‘ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS’
“Your legacy is every life you’ve touched” Maya Angelou
In June of this year, we lost Dr. John Salvendy, one of the founders of the Canadian Group Psychotherapy Association (CGPA) and its first president. An acclaimed group therapist, mentor, teacher and generous friend, John touched many people in his lifetime. John’s never-ending passion for the power of group and his belief in what we could achieve lives on in each of our hearts. It is with gratitude, deep sadness and love that we say goodbye to a giant who shaped the Canadian group therapy landscape.
Following John’s death, Dr. Stéphane Treyvaud wrote a thoughtful article for The Mindfulness Centre, “Long-term intensive group psychotherapy – a magnificent therapeutic modality in danger of extinction”, which is linked below:
Formal teaching may provide us with the theory of how to do group therapy, but it is the mentors and leaders that we encounter along the way who truly teach us how to be group therapists. Without visionaries such as John Salvendy, Fern Cramer-Azima, Roy Mackenzie, and Bill Powles we would not have the rich tradition of Canadian group therapy that has existed for the past 40 years. They would always make themselves available to share their knowledge and draw out the gems of learning in any given situation. They were also the first four CGPA presidents.
Their leadership inspired many others to take on leadership positions and actively promote group therapy in Canada. While each of these four mentors had their own personal style, they all recognized the human potential that could be unlocked by assisting people to challenge one another in a supportive environment. It was truly inspiring to witness.
The four Toronto Institute of Group Studies Co-directors (Aida, Allan, Susan and Terry) were among the inspired. We studied with them, and gradually found our own unique voices. We felt passionate about our professional home in Canadian group therapy, and eventually it became our turn to provide leadership. Over the years, we have offered training and education to hundreds of colleagues through programs and workshops, and through the Toronto Institute of Group Studies, we continue to do our best to build on their legacy.
We are grateful to so many mentors and colleagues across the country, who have collectively contributed to our group therapy community. Several of these mentors are mentioned in Joyce, Tasca and Ogrodniczuk’s article, “Group Psychotherapy in Canada", published in 2015 in the International Journal of Group Psychotherapy: https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/pdf/10.1521/ijgp.2015.65.4.583
REFLECTING ON OUR COLLECTIVE RESPONSES
As colleagues, we have been reflecting on our thoughts and feelings through this past month, and have noted consistent themes in the metaphors we’ve talked about… being separated from our roots, or ‘watching’ life happen, as though from behind glass…There seems to be a collective feeling ‘out there’ of both waiting for life to happen, and struggling to integrate change more quickly.
As in past newsletter reflections, it has been helpful for us to use our understanding of group processes to examine this collective feeling of disorientation and explore the ways we’re making meaning of our experiences. As we witness the various responses to this protracted pandemic, it is not surprising to see variation in reactions, from heightened anxiety to emotional disengagement (and everything in between), each of us managing to the best of our abilities individually, but not yet together collectively. The challenge remains: how can we learn to work together when we feel so disconnected from one another? These turbulent times challenge traditional styles of group leadership and compel us to continue developing leadership styles that are informed by broader socio-political contexts and foster inclusivity and social equity. We look forward to exploring group leadership issues more fully in our next newsletter.
THE VALUE OF RELATIONSHIPS AND CONNECTION
Earlier in our group conversations, soon after we entered these long days of uncertainty, we touched on the notion of anticipatory grief as a concept that resonated deeply and provided some comfort because it so accurately named our experience. Perhaps now the anticipation is over, and we’ve entered a time of deep grief - grief for people and things lost during this pandemic, including the loss of many intangibles … our taken-for-granted way of life, our illusions and our sense of certainty. We long to be able to mourn together and ache for the comfort of connection that has been unavailable to us.
John O’Donohue, the Irish scholar, author and poet speaks eloquently about our human longing to belong and the suffering of loss and isolation.
SPEAKING AND ACTION: OUR IMPERFECT EFFORTS ARE BETTER THAN SILENCE
The following note is taken with permission, from a post to the American Group Psychotherapy Association listserv. It was written by Dr. Aziza Belcher Platt, a psychotherapist in Atlanta Georgia, in response to a comment about allyship and the intensity of the demands for institutional, social and political change by the Black Lives Matter movement and demands being made by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour).
“....... I get it that so much awareness and change might feel so quick and perhaps overwhelming to you as a White man. As a person of color, it feels so long overdue to me. Using myself as an example, I don't have a lot of privilege but one place I do is that I am a cisgender woman in this society. I can tell you that I'm nowhere near where I need/want to be in my understanding and allyship of the transgender experience/oppression BUT I am working hard on it and they cannot slow down and wait for me because they have already laboured so long under the oppression of transphobia (not to mention any other isms and phobias that may be against them). I cannot tell them to be quiet, or patient, or calm, or less angry, or anything. All I can do is learn, share what I learn, live what I learn, and use any power I have as a cisgender person to fight against the forces and people oppressing them.
So for you, I get wanting to get your head around things. I think the issue is that for non-marginalized people, the world is changing at the speed of light and for marginalized people, it's moving at a snail's pace. So discussions like this often feel like "Hurry Up and Wait!" from the perspective of people whose identities are considered the norm and "We Can't Wait Another Minute" from the perspective of those marginalized.
The image that comes to mind for me is that if I were on fire, you would not ask me to give you some time to come to grips with my pain, how this situation came to be, or what medical care might be able to do for me after the fact. At least I hope not. From your emails, you strike me as someone who would immediately understand the urgency, even if not the cause, and help me put myself out. People who have a marginalized identity are saying, "Our lives are on fire" and some non-marginalized people are saying "Are you sure you're on fire? Prove it." or "Well, I didn't set you on fire personally so it's not my fault" or "I was on fire once and nobody helped me" or "Can you not yell so loud about being on fire?!" or “What role did you play in being on fire?" or "I read somewhere that it's your own fault that you're on fire because you're [insert stereotype here]" or "I don't believe you being on fire is a priority" or "I might inhale some smoke if I help put you out and that won't feel good" or "There's a danger that my people might catch fire too so I don't want to talk about you being on fire right now." I could go on and on but trust me, however absurd these responses seem, marginalized people have heard it all. There is so much good data on the impact of different isms and phobias and yet as you've seen here on this listserv certain kinds of people will go out of their way to try to find the study, article, video, quote, that argues the fire is all in our heads. I don't believe you can fully get the experience of any marginalized group if you're not a member, but what we can do is believe people's calls for help.
Speaking for myself, allyship isn't about knowing all the information or understanding all the nuances or always getting it right. It's about understanding the urgency, acting mindfully as you learn (as opposed to waiting to learn everything), and going as far as you can as fast as you can because people's lives depend on it.”
In times of great change and turmoil our responses will be imperfect. Our willingness to remain present, listen actively and risk being vulnerable really matters.
Remaining fully engaged through conflict, naming our struggles and fears , listening to the deeper meaning of the communication or protest of our fellow group members, these are pathways to deeper connection.
“Solidarity does not assume that our struggles are the same struggles,
or that our pain is the same pain, or that our hope is for the same future.
Solidarity involves commitment, and work,
as well as the recognition that even if we do not have the same feelings,
or the same lives, or the same bodies,
we do live on common ground.” Sara Ahmed
Empathy, connection and solidarity are only the start as silence will not resolve oppression.
ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READING
O’Donohue, J. (1999) Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on our Yearning to Belong.
Harper Collins: New York, NY.
Aida Cabecinha, Susan Farrow, Allan Sheps and Terry Simonik