Our craft can be lonely. We’re often drawn to helping others because of our own longing for connection, intimacy, empathy, authenticity and security in the face of the irrational. We fill our days and our weeks serving others and it is easy to lose sight of the needs of the person in the therapist chair.
As we become skillful in helping others open up and courageously face their demons, it can be tempting to imagine that our own dark sides are managed, that our anxieties will obediently resolve in the face of our insight, that our infantile, animal parts are perfectly satisfied sitting for long stretches of the day.
Group is one way I honor these parts. Being part of a process-group, where the task is to be as honest as possible with thoughts and feelings in the moment, creates the psychic equivalent of a nature preserve. A little bit of my wildness can come out. I can touch the edge of my own vulnerability. I discover my aggression alongside an organic, mammalian affection so different from a more cerebral, cultivated compassion.
A group specifically for therapists also helps us process the psychic toxins of our patients. We can be held by the collective experience, wisdom and awareness of our peers. Someone else will intuit or be induced to feel something that we were not paying attention to in our difficult cases.
We may be very clever at hiding uncomfortable truths from ourselves, and possibly our therapists and supervisors. But in group, it is much harder to hide. As one member of a recent workshop said, “Coming here would keep me honest.”
Honesty helps us stay humble and humility is a constant challenge in a career based on clarity and cool-headedness. We’re supposed to know something. Surely we do know something, how to think differently about a problem, what a healthier attitude toward a situation would be, what to do next…and yet when we know what we’re doing, when we know what’s supposed to happen or how it’s supposed to go, the work starts feeling stale. More than our knowledge and technique, our clients need the alchemy of making contact with another vibrant human being who is willing to pay attention to them and be affected by who they are.
Group summons us to be more courageous and embodied. It reminds us of who we are and who we can become. It helps us come alive.