Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Natchez, tornadoes, thunder and lightning, and old man river

I am in Natchez for the Mississippi chapter of the National Association of Social Workers conference.  Today was the first day and Jill and I presented an advanced workshop all afternoon on the techniques of using experiential group therapy, or what is sometimes called "adventure based counseling."  It is the first time Jill and I have worked together and I think she was a little nervous about my style--which Jane aka Gigi knows well as we did so many presentations together in the past.  I am a "co-creator" of the workshop when I am inspired.  That means that when I know my topic, the "data" about it, I love to just create the experience of it with the people right there in the room.  I did not want one more PowerPoint of just giving people information, and the purpose of this was to increase the clinical skills of MSWs to enable them to facilitate an experiential group.

We had discussed the "plan" and had an overview of what we wanted to accomplish, and had an outline, but I really wanted to just go in that room and create the experience that people could take away with them, as opposed to taking away "information."  I can be pronoid to a fault, but this was one of the best experiences of my professional life.  Initially, as is usual, folks were reticent to participate.  We worked with what we had--after all, "it is what it is."  We identified the objectives of the day, our plan, and we had set it up so that people could participate but in a controlled way that would enable us to reach our objectives.  It was the most amazing thing to watch this group of individuals turn into a group, teach each other and us, challenge themselves, and ultimately, create and demonstrate the exact thing we had hoped to accomplish.

For me, it reminded me again of how much I really can trust others and trust myself in our common work.  We asked people in the workshop (all were MSWs, though at varying levels of experience) to process the exercises we were doing with the basic format of What? (was that experience like for you), So What? (does that mean, has that ever happened before in your life), and Now What? (will you do with this knowledge, insight, etc.)  I advised them that my teaching technique when I want to "process the processing" is to call a time out, or "pause the video tape" and discuss the discussing and what we are thinking.  I was doing that at one point, pointing out and identifying some important things that had happened and various understandings.  Two women were talking, and I thought they meant to share with the group and asked them what they wanted to add.  One of them said, "We were just saying how good you were at this."  I said, "Well, thank you" and moved on.

Besides the fact that it made me feel good, it reminded me of the time in grad school when I had a wonderful woman faculty member who taught me so much and was such a mentor to me and thinking I wanted to be that for students some day.  Over the years as I have had students tell me that, I am always so appreciative of it as I know what it meant to me to have Dr. Barrett in my life.  There was that wonderful moment when those women said that and I felt so validated in the work we were creating in that room--not just that it was me, though there were moments when the inspirations in my head were just being revealed to me without conscious thought or effort--but that it truly was we were creating the experience of the group.

By the time we finished the 3 hour workshop, every person in the room was participating, physically and verbally.  One participant was a young man who uses an electric wheelchair and has limited use of his arms and hands.  It was so interesting to see how he engaged so, took risks, was willing to be vulnerable,  yet was so astute in his observations and contributions to the group, how he would attempt so much yet asked for help on some things--liked tying on the bandana when they were blindfolded, or adapted to the exercises as he was sitting and lower than the rest of them.  Over and over, I was amazed at humans--our insights, our weaknesses, our compassion, our lack of planning and thinking, our ability to think and plan.

I know you cannot capture a day like today with words necessarily, but it was a day when I was proud to be a social worker, loved the life I have led, and felt and believed that a group of people can learn, grow, understand, and become in a way that we never can alone, and that if somehow we could share that experience of today with more people, this world would be a different place.

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