AGPA 2017 Special Institute

Special Institute, Monday, March 6, 2017, New York City

By Bob Schulte, MSW

Red Well Theater Group members and guest artists participating in the APGA Special Institute include Kavita Avula, Connor Dale, John Dluhy, Mary Dluhy, Barbara Keezell, Liz Marsh, Yavar Moghimi, Bob Schulte, Rosemary Segalla, Tom Teasley, and Rob Williams.

People Flying Peter Sickles

People Flying
Peter Sickles

Our daylong ethics-focused program, Wounded Healers and Suffering Strangers: Navigating Ethical Dilemmas Together, features two dramatic play readings, each illuminating a variety of ethical delimmas relevant to dynamic group psychotherapy. We will also examine a collaborative process by which ethical dilemmas, understood as situations whereby multiple ethical imperatives are in conflict, might be resolved by therapists and group members working together.

Play Selections

The morning session features The Great God Pan, by Amy Herzog. The Great God Pan is “an unsettling yet deeply compassionate account of what is lost and won when long hidden truths are revealed. Jamie Perrin has a seemingly idyllic life in Brooklyn, NY—a beautiful girlfriend, a budding journalism career, and parents who live connorjust far enough away” (Herzog, 2014). But then his childhood friend Frank Lawrence visits to reveal a history of childhood sexual abuse perpetrated by his own father. He suggests that Jamie may also have been a victim during a week when Jamie’s parents sent him to stay with the family of his childhood friend. All this comes at a delicate juncture as Jamie and his pregnant girlfriend Paige are in conflict over the prospect of becoming parents.

rosemaryThe Great God Pan explores the impact of complex trauma on attachment relationships, the destabilizing effects of family secrets, and the healing power of truth seeking within a group context. Themes relevant to group psychotherapy include the risk of vicarious trauma, the impact of unconscious enactments on group functioning, and the ethical obligation of the therapist to maintain a safe therapeutic environment.

The afternoon session features Dinner with Friends, by Donald Margulies (2002). The play opens in the fashionable Connecticut home of Karen and Gabe who are giving a dinner for their married best friends Beth and Tom, which Beth attends alone. By dessert the truth emerges from the devastated Beth that Tom has left her for another woman. We approach the play as a parable about ethical dilemmas faced by professional colleagues with one another, most notably those issues related to fidelity and trust within the group co-therapist duo. Dynamics within professional “marriages” inform a group’s formation, survival and capacity to thrive.

Theater & Group Therapy

The central place of dramatic action and values-based ethics in group psychotherapy and theater is well cast50established. In his classic text Poetics, the Greek philosopher Aristotle championed a moral purpose for creating theater. J. L. Moreno’s development of psychodrama in the 20th century reflected his own values-based mission to restore theater to its original civilizing purpose of promoting mutual recognition and communal wellbeing.

Contemporary dynamic group therapists nonjudgmentally recognize the inevitability and utility of unconscious enactments in the process of achieving group therapeutic aims. Therapy groups rely on the emergence into the here-and-now of unconscious enactments. These ‘little dramas’ reveal the contextual and relational compexity of the human condition and the “scripted” suffering that the group members have yet to resolve and “rewrite”. Action, reflection and meaning making are common core endeavors to both theater and group therapy.

Ethical Principles

dsc00561We are all wounded healers. No one escapes childhood to become an effective group psychotherapist without blindspots and vulnerabilities. Ethical failures by primary caregivers are very often implicated in the very decision to become a psychotherapist (Rice, 2011). This Institute will be an opportunity for practioners of all levels to discover something new or to revisit what they may already know—about themselves and their group work—with colleagues who are also on the path of practicing at the highest standard of proffessional care.

We will review basic ethical principles of beneficence, non-maleficence, respect for autonomy, fidelity, and justice and core ethical virtues of the moral practitioner including compassion, discernment, trustworthiness, integrity, and conscientiousness. We will outline a process of resolution that emphasizes the dynamic interplay of information gathering, empathy, transparency, and collaborative decision-making in the here-and-now (Brabender, 2006). Our program illuminates these concepts through the dramatic play readings, each accompanied by a clinically informed commentary and an audience discussion.

Continuous ethical thinking by the group therapist is central in maintaining a safe, therapeutic group 100_8050environment. The dependable modeling of ethical behavior by the therapist has enduring therapeutic impact on a group’s members. Ethical dilemmas are co-constructed from many influences, within and beyond the therapy group. Engaging members in the process of resolution is key.

Registration Continues

The Special Institute is open to training and practicing group psychotherapists. To register go to the Annual Meeting section at: AGPA.org.

References

Brabender, V. (2006). The Ethical group psychotherapist. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 56 (4), 395-414.

Halliwell, S. (1998). Aristotle’s Poetics. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co.

Herzog, A. (2014). The Great god pan. New York: Dramatists Play Service.

Margulies, D. (2002). Dinner with friends. New York: Dramatists Play Service.

Rice, C. (2011). The Psychotherapist as “wounded healer”: A Modern expression of an ancient tradition. In On Becoming a psychotherapist. Edited by Klein, R., Bernard, H., and Schermer, V. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 165-189.

Schulte, R. (2016). Red Well Theater Special Institute Preview. AGPA Group Circle Newsletter. Portions of this article are included or paraphrased in this blog post.


AGPA 2016 “Dinner with Friends”

Two Couples 2001 Diana Ong (b.1940/Chinese-American) Computer graphics Two Couples by Diana Ong

The Red Well Theater Group presented Dinner with Friends, by Donald Margulies, as an Open Session at the 2016 AGPA Annual Meeting on February 25 in New York City. The new cast features RWTG members John Dluhy, Mary Dluhy, Liz Marsh and Yavar Moghimi. The Open Session Chair is Bob Schulte. The play is being directed by Rob Williams. The play (winner of the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for  Drama) and was was presented by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service of New York. The Discussants were Molly W. Donovan and Barry J. Wepman. The text of their discussion (as delivered) is presented below.

BARRY

This discussion is a group effort. Reading the play together in various combinations, with each of us taking different roles, we have come to see it from a variety of angles. Many of the insights we have gained about the play have come from this process of sitting together, and talking about all of our experiences with the material.. The talk you are about to hear is the direct result of a couples collaboration bet

ween the Molly and me. Developing this talk together felt like playing improvisational jazz. The ideas came as we talked, read scenes to each other, and brainstormed. It is often unclear who wrote what or where the ideas originated. Cool Jazz.

 

MOLLY

Poem – Special Problems in Vocabulary
BY TONY HOAGLAND

There is no single particular noun
for the way a friendship,
stretched over time, grows thin,
then one day snaps with a popping sound.

No verb for accidentally
breaking a thing
while trying to get it open
 —a marriage, for example.

No particular phrase for
losing a book
in the middle of reading it,
and therefore never learning the end.

There is no expression, in English, at least,
for avoiding the sight
of your own body in the mirror,
for disliking the touch
of the afternoon sun,
for walking into the flatlands and dust
that stretch out before you
after your adventures are done.

No adjective for gradually speaking less and less,
because you have stopped being able
to say the one thing that would
break your life loose from its grip.

Certainly no name that one can imagine
for the aspen tree outside the kitchen window,
in spade-shaped leaves
spinning on their stems,
working themselves into
a pale-green, vegetable blur.

No word for waking up one morning
and looking around,
because the mysterious spirit
that drives all things
seems to have returned,
and is on your side again.

In the play we’ve just experienced, the two couples, as close as they are to each other, seem to have different views of what their relationships are about.

We witness the collision of the wishes of each couple for their lives. There are several couples here, not simply the two married ones. The betrayal of the friendship bond, as Gabe sees it, is an uncoupling of the two men. The women also lose their closeness, though this break seems less complete. How do friendships snap? And, when they do, do they make a popping sound?

Beth and Tom find other partners who seem to help them re-discover parts of themselves they had lost in their relationship together. Gabe and Karen then must turn to themselves, with their awareness of missing pieces of each other, as they have perhaps, in Gabe’s words, “let practical matters outweigh abandon”.

BARRY

Seminar by Diana Ong

Seminar by Diana Ong

Almost from the outset of this play we’re challenged to think about the limits and boundaries of relationships, our assumptions of the other, how well we know the people we think we know, and how much we can know of another or ourselves. These questions reverberate as the story unfolds, and, as the layers of history become revealed, the assumptions we’ve made about the characters continue to be revised in the light of new information.

Relationships are, in part, about stories: The stories we tell about ourselves, and the stories we tell ourselves about the other. Gabe & Karen have their story about their counterpart couple, Tom & Beth. Tom and Beth they tell themselves, are just like them: loving each other and taking some pleasure in the regularity and predictability of settled life. This story helps Gabe & Karen enjoy their life, just as it is, without noticing that there may be something lacking. G&K have constructed an image of Tom & Beth’s relationship that bolsters their own choices and subjectivities. This requires, as it always does, careful unconscious editing and selective inattention. Their story is set.

The story of the play itself begins simply–a dinner, a gastronomic travelogue, a typical evening,–one of countless like it–among close friends. It’s a familiar tapestry to the hosts, and presumably familiar in some form to the audience, as well.

Suddenly, the confirming mirror shatters as Beth breaks down just before dessert (a lemon almond cake, made with polenta instead of flour. The first couple is shaken by this news, and each goes into what I imagine to be an old adaptive coping style: Karen gets outraged and moralistic, and Gabe gets baffled and goes into a laconic withdrawal.

MOLLY

Donald Margulies is a playwright who is clever about shifting our sympathies over the course of the play – just as happens with the characters themselves. In the first scene, we see Gabe and Karen as a couple sharing a passion for food, wine, travel -. In this scene, their intensity is about the food – the most erotic moment of this opening scene comes in their description of an old woman in Italy crushing tomatoes with her knobby hands in preparing pomodoro. When Beth, sobbing, tells her story, Gabe and Karen are, of course, sympathetic and upset for her. The following scene with Tom and Beth adds a layer of complexity, and we, the audience, see that our feelings and alliances may become more fluid.

In Act II, when we go back to the beginning of the foursome, we see foreshadowings. Beth and Tom step into an embodied idealization on Martha’s Vineyard and right into their roles as a mirror of Gabe and Karen’s couple. They begin by sparring and in retrospect one can see the seeds of trouble. Tom wants what Gabe has – even in college, Tom was stealing Gabe’s girlfriends. Beth states that she’s ready for a change. After she and Tom commiserate about the wearisomeness of the single life, Tom asks Gabe -what does she think of me? Gabe says – she likes you. Tom says – then I like her. And so it begins.

Tom and Beth stay in these roles – at least on the visible surface – for many years, apparently trying to make it work, despite what we later discover was a very early disruption in their marriage.

We might begin to think – what led them to stay in this relationship? Was the friendship a determining factor? What does make unhappy couples stay together? We’ve all seen this, personally and professionally, and there are many variables.

Gabe and Karen come to find that they know nothing about Tom and Beth’s early troubles – or their later ones – there was a lot they didn’t know, and, as it turns out, a lot they have stayed unaware of in their own relationship.

No one truly knows what goes on in a marriage, sometimes least of all the people in it.

BARRY

Nothing remains simple in these characters for us, or for them in their relationships. As we do in our own lives, they each view themselves and their actions with a particular subjectivity: we make up our own stories. If we insist that our relationship partners conform to our stories about them little or no communication is possible.

The friendships of the like-sexed pairs pose interesting material for us to use to think about these ideas. While both sets of relationships seem to have been damaged, the scene between the women seems to move into just a bit more mutuality than does the scene with the men, where no understanding of the other’s subjectivity seems to have been achieved. There’s the impresion that the women might have some hope for continuity. There is none for the men.

Gabe & Tom each insists that the other remains a character in the stories they tell themselves about the other. Each feels mortally hurt by the other’s rejection of his story. Between them there is no understanding or tolerance of the legitimacy of each other’s experience. In the end we feel that the long friendship has snapped. You can practically hear the pop.

Beth & Karen’s interaction, on the other hand feels like it was more relational. The two talk more about the structure of their relationship–and what mutual needs sustained it .

MOLLY

Gabe and Karen, each in their own ways, cannot accept the changes in their friends as they differentiate from them, leaving the roles Gabe and Karen have wanted them in. Gabe feels betrayed – as if the entire friendship had been a sham. In the story of Icarus, most people forget that before he crashed, Icarus had flown. Gabe, and maybe even Tom, seems to forget or to discredit the good times they had had. Perhaps Tom and Beth’s crashed marriage could be seen as a success, helping them grow into a place where they are now more able to have full relationships.

They could be seen as thriving, each presenting themselves as happy for the first time in years. And, in the end, Gabe and Karen must look to themselves and their own relationship to see what they have now that their carefully constructed extended family has broken. Karen asks – How do we not get lost? We are left to imagine where they go from here – all four of them. If you were to write the story of the next five years or so for these couples – the romantic pairs and the friendships – what would it be for each of them? What do you anticipate given what you know now?

BARRY

So, what might this play have to teach us about psychotherapy, group therapy and co-therapy? For one thing, the play is about relationships–what fosters them and what is incompatible. As therapists (and co-therapists) none of us is immune to getting stuck in our own stories about the other, to thinking that what works for us in our lives would work best for them, to overidentifying, and losing the otherness of the other’s subjectivity in the velcro of our own internal issues. There are limits to what we can know about the other, even in the multi-mirrored setting of the therapy group. We are made aware that the next piece of information we learn might change how we perceive the other, and there may always be a next piece of information. We always have to be open to revising our story about others and about our part in relationships. We must always be on the lookout for the unexamined, and remember that openness to the unexpected is what enlivens.

MOLLY

As the playwright demonstrates, there are many layers to stories, and, just as he pulls us along opening up other parts, we need to, as therapists, stay curious about what other layers there may be to the stories we are hearing. Assuming we know, or knowing too much, can, as Winnicott said, can stifle the patient’s (or the group’s) creativity.

BARRY

Poem – Special Problems in Vocabulary
BY TONY HOAGLAND

There is no single particular noun
for the way a friendship,
stretched over time, grows thin,
then one day snaps with a popping sound.

No verb for accidentally
breaking a thing
while trying to get it open
 —a marriage, for example.

No particular phrase for
losing a book
in the middle of reading it,
and therefore never learning the end.

There is no expression, in English, at least,
for avoiding the sight
of your own body in the mirror,
for disliking the touch
of the afternoon sun,
for walking into the flatlands and dust
that stretch out before you
after your adventures are done.

No adjective for gradually speaking less and less,
because you have stopped being able
to say the one thing that would
break your life loose from its grip.

Certainly no name that one can imagine
for the aspen tree outside the kitchen window,
in spade-shaped leaves
spinning on their stems,
working themselves into
a pale-green, vegetable blur.

No word for waking up one morning
and looking around,
because the mysterious spirit
that drives all things
seems to have returned,
and is on your side again.


2015 AGPA OPEN SESSION

art_200x200The Red Well Theater Group is presenting ‘Art’, by Yasmina Reza, as an Open Session at the 2015 AGPA Annual Meeting on February 28 in San Francisco. ‘Art’ was first presented by RWTG at AGPA in 2006. The new cast features RWTG members John Dluhy and Maryetta Andrews-Sachs and guest artist Macario Giraldo.  The Open Session Chair is Bob Schulte. The play is being directed by Rob Williams.  The musician is Tom Teasley. The discussant is Liz Marsh. Liz is also writing a blog account chronicling the Group’s experience preparing for the Open Session.

…View the rest of this post


AGPA 2014 REFLECTIONS


Bob Schulte (Director)

bobUpon returning from our Open Session presentation at the 2014 American Group Psychotherapy Association Annual Meeting, the actors were scheduled to begin reflective writing about the process of preparing their roles for The Great God Pan. Looking back, I remember when I originally introduced the task to the actors they were decidedly cool to the idea. I initially accepted that reaction as normative for actor types who prefer the spoken, rather than the written, word. But their collective ambivalence continued, with no postings submitted for the blog by the agreed upon timeline. Hmm…

In the spring issue of the AGPA Group Circle Newsletter I wrote an article about our creative process, stating that a “unique feature of the rehearsal process is the inevitability that the drama will get under our skin—and inside our hearts and minds and even our souls. We unconsciously start feeling, thinking and relating to each other in ways that resemble the characters and their torment.”

…View the rest of this post


AGPA 2014 and The Great God Pan: Conducting Rehearsals from a Group Therapeutic Perspective

Rehearsal Challenges
Similar to most therapy group schedules, we rehearse just one time each week. This past Sunday’s rehearsal posed a number of challenges.  Three actors were absent—illness, out of the area, and meeting an editor’s deadline, respectively.  The musician was joining us to begin the process of cueing the music segments.  Most notably, we were in an alternative rehearsal space for the first time.  Our regular rehearsal space was unavailable.
Group therapists are skilled at managing disruptions to emotionally complex group processes. Specifically we know how to work empathically to understand their meaning and recognize their impact on the group’s members and their collaborative work.Preparing a play for presentation poses the extra theatrical challenge of understanding how the disruption may also be linked to the dramatic action of the play.
Location Change
Group therapists know that a location change has impact.  If a group member so much as chooses to sit in a chair different from the one typically chosen, the domino effect on everyone else can cause quite a stir.  Themes such as competition, sibling rivalry, privilege, past losses, accountability, entitlement, seeking new perspectives, aversion to change, thrill seeking and sexual attraction may emerge in the process of exploring the group members’ experience of such a ‘small’ occurrence.  The impact of moving to a whole new group room could take months to fully comprehend! Ideally, the process of reflective thought and introspection has the potential of leading to a deeper understanding of relational and small group dynamics.
So I took seriously the possibility of negative consequences resulting from my decision to conduct the second-to-last rehearsal in a new and foreign space.In an effort to ameliorate the impact of the disruption, I gave weeks of notice to the one-time location change, offered reminders along the way, provided directions and my cellphone number for late-arrival access, had the room set up in advance, brought bottled water, and stood guard at the door on the lookout for arriving actors.  But still… every move was nonetheless unfamiliar—and uncomfortable. “Where is the bathroom?  The room is too small.  Oh, shit, I forgot to bring coffee. What, no coffee cake? There are three entrances to the building!Which one will people use? Did we just get locked out?  I don’t have a key, do you?  Where are the others? Where do I sit?” 
Group members understandably felt some increased level of anxiety and thus an increased dependence on the leadership to create safety and familiarity.  We were ‘forced to make’ countless micro-recalculations, consciously and unconsciously, all of which took precious brain and heart power that we did not really have to spare, on a snowy, cold Sunday morning.
Name the Beast/Stay Positive
 Once all the actors were finally in place, I offered, “Last week we had a very organized, planned, scene-by-scene rehearsal—with coffee and cake provided.  I am making an effort to repeat that approach again this week, but I can already tell we’re going to have to improvise our way through much of this morning, as best as we can manage. Without coffee.” Name the beast. Stay positive.I hoped that would be enough. But I wished I had brought coffee!!
Three Group Dynamic Adjustments
Firstly, I found myself involving the actors more actively in giving feedback to the musician about what worked best from their perspective, which I supported whenever possible.  I also found myself soliciting the actors’ guidance in how to proceed with the scene study. “I have some new thoughts about this scene since our rehearsal last week, I’m sure you do too.  Would you like to share first, or would you like to hear from me first?” “Are you ready to try the scene again?” While these are not untypical statements for a director to make, in retrospect, I think I felt a stronger need than usual to keep the actors involved and focused on the immediacy of the task.  The task was a dependable source of familiarity and comfort.  I similarly gave the musician ‘center stage’, sitting next to him, extending as much encouragement and space as I could to allow him to take the lead in cueing the music. He is a gifted professional, but human like the rest of us.  His skill and familiarity with the collaborative process of working with actors helped put us all at ease.
The second noteworthy dynamic emerged in the debriefing segment. The demands of the rehearsal left us with only 15 minutes to check in with each other about the mornings’ work.Barely minutes into the debriefing, I found myself reactively protesting a facilitator comment that I felt went beyond the boundary of his role and function, and, I felt, ran the risk of shutting down the lead actor emotionally.  On another day I may have let the comment pass, (and have), but today the myriad of other disruptions activated me to take a more protective stance. My gut reaction to openly challenge the facilitator in front of the actors was risky business, but saying nothing felt ever more fraught. The experience left me unsettled for the rest of the day, and it was not until the next morning, after a night of frenzied dreaming, that I realized the parallel to the “dangers” dramatized in the play, The Great God Pan. I felt some relief, and frankly a bit of vindication, by making the connection between our experience and the play.
Parallel Processes
In one of the scenes we rehearsed on Sunday, Doug, the father of adult son Jamie, confesses a family secret to his son.  When Jamie was 4, his parents (Doug and Cathy) had sent him to stay for two weeks in the home of Dennis Lawrence, an acquaintance who was the father of a 4 year-old playmate of Jamie’s.  As the play opens, grown-up Jamie learns from his childhood playmate, (now grown up Frank), that Mr. Lawrence is, and has been since their childhood, an alleged child molester.  Frank was a victim. Jamie may have been a victim too. 
The parallel of sending the actor playing Jamie (and the rest of us!) to an unfamiliar ‘home’ to rehearse put me squarely in the symbolic position of Doug. I had made the decision to send us to this strange place, and it was a risky one.When the facilitator ‘took liberties’ by making comments that I felt were ‘out of bounds’, I reacted by protesting. As I reported in an earlier blog posting, the play inevitably ‘gets inside us’, and begins to emerge as we react to the contingencies of rehearsal.  This was one such occasion when the trauma of the play and the contingencies of the rehearsal converged.
Group Therapeutic Goals
Making these kinds of connections between the play and our small group dynamics is a central part of our work together as an ensemble, uncomfortable as it might be at times.  One of our primary learning goals is to understand the dynamics of the play through the emergent “parallel processes”arising out of the dynamics of the acting ensemble.  Today we furthered both the theatrical goal of preparing a quality performance and the educational goal of recognizing the links between the play and our work.  It was a good day.
Unfinished Business
The third noteworthy dynamic has yet to be recognized and fully explored.  I will meet with the consultant/process observer (John Dluhy) Friday, when we will have a first chance to compare notes about the rehearsal in our weekly consultation. Bearing witness to these kinds of group processes is very demanding work, emotionally and intellectually.  Without an acting part or directorial responsibilities to discharge some of his own activated emotional response to the rehearsal experience, the consultant is left ‘sitting with the experience’, and at some emotional risk.  Our weekly consultations provide each of us with a chance to ventilate, expand our clinical and theatrical perspective and offer support and guidance.  John’s vast experience and gifts as both a group therapist and an actor makes him uniquely suited for this demanding assignment.  I am grateful for his perseverance and commitment to our project.
Upon further reflection, one other interesting—even disturbing—feature of Sunday’s rehearsal now stands out in my mind.  One of the actors brought his camera, fitted with a telescopic lens, to take pictures of the rehearsal, some of which are included in this blog posting.  The request to take pictures was made a few weeks ago and seemed ‘innocent enough’ at the time. But in the small, windowless, unfamiliar rehearsal room that we don’t usually ‘reside in’, and having some guy silently, but intently taking pictures ‘from the shadows’, felt a little creepy.  But it didn’t quite register at the conscious level at the time, so I didn’t think to say anything.  Looking back, I feel differently. When I associate to the camera’s intimate relationship with child pornography, I get chills. My empathy deepens for the parental characters Doug, Cathy and nanny Polly. The awesome responsibility of real life parents for noticing what dangers lurk around their children, often visible before their very eyes, is humbling to consider.
A Telephone Rehearsal
The next day, Monday, I conducted a telephone rehearsal with the actors playing Jamie (YavarMoghimi) and his mother Cathy (Barbara Keezell).  The scene they share is actually played ‘on the phone’, so the cellphone conference call format was eerily “in vivo”.  Still sensitive from the day before, we spent most of the time facilitating a shared discussion about the scene.  Their one reading of the actual scene brought us all to tears.  Poignantly, we each had to ‘admit’ this to one another, as the opaqueness of the telephone allowed us the option of keeping this emotional fact to ourselves, if we chose.
So much transpires in so many different and interesting ways through this experience of preparing a play for performance.  My respect, admiration and gratitude for the talent and sensitivity of the playwright, Amy Herzog, the actors and our consultant grow week to week.
Next week we have our final dress rehearsal before heading off to Boston.

Epilogue
On Monday afternoon I conducted an individual therapy session with a successful lawyer and businessman with whom I’ve been working for a few months.  Late in the session, he paused, and then abruptly revealed that on a shopping trip to a local mall with his ten-year-old son over the weekend, they had both witnessed a mother kick her small child in anger. Hard. She was with her husband and two other children.  “Did you see that Dad?” asked the son. “Just keep walking”, the father protectively replied, upset by what he saw, but not wanting to get involved.  When the two got home, the son told his older sister and mother what happened, clearly upset.  The father overheard their conversation, but said nothing.  In our ‘unpacking’ of the experience, the father told me, “I didn’t want to confront the woman. And I looked at her husband. That could escalate into a mess.  But frankly I really wanted to do something.  The woman assaulted her child, and nobody did anything”. 
We explored other options, most notably calling security or the police, and remaining available as a witness.  I was surprised that this option was both a relief and “a novel idea” to the father.  Upon reflection I understand that his fight-flight response had overtaken him, leaving only a risky confrontation with a stranger or a “just keeping walking” escape. When I suggested he could also revisit the situation with his son, he was again relieved and surprised. It hadn’t occurred to him.  I told him he could share with his son what they might have done differently. He could invite his son to talk about his thoughts and feelings about the incident, and then just listen.  “Maybe I should wait until he brings it up”, suggested his father.  “That’s a very thoughtful idea, and often a good strategy”, I replied. “But in this case you already know from his conversation with his sister that the incident is on his mind. Your “keep on walking” might have sent him a message you don’t want to talk about it. You did feel a need to talk about it today. He might too”.  “Good point”, he acknowledged.

Life imitating art…  Art imitating life…
Bob Schulte


AGPA 2014 & The Great God Pan: The Art of Pairing

Wilfred Bion

Bion  &  Basic Assumptions
The group concept of ‘pairing’comes from Wilfred Bion, a British psychoanalyst who studied how groups develop and why members act as they do, especially in the service of dual goals: task accomplishment and psychic survival. Bion became interested in understanding the impact of small and large group processes from his psychiatric work with wounded soldiers during and after WWII.  He observed survival-inspired strategies (basic assumptions of dependency, fight/flight and pairing) employedby group members to feel safe and protectedwhen faced with the rough-and-tumble demands of task completion within group life. Pairing with another person in an exclusive (Bion thought, ‘sexual’) bond is one such strategy. He imagined the group was colluding with the couple to do the group’s work by (pro)creating a magical solution. The concept is particularly relevant to our thinking about the underlying psychological processes of The Great God Pan.  The play has many pairings, recognizable as couples, pals and parent/child and therapist/patient dyads. All feature intimate relating, but with varying degrees of attunement, attachment, stress and distress—and purpose. While we never actually see the ‘group’ all together on stage, the characters can be thought of as a distressed/regressed basic assumption group. The ensemble of actors playing the characters is more recognizable as a work group. Bion would say all groups have qualities of both a work group and basic assumption group. The group goal is to be enough of both to survive and thrive.
Character Pairs
In the ten scenes of the play there are only a few moments where three characters are on stage together. I interpret this strategy as an effort to avoid group-wide knowledge and painful exposure. This exclusive reliance on pairing is a compelling feature of the dramatic structure of The Great God Pan. Whether intuitive or intentional, the playwright sends a powerful message about survival with her use of dyadic structure.
Jamie and Paige, as an intimate couple, are faced with the prospect of becoming a family group.  Paige is pregnant, and this is experienced as a threat to the couple’s exclusiveness.It might be said that Jamie’s inability to pair with the fetus threatens its very existence.
Jamie and Frank were exclusive playmates as children, and may have been harmed by an exploitative parent.  The arrival of Frank, with explosive news, threatens Jamie’s internal sense of wellbeing, and by extension his relationship with Paige, and potentially his wider circle of familial relationships.
Frank and Dennis (offstage character) are paired as son and father.  Their traumatic attachment bond leaves Frank in the “impossible” position of being harmed by the very person to whom he would otherwise turn to for protection.
Jamie and Cathy are paired as son and mother.  His efforts to please his mother and her desire for him to “just be happy” are often in conflict. Jamie’s reaching out for an empathic and informational response from her, in light of his visit with Frank, is frustrated by her dissociative inability to recall something that happened “so long ago”.
Jamie and Doug ‘act the parts’ of father and son, awkwardly.  Their pairing seems to producemore longing than comfort for either of them.The play offers them a redemptive opportunity to risk more authentically ‘living their parts’.
Dennis Lawrence and his wife (both offstage characters) are paired as a highly distressed marital couple. Her inability or unwillingness to respond with outrage or instrumental action to the harm being done to her son is “complicated”, as acknowledged by Frank.
Paige and Joelle are a therapeutic dyad.  The wounded healer and the healing wounded, mirror each other in comforting and confounding ways.  I imagine this will be painfully familiar to therapist audience members who work with trauma victims.
Jamie and Polly were paired as youngster and nanny. The remembering of Polly “as the best babysitter” captures the protective power of what we call in dynamic therapy, an idealized positive transference. The desire to recreate that kind of protective bond in future relationships throughout life is ubiquitous.
A Question of ‘What If?’
This structural choiceof theatrically dramatizing twosomes generates for me the clinical question: What would it be like for Jamie, or any of the characters, to be in group therapy?  To be faced with the emotional risks of telling their story in the presence of others could feel quite threatening.  Destabilizing. Painful. Redemptive.  Liberating. Relieving. Devastating. The emotional possibilities are complex and many.
Our ensemble of therapist/actors have an opportunity to explore this ‘what if’ clinical question through theirown experience of preparing to dramatically read The Great God Pan for an audience.  Their depth exploration of the characters of the play is intimately linked to their own corresponding, very particular, internal emotional terrain, making the theatrical work ultimately, therapeutic as well. This experience occurs first through the ensemble experience of preparation, second, through their performance for an audience and third, through post-performance process group discussions and written reflections.
Actor and Director Collaboration
Today was our first effort at focusing exclusively on scene study and character development. We established a sequence of scenes to work on and a basic working contract between the actors and the director.  This would be primarily a theatrical rehearsal, with group process explorations deferred until the very end of the rehearsal. Instead we began the process of collaboratively integrating the director’s interpretation of the dramatic action of the scenes with the actor’s interpretation of the characters motives, relationships and modes of expression.
My intent in establishing a clear demarcation between the director’s responsibility for interpreting the play, and the actor’s responsibility for interpreting the character was for many reasons.  But foremost, I want to empower the actors to be the final arbiter of their artistic choices.  My goal is to help clarify the action of the scene—what we call the “here-and-now” in group therapy—and allow the actors to consider how their character would ‘act’ under the circumstances.  We are consultants and collaborators to and with each other: they assist me in better understanding the action from their character’s perspective, and I assist them, in better understanding their character from an action perspective.
Looking Within
In the processing segment following the theater rehearsal, the emotional nature of some of our own pairings operating within the ensemble and leadership team emerged.  Various pairs, (notably the director and consultant,and two actors who work together in a clinic setting), identified interpersonal conflicts related to the convergence of their designated roles and tasks, the emotional impact of the play, their collegial relationships as ensemble members, and their professional roles beyond our theater enterprise.  Whew!
As an ensemble, the actors are able to do theirexploratory work of revealing to each other theirsubjective experiences—of the play and of each other—in a ‘safe-enough’ group context.  Everyone is privy to hear what isgoing on between pairs (and subgroups and the group-as-a-whole), to bear witness, and to offer reactions, commentaryand support. This takes dedicated time, effort, courage, talent, tenacity, clinical skill, empathy, compassion, timing and more than a sprinkle of love and luck.

It is only because the conflict of the drama infects the ensemble and the leadership team—slowly, insidiously, inevitably—that we can experientially learn about group therapy through the parallel process of play reading.  Our way of working is thus part theatrical, part therapeutic, part educational, and part relational.  These multi-dimensions of a play reading process allow us to learn about dynamic group processes thatare relevant to our work as group therapists.
Bob Schulte

AGPA 2014 & The Great God Pan: Musically representing the Drama Triangle

Developing a directorial vision for our presentation of The Great God Pan is a creative and collaborative process. The opportunities to dialogue with the actors, the consultant, musician and discussant are invaluable—variously in the study group or rehearsal hall, in private consultation and even in my fantasies and dreams.  Each collaborator brings a unique perspective, and it’s my job to metabolize their contributions such that a coherent directorial interpretation emerges. Solitude and reflection are key to my personal style and process. I strategically take time out to exercise on an elliptical exercise machine I keep in a spare bedroom at home.  (Imagine cross country skiing, without the snow or cold.)  The rhythms and quiet are well suited to my creative process of thinking and metabolizing.  And yes, I just got off the elliptical…
After meeting with the musician, Tom Teasley, this morning, I have a much clearer vision of how music and sound will fit into the presentation.  Three instruments will, together, form a ‘basic group’ of sound and music sources.  The instruments we selected include are a flute, a frame drum and a hang drum. A few other ‘environmental sounds’ will be created by additional instruments and we hope the actors might be involved in the performing of some of those effects.
Here are links to hear the instruments, as used by Tom in performance of poetry and storytelling. The first is a remarkable ‘Tale of Two Wolves’, featuring the frame drum and the flute:

Next is a beautiful rendition of a Traditional Apache Prayer, accompanied by Tom playing only the Native American flute:
And here is a rendition of ‘Haikus for the Seasons’, accompanied by Tom playing the hang drum.
These three distinctive sounds—the frame drum, hang drum and flute—are well suited to our play. The next step is for Tom to use his own creative process to explore their potential with the script in mind, and in rehearsal with the actors.  We will eventually make artistic choices together with the actors about what works where, based on our shared sensibilities.  It is an exciting process. Music and sound are indescribable contributions to the transcendent experience of the lived theatrical moment.
These three instruments are well matched to the concept of the ‘drama triangle’.  As a reminder, the drama triangle is a term coined to signify the victim/perpetrator/rescuer dynamics that routinely emerge in human interactions. From my perspective the flute is linked to victim position. The frame drum is linked to the perpetrator position. (Listen to the Tale of Two Wolvesto hear this duality.) The hang drum is linked to the rescuer position. The person bearing witness (therapists, audience, therapy group members) can also be thought of as a variation on the rescuer role. Representing the victim/perpetrator/rescuer dynamics of the play musically is our goal.  I think we have made a good start and I look forward to bringing the music into our rehearsal process.
Bob Schulte


AGPA & ‘The Great God Pan’: Timing, Triangles and Trauma

Timing
Today’s rehearsal marked the end of our ‘play reading study group’ format whereby we combined play reading with a free associative discussion of the actors’subjective experience of the characters.Imagine us in a group therapists’ upscale private office, sitting comfortably in a circle of fashionable furnishings and original art, coffee in hand, and no immediate pressure to perform for an audience bigger than ourselves—private, protected and intimate.This necessary luxury helped create an emotional climate where trust could develop.
Now we are moving into a more traditional theater rehearsal phase. The new venue is a large conference room with fluorescent lights, mismatched hardback chairs and officewindows looking out onto a barren rooftop.  But the actors will get to be up on their feet, using their whole bodies and voices to connect with the power of the play and with each other. It’s a shock to the system at first, but the freedom to ‘let it rip’ without worry about disturbing the neighbors will outweigh the loss of creature comforts we so enjoyed in our study group phase.
Triangles

The triangle is a meaningful metaphor in psychology and group work, especially with trauma survivors. One noteworthy concept, useful for our examining the dramatic action and characters of The Great God Pan, is the drama triangle.The DT was made popular 40 years ago by noted psychiatrist Stephen Karman who specialized in Transactional Analysis. His drama triangle conceptualizes what he believed were universal victim/perpetrator/rescuer dynamics operating within and between human beings. Damsel-in-distress, villain & hero is a popular interpersonal translation of this concept. 

The TA therapist sees dysfunction as motives, relational styles, behaviors and belief systems that reflect conscious and unconscious efforts to avoid true, authentic living.  This tripartite model can be applied both to the individual (as an internalized capacity to fluidly shift from position to position, rather than being permanently fixed in one role) and to interpersonal relations, whereby individuals can induce certain complementary behaviors in another in the service of ‘getting their way’. While we have many different clinical lenses through which to observe, reflect and interpret, the drama triangle is a particularly interesting one.  Imagining the characters of Pan as struggling to take responsibility for their lives, in an authentic and courageous way, seems intuitively right to me.  This is the struggle I also see the actors taking up in good faith as they work to empathically access corresponding parts of themselves, in the service of understanding their character.
Trauma

In her book, The Body Remembers, trauma specialist Babette Rothschild, MSW states “the consequences of trauma … vary greatly depending on the age of the victim, the nature of the trauma, the response to the trauma, and the support to the victim in the aftermath… [Victims] may alternate periods of over-activity with periods of exhaustion as their bodies suffer the effects of traumatic hyper-arousal of the ANS [autonomic nervous system].  Reminders of the trauma they suffered may appear suddenly, causing instant panic. They become fearful, not only of the trauma itself, but also of their own reactions to the trauma. The body’s signals that once provided essential information become dangerous” (p. 13, 14).  The mind may or may not be capable of conscious memory of trauma’s origins. But the body remembers.

In The Great God Pan, the character Frank Lawrence has tentatively confirmed some basic facts of his childhood sexual abuse, using a mixture of partial cognitive recall, awareness of his body’s distressed cues and a confession of uncertain reliability by his perpetrator.  Therapeutic interventions have also helped him in his process of recovery. But he is not the only character in Pan with trauma history. Joelle, Cathy and Jamie are likely candidates. And if we consider the impact of vicarious trauma, a consequence of the bearing witness of another person’s trauma (an occupational hazard for therapists and caregivers), then everyone in Pan is suffering to some degree from the effects of traumatic stress.  And we/you as the audience risk being traumatized in the act of bearing witness to the characters’ bearing witness of trauma. No one escapes. Playwright Amy Herzog’s general interest in memory as a dramatic theme is subtly woven into the fabric of her play, ranging from benign forgetfulness to more traumatic responses of dissociation and denial and to aging-related dementia.
Last night, prior to today’s rehearsal, I had a ‘bad dream’. In my dream I was back working in the domestic violence clinic where I started my social work career, while simultaneously maintaining my private practice. My boss in the clinic of my dream is a Catholic nun whom I fear.  In the dream I thought, “What am I doing here! I should quit and just work in my private practice. This is too stressful”. When I woke and recalled the dream I thought, “What am I doing directing this play! I should quit and just work in my private practice. This is too stressful!” After the rehearsal I felt differently.  The courageous and creative work of my colleagues and the opportunity to share in an experience of learning, healing and growth with them makes the effort worthwhile.
The creative process takes a toll. Writing about the week-to-week experience of our work together feels like worthwhile resilience building.

Bob Schulte

AGPA 2014 Update: Discovering the dramatic core of ‘Pan’

We have completed our three months of pre-rehearsal exploration of the play, The Great God Pan. The group now begins rehearsals to prepare their assigned roles for performance.
These past few months have given us an invaluable head start in developing a shared perspective on the play.  I, as the director, understand the play in surprising new ways and I personally have a deeper appreciation for the complexities of the person-as-actor-in-character situation that play reading creates. I also continue to be impressed by the depth of clinical insight, theatrical sensibility and personal courage the ensemble members bring to our project.
A unique aspect of play reading is the experience of the play ‘getting inside us’. As an ensemble, we start feeling, thinking and even behaving in ways that reflect the heart and soul of the play.  The Great God Pan has a potent victim-perpetrator-rescuer dynamic built in, reflective of its trauma-related circumstances.
I am determined to be vigilant in my efforts to track this dynamic, knowing it will eventually emerge from within our ensemble and potentially reeking havoc.  I got a glimpse of this process at the end of the first reading, when we turned our attention to the actor’s debriefing/discussion segment.  Some of the actors later reported feeling intruded upon—not quite violated—by our very direct inquiry of their experience.  I came to understand that the boundary crossing we might normally feel free to make in asking exploratory questions felt more like a boundary violation, signaling to me that the parallel process of victim-perpetrator-rescuer had begun to emerge. 
By openly discussing this with the actors, we all agree that a more free associative, non-directive approach to the debriefing segment would better respect the vulnerable nature of the actors’ task of getting in touch with, and revealing their subjective experience. Allowing the actors more control over the pace and degree to which they shared their experience of the play has been one of the early adjustments we’ve made in our work thus far, with good effect.

Good fortune seems to follow our project.  I received an email in December from Tom Teasley, a professional musician, composer and sound healer with an international following.  We had the good fortune to collaborate with Tom during our presentation of Off the Map at AGPA in 2008. Tom’s interpretive style of creating and using music for both theatrical and healing purposes is ready made for our projects. So when Tom reached out in hopes of collaborating again, it felt as if the gods themselves had intervened on our behalf.  Tom will join our rehearsals and accompany our play reading of The Great God Pan with an original musical interpretation in Boston.You can hear a sampling of Tom’s musical genius, by clicking here

Rob Williams did some web-based researching and found two interviews with the playwright, Amy Herzog, discussing her approach to writing The Great God Pan.  I found her keen interest in the nature of remembering clinically very relevant.  The neuroscientists understand the normative processes of encoding and retrieving memories of past experience, the disruptive impact of trauma on that process, and the vicissitudes of memory in the aging brain.  Herzog has translated those sensibilities with such skill and artistry into her characters of Pan. We’re fortunate to be working with a play—and playwright—that has such exquisite clinical attunement.
You can experience the interviews with Ms. Herzog at:
http://www.playwrightshorizons.org/shows/trailers/amy-herzog-great-god-pan/ 
http://www.playwrightshorizons.org/shows/trailers/tim-sanford-and-amy-herzog/
Part of the actor assignment is to narratively track their rehearsal experience that will eventually be posted as blog accounts for all to read, after our first performance date has come and gone (AGPA, March 8).  The actors’ unique vantage point will make very interesting reading. Look for their blog postings after March 8.
In the meantime, I will continue to post some of my directorial process.  This will both help me in gaining clarity as I move through the final decision making process for a number of artistic and process related decisions, and hopefully will be of interest to both the actors and prospective audience members!
One directorial decision that has arrived is the choice of an image for the program cover.  This is the image we have selected:
 

Food for thought…I’m looking forward with confidence to the formal rehearsal process that begins January 12.

Bob Schulte