Posts Tagged ‘therapy’

Ah, groups…

group dancingMost models of group development describe stages that the members and the group as a whole go through as part of the group lifecycle. The first stage has names like orientation, initial, beginning, pre-affiliation, inclusion, and forming. While the second stage has more dramatic names such as conflict, transitional, norm development, power and control, and storming.

During the first stage, group members tend to focus on establishing and sharing their personal goals for being a member, and beginning to find their roles within the group by looking to the behavior of others. Members often to feel anxious about belonging, wonder if they can trust the group especially with personal information, and they tend to enact their usual patterns when they meet new people which maybe somewhere along the continuum between withdrawn to extroversion. At this stage communication between group members tends to be superficial and focuses on giving and receiving advice (Mcphee & Gass, 1993).

At this time, it is important for group leaders to provide information that will help people decide if they want to be part of the group, establish structure and guidance for new skills, and provide support to individual members. The leaders can draw out commonalities and foster members developing personal connections with each other. Sub-groups may begin to form early on, so leaders should name and highlight the formation of any cliques that could exclude some members from full participation in the group. When the group has mastered these tasks, it will naturally move onto the next stage, although it could return here at any time.


group conflictThe second stage of group formation is one that often scares people, since it usually involves conflict. This could emerge among group members, between members and the leaders, or in relation to an outside group or concept. Conflict starts to emerge once most group members have determined that the group is a safe place and that it is worth investing in emotionally (Mcphee & Gass, 1993). People are committed to the group and now feel safe enough to pull back and reclaim some of their individual identity. Negative feelings like confusion and irritation may start to come to the surface and be expressed for the first time, communication may include criticism, and language about the way things “should” be.

The group must learn to navigate conflict successfully in order to become more cohesive and form deeper relationships. Many people are afraid of conflict and do their best to avoid it or distract themselves when they fear it may occur. This is be because of its potential for driving the group apart, as Mindell (2000) points out, “Unmitigated and unprocessed tension can lead to war just as easily as it can lead to the development of greater synergy and teamwork” (p. 42). However contradictory it may seem, avoiding conflict can actually stifle the very emotional growth and connection that group members seek. I have seen this proven time and time again in my own experience.

Conflict can come up around competition for attention or decision-making power. This is intimately linked to issues of rank which can be determined by race, ethnicity, education, gender, etc (Mindell, 1995).  Group members may become aware of the ways in which they have been using their power or ways they have felt oppressed by the power of others. Naming these dynamics can cause great resistance and conflict within a group as people fear potential retaliation or a loss of relationships within the group.

New behaviors may need to be negotiated to address group values more explicitly. The early roles and norms that have been established in a group may need to be reworked, which can cause conflict as people readjust to this changing context. Mindell (2000) writes, “All groups and organizations have beliefs, tendencies, philosophies and behaviors that they promote and others that they disapprove of, prohibit, repress or actively resist” (p. 43). Within this context, conflict can occur as people struggle to become more congruent with their own true selves. They may realize they have been behaving in ways that do not reflect their true wishes. Or through feedback from other group members, they may become aware of the consequences of patterns of previously established behavior.

One of the main ways that conflict manifests is through incongruencies within each individual, such as when people send one message with their words and another with their body language. Other group members pick up on these conflicting messages and react to them. However, conflict only becomes healthy and productive when the all parts of every group member are encouraged to express themselves and space is held for all of them (Mindell, 2000). Group leaders can help draw attention to these incongruencies and help group members to self-correct by explicitly bringing more parts of themselves to the group.


group cohesionYalom (2005) describes group cohesion as the fluctuating attraction that group members have for their group based on their relationship with other members, leaders and the group as a whole. High levels of cohesiveness improve the therapeutic outcome for group members and help to protect the group from internal and external threats to its integrity. There are several ways that group leaders and members can help to create norms that foster a sense of cohesion and the qualities that make for a successful therapeutic experience: trust, warmth, empathetic understanding and acceptance.

Groups high in cohesiveness help members to enter a reinforcing circle where they feel trust in other members, disclose personal information, receive empathy from other members, experience acceptance for their individual thoughts and experiences, which in turn leads to increased trust and further self-disclosure. This pattern allows group members to receive information about the accuracy of their self-perception, as the group may value them more or less than they value themselves. Since the group itself is perceived as helpful by the members, this discrepancy creates a dissonance that requires members to revise their beliefs about themselves and corresponding behavior.

According to Yalom (2005), the main tasks of the group leader are to create and maintain the group, build a group culture, and illuminate the here and now. Underlying these tasks is the need for a consistent positive relationship with all group members.   The leader should recognize and address any behavior that threatens group cohesiveness including attrition, cliques, scapegoating, etc. This will help to create a group culture that will foster therapeutic change in the members. The group norms that develop may be tacit or explicit and for or against certain behaviors. The leaders should be emotionally stable and model constructive ways of working through conflict including direct and heart-felt communication, individual processing of intense or difficult feelings, and non-defensiveness.



McPhee, P. & Gass, M. (1993). A group development model for adventure therapy programs in Gass, M.. Adventure Therapy: Therapeutic applications of adventure Programming (171-177). Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt.

Mindell, A. (1995). Sitting in the fire: Large group transformation using conflict and diversity. Portland, OR: Lao Tse Press.

Mindell, A. (2000). The leader as martial artist: Techniques and strategies for revealing conflict and creating community. Portland, OR: Lao Tse Press.

Yalom, I.D. & Leszcz, M. (2005). The theory and practice of group psychotherapy (5th ed.). New York, NY: Basic Books.

Basic Goodness

In different cultures basic aliveness is described as unconditional openness, spirit, basic goodness, harmony, Buddha nature, divine spark, true self, brilliant sanity. It has three main qualities: 1. Openness- to the endless possibilities of the present moment; 2. Clear Seeing- awake to what is without  bias or pre-conceptions; 3. Responsiveness- attunement, empathy, compassion, understanding, and sensitivity.

In my own search for an answer to the question of “what is basic aliveness” I began by considering animate objects and whether my aliveness resonated with their aliveness. Slowly I began to realize that basic aliveness can exist within me and resonate with other objects depending on the quality of the presence and intention that I bring to my experience with them, rather than something inherent to them. It seems to me that basic aliveness is how my energy reaches out to the world and interacts with objects in the present moment. I feel basic aliveness most when I’m not thinking about the past or future, when I am just curious and present with what is. As Hayward & Hayward (1998) point out, “We sometimes catch a glimpse of ordinary sacredness when we come across our familiar world freshly, as if for the first time” (p. 1).

Basic aliveness is a sense of wholesomeness that exists beneath all of the ups and downs of life. It does not imply happiness but rather that being alive has an energetic quality that infuses all of our experiences when we pay attention. Basic aliveness lets the world in and is the source of our vulnerability, tenderness, and sensitivity. Felt sense (subtle body sensations that contain feelings), feelings (these can remain in the background of awareness), and emotions (these cannot be ignored) arise in response to our aliveness interacting with the world around us.

Spectrum of felt energy:

In contrast, the cocoon is an unconscious boundary that we create within ourselves in order to protect ourselves from experiencing pain. This contracted cocoon state is a way of protecting ourselves from our vulnerabilities in the world by taking us out of the present moment. The cocoon is also an indication of basic health; since it is an important response to danger. This boundary becomes the way that our basic aliveness interacts with the world; the boundary allows presence in “safe” situations and pulls back from being present in “unsafe” situations.

However, the protective cocoon requires a tremendous amount of energy to maintain, as we are constantly aware of and reacting to potential threats and telling ourselves stories about who we are in order to keep the protective boundary in place.  Trungpa (1994) describes how “We shut out any vastness or possibilities of deeper perception out of our hearts by fixating on our own interpretation of phenomena… We always have a choice: we can limit our perception so that we close off vastness or we can allow vastness to touch us” (p. 102-103).

Psychological cocoons are composed of three elements, “the basic pain of feelings that seem threatening and overwhelming; the contracting of awareness to avoid the pain; and the stress of continually having to prop up and defend an identity based on this avoidance and denial” (Welwood, 1992, p. 161). I am struck by awkwardness and stupidity as sites of basic aliveness, I suppose that is why they are so uncomfortable; they brings us face to face with our own imperfections and give us the opportunity to accept ourselves as we are or to continue judging and rejecting our own experiences. We can use these uncomfortable moments to knock us into the present, as “times when we might find that we are suddenly free of our habitual ways of perceiving ourselves, other and the environment. They are times when we might tap into out inherent goodness” (Wegela, 1999, p. 77).

The tactic of the cocoon can eventually cause us distress when we realize that parts of ourselves and our world are cut off from us. As we become aware of this, we can choose to continue strengthening the cocoon or instead try out new ways of acting in the world. This slow process requires awareness, patience, and gentleness, as  “to be truly human in ordinary life requires a sense of bravery, daring to live genuinely, even in the face of obstacles like fear, doubt, depression or external aggression” (Hayward & Hayward, 1998, p.12).

There are three approaches to unraveling cocoons and helping emotions not get frozen and block our experience of basic aliveness: 1. Therapeutic- let feelings speak, personify them so they can express themselves freely without censorship; 2. Meditative- gently notice emotion and return to the breath without looking for meaning, this allows us to contain the energy of emotion and use it for self-illumination; 3. Taming- befriend emotions and let them be without judgment, feel deeply into the emotions under the associated thoughts and storylines.

Try this practice of taming emotions: begin by breathing and softly naming each experience as it comes into your awareness; body sensations and energy (tingling, itching, heat), feelings (fear, delight, anger), sights and sounds (ringing, cars, wind), thoughts (planning, remembering). Focusing on one thing at a time, name and fully feel in the body each experience that arises until it passes away, then return to the breath until something else arises. Simply acknowledge and feel into what is present in each moment without judgment, grasping or aversion.


Hayward, J. & Hayward, K. (1998). Sacred World: The shambala way to gentleness, bravery, and power. Boston, MA: Shambala Publications.

Trugpa, C. (1984). Shambala: The sacred path of the warrior. Boulder, CO: Shambala Publications.

Wegela, K.K. (1999, May) The scene of the accident. Shambala Sun. p. 77-78.

Welwood, J. (1992) The healing power of unconditional presence. In Welwood, J. (Ed.). Ordinary magic (p. 159-170). Boston, MA: Shambala Publications.

Como Detectar Abuso De Niños, Niñas y Adolescentes

Niños en todo partes del mundo encuentran situaciones de violencia y abuso. En muchos casos su propia familia o entre adultos en posiciones de responsabilidad, es donde los niños encuentran más violencia en sus vidas, ya sea física, emocional o sexual.

Según el Diagnóstico y Abordaje del Maltrato en Bolivia en el 2000, cada seis de diez niños sufren violencia física en sus hogares. También sufren violencia psicológica a través de las amenazas de botarles del hogar, riñas, insultos, gritos, prohibiciones de salir o la negación de darles de comer.

Además, según una investigación realizada en 1998 por DNI Bolivia sobre el maltrato en las escuelas y colegios, en las escuelas el 50 por ciento de los niños y niñas sufren maltrato físico alguna vez y el 6 por ciento lo sufren constantemente.

Esta presentacion junto con la Orientación Básica Sobre Niñez en El Contexto Boliviano, ambos hechos para un encuentro entre los cooperantes de Servicio Britanico, nos ayudan detectar y ojala prevenir el abuso de los niños.

Is There an Ecological Unconscious?

An article by Daniel B. Smith in the New York Times Magazine.

About eight years ago, Glenn Albrecht began receiving frantic calls from residents of the Upper Hunter Valley, a 6,000-square-mile region in southeastern Australia. For generations the Upper Hunter was known as the “Tuscany of the South” — an oasis of alfalfa fields, dairy farms and lush English-style shires on a notoriously hot, parched continent. “The calls were like desperate pleas,” Albrecht, a philosopher and professor of sustainability at Murdoch University in Perth, recalled in June. “They said: ‘Can you help us? We’ve tried everyone else. Is there anything you can do about this?’ ”

Residents were distraught over the spread of coal mining in the Upper Hunter. Coal was discovered in eastern Australia more than 200 years ago, but only in the last two decades did the industry begin its exponential rise. Today, more than 100 million tons of black coal are extracted from the valley each year, primarily by open-pit mining, which uses chemical explosives to blast away soil, sediment and rock. The blasts occur several times a day, sending plumes of gray dust over ridges to settle thickly onto roofs, crops and the hides of livestock. Klieg lights provide a constant illumination. Trucks, draglines and idling coal trains emit a constant low-frequency rumble. Rivers and streams have been polluted.

Albrecht, a dark, ebullient man with a crooked aquiline nose, was known locally for his activism. He participated in blockades of ships entering Newcastle (near the Upper Hunter), the largest coal-exporting port in the world, and published opinion articles excoriating the Australian fossil-fuel industries. But Albrecht didn’t see what he could offer besides a sympathetic ear and some tactical advice. Then, in late 2002, he decided to see the transformation of the Upper Hunter firsthand.

“There’s a scholar who talks about ‘heart’s ease,’ ” Albrecht told me as we sat in his car on a cliff above the Newcastle shore, overlooking the Pacific. In the distance, just before the earth curved out of sight, 40 coal tankers were lined up single file. “People have heart’s ease when they’re on their own country. If you force them off that country, if you take them away from their land, they feel the loss of heart’s ease as a kind of vertigo, a disintegration of their whole life.” Australian aborigines, Navajos and any number of indigenous peoples have reported this sense of mournful disorientation after being displaced from their land. What Albrecht realized during his trip to the Upper Valley was that this “place pathology,” as one philosopher has called it, wasn’t limited to natives. Albrecht’s petitioners were anxious, unsettled, despairing, depressed — just as if they had been forcibly removed from the valley. Only they hadn’t; the valley changed around them.

In Albrecht’s view, the residents of the Upper Hunter were suffering not just from the strain of living in difficult conditions but also from something more fundamental: a hitherto unrecognized psychological condition. In a 2004 essay, he coined a term to describe it: “solastalgia,” a combination of the Latin word solacium (comfort) and the Greek root –algia (pain), which he defined as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault . . . a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home.’ ” A neologism wasn’t destined to stop the mines; they continued to spread. But so did Albrecht’s idea. In the past five years, the word “solastalgia” has appeared in media outlets as disparate as Wired, The Daily News in Sri Lanka and Andrew Sullivan’s popular political blog, The Daily Dish. In September, the British trip-hop duo Zero 7 released an instrumental track titled “Solastalgia,” and in 2008 Jukeen, a Slovenian recording artist, used the word as an album title. “Solastalgia” has been used to describe the experiences of Canadian Inuit communities coping with the effects of rising temperatures; Ghanaian subsistence farmers faced with changes in rainfall patterns; and refugees returning to New Orleans after Katrina.

The broad appeal of solastalgia pleases Albrecht; it has helped earn him hundreds of thousands of dollars in research grants as well as his position at Murdoch. But he is not particularly surprised that it has caught on. “Take a look out there,” he said, gesturing to the line of coal ships. “What you’re looking at is climate change queued up. You can’t get away from it. Not in the Upper Hunter, not in Newcastle, not anywhere. And that’s exactly the point of solastalgia.” Just as the loss of “heart’s ease” is not limited to displaced native populations, solastalgia is not limited to those living beside quarries — or oil spills or power plants or Superfund sites. Solastalgia, in Albrecht’s estimation, is a global condition, felt to a greater or lesser degree by different people in different locations but felt increasingly, given the ongoing degradation of the environment. As our environment continues to change around us, the question Albrecht would like answered is, how deeply are our minds suffering in return?

Albrecht’s philosophical attempt to trace a direct line between the health of the natural world and the health of the mind has a growing partner in a subfield of psychology. Last August, the American Psychological Association released a 230-page report titled “Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change.” News-media coverage of the report concentrated on the habits of human behavior and the habits of thought that contribute to global warming. This emphasis reflected the intellectual dispositions of the task-force members who wrote the document — seven out of eight were scientists who specialize in decision research and environmental-risk management — as well as the document’s stated purpose. “We must look at the reasons people are not acting,” Janet Swim, a Penn State psychologist and the chairwoman of the task force, said, “in order to understand how to get people to act.”

Yet all the attention paid to the behavioral and cognitive barriers to safeguarding the environment — topics of acute interest to policy makers and activists — disguised the fact that a significant portion of the document addressed the supposed emotional costs of ecological decline: anxiety, despair, numbness, “a sense of being overwhelmed or powerless,” grief. It also disguised the unusual background of the eighth member of the task force, Thomas Doherty, a clinical psychologist in Portland, Ore. Doherty runs a private therapeutic practice called Sustainable Self and is the most prominent American advocate of a growing discipline known as “ecopsychology.”

Continue reading Is There an Ecological Unconscious? here.