Recently, at a therapy group of people who had all never met each other before, somebody left the room and stayed away for quite a while.
I noticed the absence. The other members of the group didn’t seem to, as they talked about everything but the missing person. However, because of my experience with groups, I knew that everybody was as aware of the absence as I was.
Sure enough, when I invited feelings and thoughts about that — simply by asking “Is anybody having any reactions to ___ leaving the room?” — that triggered an outpouring of thoughts and feelings, including worry, concern, projection (“___ looked very upset”), personalization (“I figured it was something about me”), and wishes that I would do something (“Maybe you should go after them and see if they’re okay!”). However, I know enough about group work NOT to leave the room, no matter what people’s worries and concerns are.
While people were talking about the person who had left the room, the door opened and that person came back in, bearing bags of food for the rest of the group. Why? Because several people had mentioned earlier in the group session that they were feeling hungry.
No matter how many times I’ve facilitated groups, I continue to be amazed at what happens there, including
- unexpressed thoughts and feelings
- people’s willingness to share, if they feel safe enough
- projected fears
- cognitive distortions including mind-reading, personalization, and catastrophizing
- generosity and
- countless other beautifully human reactions.
As I said, a week ago today, at a presentation about group work to the Massachusetts Psychological Association:
When I watch the news, I despair for the future of this planet. When I sit in my therapy groups and observe human behavior, I have infinite hope and optimism.
Before you leave the room today, here are some photos I took yesterday, inside and outside of therapy rooms:
What feelings and thoughts might you express, before you leave this WordPress room?
Thanks to all the human heroes who helped me write this post and to you — of course! — for visiting here, today.