this virus was heartbreaking.

As social isolation started to settle in, and with our Spring Conference canceled, the MAGPS Board had to be creative regarding ways of connecting with our members. In April and June, 2020, our President-Elect, Karen Eberwein, led our two Town Hall meetings, during which we tried to offer a safe space for our members to connect and share their struggles during this unpreceded time. 

The MAGPS Board’s work did not stop here. In response to the social justice and racial equity movement, we approved the formation of an Anti-Racism Task Force (ARTF). The ARTF’s role is to help our organization and community address institutional racism and increase awareness among group therapists on how white supremacy, structural racism and personal bias influences us in groups. The ARTF co-chairs, Shemika Brooks, Alison Howard, Liz Marsh and Chris Ray, have been working tirelessly and provided our Board and members with monthly White and Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) caucus groups and a round table discussion about the history of racism in the field of mental health and what to do about it. 

I am personally grateful for the hard work and the guidance of the ARTF. As we move forward, I know that MAGPS is committed to continue this important work, implement changes in our Board and set an example in the mental health community. 

We are also committed to continue our tradition to have a Fall Conference. Our Conference Committee led by Karen Eberwein and Chris Straley had to adapt to the new norm and plan an entire virtual conference, while being sensitive to current events and find a relevant presenter. I am excited to announce that our 2020 Fall Conference, “Let’s Face Fact(or)s: Navigating Race in Groups Through Re-examining Therapeutic Factors” will be presented by Aziza Belcher Platt, Ph.D, and it will take place on November 7 and 8, 2020. Stay tuned for more details!
Interview with Our Fall Conference Presenter,
Aziza Belcher Platt, PhD
with Lisa Haileab Daniels, PhD

L: MAGPS members anticipate you leading our fall conference. How did you become interested in this topic?

A: I think as a Black woman, I have always been aware of and interested in race. In this world, and in our country, it is hard to be a person of color and not be acutely aware of race. My racial-cultural identity and my community have always been a source of pride and strength and I desire the same to be true for others. Even as a child, I recall believing that as a society, we needed to talk about race more than we do, in a more meaningful way than we do, but have noticed that so many people don’t, wont, or can’t. Fast forward to graduate school at Fordham University and one of my first courses was group counseling with Eric C. Chen, PhD whom I credit for my love of group counseling. I learned how to be a group therapist before I took my first individual therapy class. From the beginning I was enthralled, and it was clear that group was such a powerful tool. As I progressed, it seemed natural to combine a powerful tool with a topic that feels so overpowering to so many, to empower all of us.

L: Which therapeutic factors did you have to reexamine when navigating race and why?

A: I think all of the therapeutic factors play such an important role in this work, but I’d like to highlight two, altruism and corrective reexperiencing. Altruism is a call to our highest selves in the care and service of others. In that space, I believe so much is possible in understanding the oppression of our fellow group members and citizens and wanting to act to remove that suffering. It is a state wherein our humanity catapults us past our ego, guilt, shame, and other barriers to anti-racism efforts. In terms of the corrective reexperiencing, many of us can recall awkward, difficult, and/or painful experiences related to an interaction around our race or culture. How often do we play that back in our minds consciously or subconsciously have it impact our subsequent intercultural interactions? A corrective reexperience, related to race and culture, can help heal past harm, repair present rifts, and possibility mitigate future affronts. As such, it is transformative of the there-and-then, the here-and-now, and the by-and by.

L: As the country debates the injustices experienced by persons of color and the membership of therapy groups often parallel larger society, how do you view safety in groups?

A: Safety is paramount, especially in groups where we are so vulnerable with not just the therapist but with all the other souls who are with us in this experience. I believe one key component is commitment to each other that we will work through the ugliness and ickiness together. The willingness to speak the hard truths and hear the hard truths is easier to do when we know we’ve agreed to see it all the way through. Speaking of hard truths, safety absolutely requires truth. We must be honest about the horrors of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, Jim Crow, and anti-Black systemic racism. Similarly, we must be honest about other systems of oppression. We have to be able to hold the truth of those, the impact on those oppressed, and the ways in which oppression has robbed and continues to rob us all of the individual well-being and societal well-being. We also have to be truthful and accountable about our and others’ behavior. We are human, and though we should strive not to, we will hurt each other at times. When we do, a transformative justice approach, wherein we are accountable and the target, perpetrator, and community are all involved in accountability and repair, fosters a deep and abiding sense of safety.

L: What can members look forward to learning about in this experience?

A: As I shared with conference organizers, Karen and Chris, many of us help people process trauma of all forms, financial crises and ruin, serious psychotic symptoms, birth, heartbreak, divorce, death and grief, and all manner of tragedy. Yet, we struggle when it comes to racial-cultural issues in groups (and perhaps in life). As group therapists, we have the unique dynamics inherent to groups and as Liam Neeson’s character says in the movie Taken, a “very particular set of skills.” I hope group therapists will learn to put all of what we already do so well together with racial-cultural learnings so that during racial-cultural events we steady ourselves and our members and stay the course. Hopefully, attendees leave with the confidence to do with racial-cultural events, what we so well with other issues.

L: How has your dissertation research on racial-cultural events, microaggressions and group counseling members of color informed the ways you lead and participate in group?

A: My dissertation research was more eye-opening for me than I expected. I had led groups where racial-cultural events occurred but had not considered the occurrence of microaggressions in groups. So, it has made me more mindful to watch for those instances knowing especially how cumulatively harmful they are given the frequency with which people of color experience them in their daily lives. I’m sure your readers have seen this video, which I think perfectly captures the day in, day out of microaggressions. Imagine that at the end of a day such as that, a member of color comes to group only to experience more of the same? Additionally, I was surprised by how many group members of color were so satisfied and safe in so many ways in their groups except for issues of race and culture. At the start of our interviews, I asked my participants to tell me about their racial-cultural identity (i.e., “How do you describe yourself in terms of race & culture?”). Many proudly described their identity and its significance in their lives. Shortly thereafter, the questions transitioned to “What racial-cultural factors were you aware of in your fellow group members and leaders?” and “Please identify an incident or interaction that occurred in your group that was related to racial-cultural differences.” Participants pride turned to sheepishness as they identified themselves as the only person of color in their group and disclosed their concern that they might not be helpful for my study because race and culture rarely, if ever, came up in their groups. Despite their worry, that answer told me much more than they realized. I felt so disheartened that people had such rich racial-cultural experiences outside of group and had such therapeutic experiences inside of group could not have the two experiences together. So, I am constantly working to broaden the space in groups for racial-cultural exploration that parallels the depth of members other experiences in group and sharing to help other group therapists do the same.

Anti-Racism Task Force Update

During the Spring Board meeting, the MAGPS Board met and unanimously approved the creation of an Anti-Racism Task Force (ARTF) to address systemic racism within our organization, as well as in the field of mental health. However, directly after the board meeting two of our task force members attended the AGPA annual conference in New York City and became ill with COVID-19. Due to the rise of the pandemic our mission was stalled. Just before the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, the ARTF had reassembled and began our work. With the renewed urgency brought about by the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others, the ARTF hosted two caucus groups and a round table meeting. The caucus groups allowed members to discuss how they have experienced racism within MAGPS, how they have worked to deepen their understanding of themselves and others, and continue doing each person’s individual work to foster an anti-racist culture within our organization. The round table provided the members with more of an intellectual forum where they could explore how white supremacy influences the field of mental health and how to address the systems that foster white supremist ideas. Each of our events has been well attended and received. The next caucus group is scheduled for October 25, 2020 from 3:00 - 5:00 PM.  

Our mission is to address systemic racism in the Mid-Atlantic Group Psychotherapy Society (MAGPS) and the mental health field as a whole. Our task is to use education, dialogue, outreach, and personal growth accountability to be a voice for change within our community.

Our vision is that by addressing institutional racism, we are creating change in who we are as a community and how we work as therapists. We are re-envisioning the structure of our organization and fostering a community of inclusion in order to create a new culture for group therapists -- one in which we deconstruct the ways that white supremacy has shaped our organization and the field of mental health.

We are committed to being accountable to each other in the learning we must do. We are committed to inclusion. We are committed to being allies to all marginalized people; and in particular we are committed to fighting the systemic oppression and racism against Black and Brown people. We look forward to working closely with you all to achieve our mission and create our vision for the future.

In Solidarity,
Alison, Shemika, Chris and Liz
ARTF Chairs
Poll on Principles Course

The Principles Course in Group Psychotherapy is the first part of the process in obtaining your certification as a Certified Group Psychotherapist (CGP). It is awarded by the American Group Psychotherapy Association (AGPA).

MAGPS is thinking of offering this 16-hour course but we have not yet decided about the fee structure (for registering or for teaching) or the scheduling (of course, over Zoom and over multiple days). 

Please respond to our polls below to give us feedback!
Are you interested in taking this course?
No, I've already taken this course
Are you interested in teaching this course?
Jonathan Lebolt, PhD, CGP published a conference summary entitled “Psychotherapy and LGBT Identities: Historical, Clinical and Ethical Issues” in Psychiatry journal, Volume 83, Issue 2, pp. 202-203. Read the article here.
Washington School Presents Dr. Walter Johnson on History of Imperialism and Structural Racism in the U.S.
Venus S. Masselam, PhD, LCMFT, CGP, co-chair of CSREC at WSP

Why is this history important? In the present climate one cannot ignore the fact that intersectionality exists, not only on a personal level but on the broader frame, connecting the social, biological, psychological, cultural, racial, historical, and economical contexts we need to understand as clinicians. It is with this understanding that we expand our own humanism and true empathy for our clients.

We hear so much about “fake news” nowadays and it is sometimes difficult to consider , “what is the truth”; however throughout our lives, we have been subjected to history that excludes important information. Amidst the COVID pandemic, an undeniable rampant history of racism history is being reexamined. Award-winning Harvard professor, Dr. Walter Johnson’s 2020 book, The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States is a renaissance history book about the settling and expansion of the U.S., opening our eyes to the imperialism and structural racism embedded in every part of U.S. history.

On March 6, 2021, The Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Culture (CSREC) at the Washington School of Psychiatry (WSP) will present a virtual workshop with Dr. Johnson, discussing his findings related to this horrific, unexamined history of the expansion of this country. Dr. Johnson is passionate about this subject, having been haunted by the blatant racism existing in his beloved home state of Missouri. Part of his activism is having his Harvard students meet citizens and hear their stories, helping expose the ongoing structural racism in Missouri and surrounding areas.

Venus Masselam, PhD, LCMFT, CGP wrote a review of Dr. Walter Johnson’s book, The Broken Heart of America: St Louis and the Violent History of the United States. Her review will be published in the fall issue of WSP Psychiatry Journal.

Other upcoming CSREC virtual events: 

October 3, 2020: Implicit Bias and Health Disparities in the Era of COVID-19: Implications for Policing, Health Care and Psychotherapy, presented by Dr. Guy Seymour

October 23, 2020: A presentation and discussion of the film FAREWELL, co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Aging
The PENN Building: A Room with a View
Gina Sangster, MFA, MSW, LICSW
Psychotherapist & Supervisor
August 2020

On a quiet Friday afternoon, I slipped into the PENN Building with my shopping cart. I felt like an intruder, though I’ve got keys to a fourth floor office – an office I hadn’t seen since the middle of March when we all cleared out and went home to see clients virtually.

My friend and colleague Courtney, our clinical manager, had gone in a couple of weeks earlier to retrieve some of her books and a few other possessions. She said she had the sense she needed to hurry in and out, like a thief, although she has a large office space designated for her use. 

A few of our therapy staff will be coming back a couple days a week, but most of us have elected to continue working on Zoom. It just doesn’t seem safe enough to resume business as usual, though I could tell right away that the building was spotlessly clean. We’d been told the management company had invested in a massive disinfecting project and had installed a new ventilation system. Social distance warnings dotted the lobby floor and the upstairs hallways. Even the elevator seemed spic n’ span, though it still smelled like weed, as usual.

About three years ago, our practice owner was able to secure enough office space so that we could expand and locate everyone on the fourth floor. I was one of the lucky three to be offered a prime piece of real estate: a room with a view, with sliding doors facing Pennsylvania Avenue and a balcony where we could take a break or enjoy lunch in nice weather. Before Courtney got promoted, she and I used to have lunch together at least once a week. Even without that bonus of friendship, the perk of having one of the best spots in the entire PENN Building was a gift that kept on giving. I’ve taken more than a few power naps with my feet propped on the balcony railing. 

Our move to the fourth floor was the first time in my whole career that I had a chance to furnish an office from scratch. A couple of trips to Miss Pixie’s on Fourteenth Street, plus contact with a therapist who was moving offices, netted me a nice fat couch with animal-print pillows, a lovely pale blue over-stuffed armchair, table lamps, and a yellow circular rug to jazz up the carpet. I found a standing lamp on the street and carted it upstairs. My daughter, Sally, and son-in-law, Andy, surprised me with a painted purple chest that was perfect for storing personal items along with snacks to keep me fueled through long hours.

I decided to take my diplomas, beautifully framed by Capitol Hill Frame & Photo, plus a couple of other pieces of artwork: my Kessler print of the White House sent to me (and countless others) by the Obama campaign; an old Chinese print of a bird; a print of the Jefferson Memorial, my favorite monument. I left behind a large print of the PENN Building given to me by a client, a drawing done by another former client that was featured in a show at the Hill Center, and a painting of the Capitol done by the late Dick Sheehy, former owner of “the Frame-Up” on Seventh Street. My kids all hated that painting, but they never knew Dick; he was one of the early gay settlers on Capitol Hill who could be seen wearing an ankle length denim coat every fall and whose shop walls were covered with paintings of nude men. 

I left enough artwork on the walls so the room still seemed colorful and inviting, though stripped of my more personal milestones: my Bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University; Masters of Fine Arts from Columbia; and finally, my Masters of Social Work from Catholic University. The room can be a more generic therapy space now, to which I may or may not come back, and one that others can freely use. We’ve always shared our spaces, one therapist coming in during the time when another wouldn’t be seeing clients; these spaces have been vacant now for more than six months and most of us don’t know when we’ll be back. 

My shopping cart was heaped to the brim by the time I was done, a shawl and extra jacket piled on top of the stuffed bags, the largest framed item held precariously as I wheeled back onto the elevator. I saw no one, which made me feel safe and very much alone. llid
I was There. Now I am Here. 
Lorraine Wodiska, PhD, CGP, ABPP, FAGPA

I was there on June 12, 1963.
At my older sister’s college graduation from City College (CCNY) of the City University of New York. 

Medgar Evers was the intended speaker and listed on the program for the commencement address that night. But he had been murdered earlier that day. Friends at the National Alliance for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) called in a favor. Could Martin Luther King, Jr speak at the graduation instead in just a few hours? He agreed.

He was ready with a message, perhaps planning the speech he would make 10 weeks later on the National Mall on August 28, 1963 during the March on Washington.

What did he say on that evening in June? I have a copy of his five-page, typewritten speech with his penciled corrections. The themes were of great significance then and unfortunately continue to this very day. Times have changed and the language is different (women are not mentioned, by the way), but the challenges remain starkly present. His shining brilliance as a thinker, as an orator, and as a societal change agent was one of the reasons the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed into law on February 10th. As you likely know, the Act prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, or national origin. It was a true legal victory but unfortunately, did not touch systemic racism, as we have come to understand it now, and as is evidenced by the persistence of the economic and social injustice we see today.

Here are some quotes from his speech that day when my parents, my grandparents, my middle sister, and I sat in the third-row center of Lewisohn Stadium and listened. As you read his words, in your head, you may also hear his sonorous voice as he preached to the thousands in the audience.

He begins:
[L]et me first commend the members of the graduating classes for reaching this significant milestone. Tonight you bid farewell to the friendly security of this academic environment and prepare to enter the clamorous highways of life. As you move out in your var­ious fields of endeavor, you will be moving into a world of catas­trophic change and calamitous [sic] uncertain[ty].

Halfway through, he notes that:
[T]he third social evil [the others he mentioned in previous paragraphs were the evil of war and the evil of economic injustice] that should arouse the conscience of every American is that of racial injustice. This tragic injustice has risen to ominous proportions. Less than twenty-four hours ago a dastardly act occurred in the State of Mississippi which revealed the moral degeneracy to which some will sink on the question of race. Just as the sunlight of reason stemmed into American homes and the wisdom and courage of a President [John F. Kennedy] were eloquently expressed in an appeal for justice and human dignity, the most sullen cloud which has appeared on our national horizon has darkened our sky. In the death of Medger Evers, America has lost one of those pure patriots whose most passionate desire was to be an American, and to be acknowledged as an American. Truly Mr. Evers died in the trenches on the front line where the issue is now joined between that which our President has called for and the last ditch stand of the segregationists who would prefer to create a bloodbath of vio­lence than to relinquish the deadening status quo.

And his last paragraph:
[W]ith this faith and this work we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith and this determination we will be able to bring into being that great day when all of God's children --black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands right here in this nation and sing, in the words 'of the old Negro spiritual: '~Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

It is 57 years later. Did we fail as individuals and as a generation? It is a difficult question to answer for myself. I marched, I lobbied, I raised my children with values about respect, civil liberties and equality—and I can see that they live those values. Our (now senior) generation made progress, but systemic racism continues, exactly as Dr. King noted, with economic and racial injustice. Sadly, we did not finish the task but neither did we fail: we fell short of Dr. King’s vision for our country. 

In my 70s, I am learning new terms and concepts that come with this current reckoning about systemic racism: understanding my white fragility, being an ally to BIPOC, exploring my white racial identity, avoiding othering, identifying my white privilege, staying undefended and being resilient in the face of difficult conversations, seeing and responding to microaggressions, and now not being colorblind (a value of the 60s), as that diminishes the experience of the races. 

As we move forward with the imperative of social and racial justice, I trust that we remember that I and other grandmothers of today took small but (at the time) momentous steps towards justice. It is true: we older folks have much to learn, more to do and need the energy to continue a to act on now updated ideals of years ago. 

I read deeply into the last stanza of Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening:  
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

I am grateful for the intelligence, energy, and commitment of the current generation: I trust them to guide us through the dark woods to keep our word.
The Privilege of Unconscious Defense:
Polarized Experiences in Small Group Experiences Based on Race

I attended AGPA Connect (the annual meeting of the American Group Psychotherapy Association) 2020 in New York City. Despite my Early Career Professional status, this was my 8th consecutive year of attending both the institute and conference of the annual meeting. In my time with the organization, and, to my understanding, in the organization’s more than 75 year history, this was the first year during which an institute section was offered specifically for and exclusive to Black people, Indigenous people, and other People of Color (BIPOC):

XXIV: Racialized Trauma in Black, Indigenous, or People of Color Therapists.
When I saw this offering during my registration process months prior to attending, I said to myself, “Finally.” And with only two openings remaining, I hurriedly and enthusiastically submitted this as my small process group experience selection.

I started to notice a pattern in my small group experiences well before this year’s annual meeting – one that often resulted in my loved ones and colleagues wondering why I continue to participate in small group experiences, with the tone of my response to “how was it?” questions. That pattern has looked like this:

·      I show up in group as my introverted, reflective, socially anxious self;
·      I am one of typically two person-of-color-presenting members in the group;
·      I am ready to learn and to grow and to engage at my own pace;
·      I am present, but less vocal than others;
·      Typically about ¾ of the way through the time parameters for the small group experience, someone names that the group has not been discussing race;
·      Shortly thereafter, I am pointed out as a person who has been less vocal, and/or who other members want to know about, and/or who other members “don’t know how to read,” and/or who could/should lead the group in discussion about race.
·      To follow, there are (poorly) attempted “invitations to connect” extended from those who may or may not share that they “do not know how to approach [me]” – e.g., “I’m curious about you,” or “I’m really wanting to connect with you, but I don’t know what to say.”
·      When I acknowledge those statements without choosing to do the work of appeasing, comforting, or obliging those members who share their “desires,” I start to see projections upon projections upon projections.
·      (Even worse, when I am pitted against another person of color member [especially another Black woman] who presents in a more friendly or approachable way in the space of the group.)

Aside from AGPA Connect 2020, there have been two instances of the identified group (co-) facilitator(s) NOT participating in or allowing the projections to occur without challenge. Out of my 15-20 small group experiences specifically in professional development spaces, TWO!??!??! The first of those two experiences was my only experience with two women of color as group co-facilitators. They simply named the process that was occurring: “There’s a lot being projected onto one person by the group as a whole; why don’t we take a moment to look at that.” The second experience was with two white facilitators — and I declared to them over and over how much they, and that particular composition of group members, were unicorns.

Now I must be honest and say, I cannot parse out which of my experiences occurred at the AGPA annual meetings and which occurred at other group-specific conferences or meetings that I have attended over the years; but that is exactly to my point. It’s not an AGPA issue. It’s not an AGPA thing. This has been my experience consistently in settings focused on group therapy, including MAGPS, and specifically with other group therapists. This is because of the manifestations of white supremacy embedded in the foundation of mental health as a whole, which then served as the structural foundation for AGPA, MAGPS, and other similar organizations. To be clear, YES, I AM SAYING THAT WHITE SUPREMACY IS EMBEDDED IN AGPA AND MAGPS, as it is in many other organizations and in mental health fields as a whole.

My small group experience at AGPA Connect 2020 was totally different than any experience that I’ve had in the past. With it being a space specifically for BIPOC clinicians, there was not the tension of being one of two or one of few people of color. There was no hesitation or awkwardness around, nor expectation of any identified member to lead or to carry, “the race conversation.” I showed up as myself, and feared rejection not based on my not conforming to the expectations of other members as determined by the color of my skin; but based on ME being seen. I was afraid of being seen. It finally felt like a possibility that I would be seen.

In this small group experience, I noticed something else that happened that also felt like a stark contrast to my previous experiences: I found myself defending against my emotions. When there was a lot of emotion in the room, I found myself escaping with thoughts like, “wow, look at the circles on the floor . . . I wonder how they came up with that pattern.” And that’s when I realized how much I have NOT had the opportunity (read: privilege) to experience that unconscious defense, and many others, in the space of small group experiences. Instead of defending against my emotions, I’ve had plenty of experiences of defending myself against projections, attacks, and the false concept of race as a BIPOC topic – one that does not apply to white people – from the group majority. I’ve had to defend my own experiences in group against what the interpretations that other group members (who have already identified that they “can’t read me”) have of my experiences in group. I realized this year the privilege that the majority of group therapists have in being able to defend against themselves (often unconsciously) rather than against the rest of the group and/or the group (co-)facilitators.

I know that not all Black women or BIPOCs attending these conferences have had these same experiences. As a matter of fact, I have at times received feedback from other BIPOC members of my small group experiences that has been consistent with the feedback from the White members. This is demonstrative of there not being a single BIPOC experience in group. But despite this fact, there has been a similar throughline in most of my small group experiences.

The Recipe

I have a theory that there are particular characteristics and traits that I hold, that serve as somewhat of a recipe for these recurring outcomes:
#1: I am a Black Woman.
I am brown-skinned, I am bold. I carry the strength of my ancestors in the very essence of my being. I am spirited and cultured, and ethnic. I am beautiful.

YET, I am seen as intimidating, angry, loud, aggressive. I am questioned. I am overlooked for accolades. I am diminished and minimized by the majority. I am expected to believe what they think about me, lest I be “inflexible” or “unreceptive to feedback.” I am supposedly affirmative action, despite that my vitae reads like it ran laps around the Joneses. I am considered to be not enough and too much simultaneously, and my confusion in the face of this truth is gaslit and controversialized.

#2: I am a young Certified Group Psychotherapist (CGP).
I even qualify to be a CGP Supervisor . . . meaning, I have a good amount of experience with regard to group. I am and have been dedicated to my crafts (including group), and have thus sought out advanced group psychotherapy training experiences since the beginning of my doctoral study. Considering that many don’t receive adequate group training in their schooling and therefore don’t come into seasoned group practice until later in their careers, I tend to be ahead of the curve for my age group and early career professional status. And the reality is that it can be challenging for “the majority” to accept my credentials and my expertise, as is consistent with BIPOC folx often being told to “work twice as hard to get half as much recognition.”

#3: I am an introvert who is slow to warm to new people.
In other words, I am reserved in group settings. I don’t really like crowds, or social events, or participating in group situations where I have to take up talking space. I don’t enjoy the process of getting to know new people, for the sake of getting to know new people. My energy is depleted by the “turning on” required for me to perform in front of a crowd. I recharge alone. I retreat inside my head. I am present in group settings, but my voice will only emerge when there’s something that I have determined to be worth the effort of my saying it.

#4: I am inherently not a people-pleaser.
There are those who others ask to do things because they know that those people will do whatever it takes to remain in everyone’s good graces. And then there is me. I do not feel the need to be liked by everyone. I’m not always actively looking to “feel connected” in groups. And I’m absolutely fine with people expressing what they want from me without me feeling compelled to give it to them. SO, when people express that what they want is connection, guess what . . . ?? I don’t necessarily care. I know that sounds harsh, but that’s only because people are so used to feeling entitled to what they want from other people. I, on the other hand, “. . . don't scratch my head unless it itches and I don't dance unless I hear some music. I will not be intimidated. That's just the way it is.” (— Coach Herman Boone, “Remember the Titans” movie)

#5: I am “hard to read.”
Because of my outwardly unexpressive presentation (which has been described as stoic by some in the past), it is difficult for people I don’t know to interpret my nonverbals in a way that communicates to them what I might be thinking or feeling. I don’t react externally to everything, so I’m somewhat of an enigma in the eyes of most strangers. I consider myself “an openable book,” so when folx get to know me and I get to know AND feel comfortable with them, they can more easily sense my invitation to know me in my most transparent state(s). But until then, rather than to ask, I’ve experienced that others (especially in small group experiences, for some reason) tend to assume that they “know” what’s on the pages of my story.  

. . .

Mix these ingredients together with small group experience encounters as a minority in a majority setting of group psychotherapists, and you’ll get (read: I’ve gotten) the same outcome most times: projections, deflection, finger pointing, and scapegoating.

. . .

TO WHITE GROUP FACILITATORS, both seasoned and new to group therapy work; to those who have seen people of color in your practice for years and have never been called out for racist, microaggressive, offensive, or inappropriate conduct; and otherwise . . . hear me scream these things to you:

·      YOU CANNOT DETERMINE FOR YOURSELF WHETHER OR NOT YOUR ACTIONS ARE RACIST, INAPPROPRIATE, OR OFFENSIVE. (So, I’m not a racist is never an appropriate response to someone’s expression of hurt cause by your words, actions, or inactions).
And most importantly,

Concluding Thought:
I initially subtitled this piece, “How (More Than) One Black Woman Has Been the Container for Negative Group Projections, and White Group Facilitators Have Allowed It;” but I changed it.
(Well . . . I guess I just included it anyway.)
MAGPS Anti-Racist History Scorecard
Sally Brandel, PhD, CGP

The Board of MAGPS, the Anti-Racism Task Force and MAGPS members have joined in several promising efforts to become more of an anti-racist organization. This article is intended to take a look at our history to see where we have been—arguably an important step as we embrace change. 

The first stop is the “history” posted in 2016 on the MAGPS website magps.org. If we read what follows through Ibram Kendi’s eyes we could readily categorize the text as “assimilationist” and not in the least “anti-racist.” There is not a word about differences (race, gender, sexual orientation, class, age, disability, etc.) among group psychotherapists or their practices of group psychotherapy. The history text follows in italics.

The Mid-Atlantic Group Psychotherapy Society (MAGPS) was among the first regional affiliates to be organized by the American Group Psychotherapy Association.

In 1957, a small group headed by Edward Ascher of Baltimore, Maryland started MAGPS. By 1963, an executive board, by-laws, and regular educational meetings were in place. The Society has thrived ever since, fostering the growth and quality of group psychotherapy and providing a space where practitioners of all disciplines can come together for personal and professional development.

Over the years MAGPS has provided intimate retreats; large conferences; a newsletter and website with both organizational news and clinical articles written by members; training programs; a membership directory; scholarships; and leadership training.

MAGPS has hosted three AGPA national meetings, the most recent in February, 2008. MAGPS has entered into training partnerships with other local institutions. MAGPS proudly claims among its membership a large number of leaders in the field of group psychotherapy including those honored with nationally recognized awards such as the prestigious Distinguished Fellow of the American Group Psychotherapy Association award.

Today, MAGPS continues the mission developed by the founders to provide training and education in group psychotherapy. MAGPS remains one of the few affiliated societies that is truly regional, serving and drawing on the talents of group therapists from the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.

A look at the list of past Presidents of MAGPS offers additional measures of our racial and gender history.  Here is a decade by decade summary. You can track the details on our website.

Past Presidents (by race and gender):
1960s: Eight people, 7 white men and 1 white woman served as Presidents of MAGPS that first decade.
1970s: Seven people served as Presidents, 6 white men and 1 white woman served.
1980s: Five people served as Presidents, 4 white men and 1 white woman (who also served in the 1960s).
1990s: Five people served as Presidents, 2 men (1 white, 1 “BIPOC” (black, indigenous, people of color) and 3 women (1BIPOC and 2 white).
2000s: Four people served as Presidents, 2 BIPOC men and 2 white women.
2010s: Four people served as Presidents, 1 BIPOC man and 3 white women.
2020s: One President and one President-elect, both white women.

In summary then in its nearly sixty-year history MAGPS has had 34 Presidents (22 men and 12 women). Of the 34 Presidents, 18 (53%)were white men, 4 (12%) were BIPOC (3 men and 1 woman). Twelve of 34 (35%) have been white women. 

Twenty-five white men served as Presidents of MAGPS in the first 30 years. Two white women, Beryce MacLennan and Bea Liebenberg were elected during those early decades. 

For the first time in the 1990s, a BIPOC man, Tom Wessel, and a BIPOC woman, Nina Brown, served as Presidents of MAGPS.  Two more BIPOC men (Reggie Nettles and Farooq Mohyuddin) were elected President between 2000-2019.    

Those are the facts based on the website information. What to make of it? We could observe that the most obvious trend is around gender. White women have taken over the leadership of MAGPS from white men. This shift to some extent mirrors the increased participation of women in the psychotherapy professions.  Although there is no recorded data on sexual orientation, it is worth noting that, anecdotally at least, nearly all Presidents have identified informally as heterosexual.  Reggie Nettles is the exception as he described in his conference on “Multiple Identities” in 2007.

As mentioned above whites were Presidents for the first 40 years of MAGPS history. The 1990s marked the elections of the first BIPOC Presidents. Since 2000 two BIPOC men represented 22% of the total of the nine Presidents. This represents a slight gain over the earlier decades.   

Conference Programs (also on the website)
A review of the information describing the history of Spring and Fall conferences sponsored by MAGPS provides another measure of how attentive the organization has been to BIPOC interests. We can consider the identity of the presenters and/or the topical focus of the programs. 

In 1989 MAGPS sponsored a conference titled “Race, Ethnicity and Class” presented by [first name not available] Adams. This looks to be the first conference to focus on race—and the only such event in the first 40 years of MAGPS.  

Between 2000 and 2020 MAGPS organized 40 conferences—39 after the Spring 2020 conference had to be cancelled due to COVID-19. Thirty-five conferences (90%) were directed by white presenters and focused on topics related to MAGPS’ mission of educating and training group psychotherapists.

Only four conferences were presented by BIPOC professionals and/or focused on matters of racial identity in the past 20 years.  In 2006 Nina Brown, the one BIPOC female President of MAGPS, directed a conference on her academic and professional interest in pathological narcissism. In 2007 Reggie Nettles, a BIPOC male President of MAGPS, presented on “Multiple Identities.” In 2018, Alexis Abernathy, a BIPOC leader in AGPA, directed a conference on “Spirituality and Transcendence.” Our 2020 Fall conference will be directed by Aziza Belcher-Platt, a BIPOC woman, and will focus on racial matters (details of this conference are in this newsletter.)

Cinema Series
The MAGPS Cinema Series has brought members and friends together since 2012 to share insights about group psychotherapy as portrayed in films from around the world. The Cinema Series has been nimbly responsive to social justice issues for years. Beginning in 2016 the MAGPS board encouraged the selection of films that would illuminate issues of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation which seemed under political attack in the U.S and globally.  Cinema Series participants benefitted from here and now discussions of the material featured in "Get Out" and "Moonlight" in addition to movies reflecting cultural and racial justice issues, like "The Cats of Mirikitani, " "The Band's Visit," "Avalanche" (an Iranian film), "The Square," (social media promoting the Arab Spring), "No Place on Earth," (Ukrainian Jews living in a cage hiding from the Nazis), and gay issues: "Brother to Brother," "The Celluloid Closet," and "Bear Cub."

Anti-Racism Task Force
In February 2020, the MAGPS Board met for our Spring meeting. One of the items on the agenda was to create an Anti-Racism Task Force (ATRF) to address systemic racism in the mental health field, as well as in our own organization. In the mental health community, and more specifically within our organization, individuals who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) have sustained significant injuries as a result of implicit bias, racism, and other related behaviors that perpetuate systemic oppression, both consciously and unconsciously. We felt strongly that we must take a hard look at our organization.

The Board voted unanimously to support the efforts of the Task Force, and agreed that the first action item would be to write a mission statement for the website. The mission statement follows:

The mission of the Anti-Racism Task Force is to provide recommendations to the MAGPS Board to address systemic racism in our organization and the mental health field as a whole. Our task is to use education, dialogue, outreach, and personal growth accountability to be a voice for change within our group therapy community.

ATRF co-chairs Alison Howard, Shemika Brooks , Christopher Ray and Liz Marsh have moved quickly over the summer of 2020 to provide MAGPS members (as well as others from the wider community) with opportunities to participate in BIPOC and white caucus groups. They also facilitated a Roundtable discussion in September on the topic "The History of Racism in the Field of Mental Health AND What to do About It."

Our Scorecard?
You can decide. MAGPS is leaning in to examine systemic racism in our organization and the mental health field. Somehow MAGPS must do this while not ignoring unfinished tensions around other inequalities such as gender, class, ageism and other differences. MAGPS is energized. AND we have lots of room for personal growth and organizational change.
Ongoing Process Oriented Therapy Groups for Therapists

Several openings in weekly therapy groups that are exclusively for therapists. These groups offer a rare opportunity to engage with other relationally oriented therapists who value authentic interpersonal connections and here-and-now processing. Groups consistently offer the deep emotional support and direct engagement similar to what many of you have experienced through process groups at MAGPS, AAP, WSP, AGPA institutes, etc.  The emphasis is full awareness and expression of our lived experience as we encounter and process with each other. We work to build interpersonal safety by respectfully speaking our truth and by tending to boundaries, damaged feelings and misuse of power, resulting in greater vulnerability, intimacy, healing and growth - the alchemy of group therapy.
  1. Groups are ONLY FOR THERAPISTS, coed, novice through seasoned. Limit 8.
  2. Groups are all currently via Zoom teletherapy
  3. Groups meet weekly for 75 minutes.  
  4. sliding scale available for new practitioners, grad students, and agency employees. Diversity is promoted. 

Please call/email with questions or to discuss further.
Nicholas Kirsch, Ph.D.
Advertising with MAGPS
Full Page Ad = $240/Half Page Ad = $140

Ads must be submitted in either Adobe PDF or JPG format and will be placed in the newsletter as they are sent. Images may be included in either size ad (please be aware of copyright laws); images are optional. For questions or to submit an ad for publication, please email newsletter@magps.org. You are solely responsible for the content you provide in your ad. Publication of your ad does not reflect MAGPS endorsement or approval. The Board of Directors reserves the right to reject ads for any reason with full refund. Purchase ad space for the Spring 2021 newsletter today!
Thank you for taking the time to read our bi-yearly newsletter. 
Please let us know what you think by emailing Rebecca Abell, PsyD, CGP at newsletter@magps.org.