Hello there! I’m sorry it’s been a while since my last post, but I have been caught up with a lot of work for the internship the past two weeks. As I have mentioned before I love how versatile my internship is since we have the opportunity to participate in a lot of different activities , apart from the office work, outreach and filing.
So for the past month I have been attending an online course on Social Therapy, under the title of “The art of building the group”. The East Side Institute offers a lot of such online courses for people who want to get introduced to social therapy and its practices, but are not from New York. The online classes are set up in a very intriguing way and there are participants from every part of the world. Every participant signs up in the online group and once a week the person leading the class (teacher) assigns readings and assignments from the same book that all of us have purchased in advance. After everyone reads the related passages, they are asked to share their impressions/thoughts/questions in a blog-post form that every other participant has access to whenever he/she wants. People feel free to comment on each other posts, share their thoughts, ask for clarifications, expand on conversations and continue a back and forth ongoing discussion on the readings and beyond. Twice a week the teacher-who in our case is a social therapist- reads all the comments, responds to questions raised, and provokes with even more questions that the rest of us are asked to figure out.
This is the second online class I attended-the first one was earlier this year when I first found out about the Institute and I wanted to get introduced to Social Therapeutics. Overall the class was very thought-provoking and gave us all great insight of the way social therapists try to create an environment between the patients, where they can feel comfortable sharing their problems and worries. At the beginning I must confess it sounded very weird to me, since in Greece therapy (whether is individual or in groups) is not very common, unless the person is heavily suffering emotionally and has a lot of issues in his/her personal life and needs assistance. However, I quickly found out that this is not the case in New York and therapy is a very common practice, even among kids. People feel comfortable in just seeing someone to discuss their situations and life states with, even if they are not necessarily seeking for advice. I guess that also has to do with the different cultures, upbringing and paces of life when you are comparing an averagely big city in Greece and New York city 😛
Anyway, let me return to some moments during our conversations in the online class to see what I am talking about and the sides of therapy that we touch while questioning and investigating. This an abstract from a post that a fellow student posted about her experience with social therapy;
“What I’m realizing now, is that while individual therapy forced me to speak, it was only a half step. I would imagine that its’ harder to begin speaking in group therapy about yourself if you are shy. But making that group jump first, rather than talking to a therapist alone and then taking your thoughts out into the world, means seeing the responses of a group to your feelings from the start. Group therapy is more realistic. This setting is more similar to the settings one may encounter outside of the group session, with reactions from friends and family to personal struggles. “
I think that here she provides a profound distinction/difference thanks to her personal experience of both types of therapy, and she underlies that social therapy might be more helpful than individual therapy in cases, since its socially contextualized, built and developed by other human beings. That’s especially important when people struggle with certain negative personality characteristics and reactions they have towards other people around them.
Here is a very striking quite by Fred Newman the write of the Psychological Investigations book that the readings were taken from in his attempt to explain why social therapy is beneficial for those who undergo it.
“We’ve lost a sense of our sociality in favor of the notion of the individual. And while this was a huge, progressive advance during the Enlightenment, the fetishization of the individual over the last couple of hundred years has deprived us of a sense of sociality, of community, of history, of spiritual location. I think that is at the root of what is sometimes identified as the great moral crisis in the world. I don’t think it’s the case that people are bad people now and they used to be good people. I think what has been the case is that the loss of our sense of sociality in this age of the individualized entity has been a profound sociocultural change. No small part of social therapy is to help people modestly regain that sense because the process of regaining that sense is emotionally curative.”
Here Fred Newman is underlying the gradual focus on individuality and the importance that each self has gained, disregarding and ignoring other human beings. In social therapy, Fred is not ignoring or downplaying the individuals who make up a group. What he’s saying is that the individuals who make up groups (and that’s all of us) aren’t socialized to experience themselves as part of a group-building process–they tend to respond exclusively as individuals. Social therapists in their work try to re-initiate a sense of oneself as part of the group process, inseparable from it. That’s hard to do in a culture which is so focused on the fundamentality of the individual. Fred believes that the process of re-discovering our sociability and all the things people can discover and create together – even if they look/sound meaningless to someone else- can be emotionally curative and supportive to the individuals that participate in the process.
Lastly, I would like to share a response from Hugh Polk who was leading the class, and which I found really helpful and well-articulated, since I still find it very hard to to use abstract psychological phrases and terms without slightly altering what I initially meant to say 😛
“The group is an ongoing process, a social activity. The individual is part of and a shaper of that process. Ironically we discover who we are as individuals though participating in groups—it’s in that activity that we discover how we’re similar to other people and how we’re different. If you are just talking to yourself or people who are “just like you” (whatever that might mean), you don’t learn much about yourself. So building groups is how we develop and grow as individuals. Social therapy is very pro-individual growth—but that is inseparable from group growth. What grows is the group and the individuals as inseparable from the group who then take that growth with them into other groups.“
I think the last sentence summarizes it all for me, since this is the most important piece I learnt from the way that group therapy can be curative and self-enhancing- in a way and approach that is far from self-centered and self-inclusive, rather group and people-inclusive.