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