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Setting up a therapists' support group 2

I wrote yesterday about the email that was sent out last autumn asking several fellow psychotherapists up here in Edinburgh whether they would be interested in forming a Therapists' Support Group.

What was some of the thinking behind this initiative?  Back in 2008 I lectured at the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) Annual Conference on "The alliance is crucial: what are the implications?".  This twenty five slide presentation began by looking at research on the importance of the therapeutic alliance in psychotherapy, including CBT.  I then talked about the potential value of experiential groups for therapists to help them develop the qualities that best nourish the healing relationship.  I quoted a small survey I did of 45 health professionals who had attended some of the sequence of peer residential groups I've been involved with since the early 1990's.  I wrote to them saying "Please give a number somewhere between 0 and 10 to indicate approximately how helpful you feel these groups have been for you as a health professional, where 0 stands for 'not helpful at all' right up to 10 which stands for 'very helpful indeed'."  The average score given was 8.4.  Very impressive.  Not good science, but impressive. 

It reminds me of the survey of approximately 8,500 psychotherapists (in 25 countries) reported in Geller et al's book "The psychotherapist's own psychotherapy: patient and clinician perspectives".  They report "The vast majority of mental health professionals, independent of professional discipline, have undergone personal treatment ... 78% relate that therapy has been a strong positive influence on their own professional development ... Multiple studies consistently demonstrate that the enduring lesson taken by practicing clinicians from their own treatment concerns the importance of the therapeutic relationship and the centrality of nurturing interpersonal skills." 

A while ago I thought it might be fascinating to explore this territory for myself and I booked in for two to three sessions each with four different therapists to see what it was like "sitting in the other chair" (before choosing one of them to work with more long term).  What huge differences there were between these experienced therapists.  Their particular form of psychotherapy didn't seem to make a lot of difference to what felt like the crucial initial impressions I had of them.  I lectured briefly about it too - see "Is experience as a client important for being an effective cognitive therapist?".  I do think that the psychotherapy technique/school practised by the therapist makes a difference, at least for some types of problem.  This is obvious from a fairly brief scan of the therapeutic literature in, for example, panic disorder or posttraumatic stress disorder.  I also think that the therapeutic relationship is central too - and in many situations it's right at the heart of good therapy.  I'm really confident that groups - like this possible therapists' support group - have helped me hugely to become more able to meet those who come to me for help with more sensitivity, honesty, warmth, humility.  I'm sure I often don't manage as well as I would hope to, but involvement in groups has been life-changing for me.

So seven of us - who could manage the day and time - met for three hours on Sunday afternoon.  Another eight therapists had expressed interest, but hadn't made it to this initial meeting.  How did it go?  It was good.  For me it was good.  That familiar balance of enough structure, enough "holding" to give us a bit of direction ... and plenty of space to allow people to show and share themselves.  I think it must have gone pretty well for everyone as we all ended by committing to a series of future meetings.  The plan is to find eight times - alternating Sunday afternoons and Wednesday evenings - at gaps of two to three weeks, when most of us can get together.  Great.  Once we have firm dates and times, we'll check if one or two others who expressed interest but couldn't make this initial meeting want to join.  The idea is that we run for eight sessions and then there's a "bus stop".  Some may want to "get off the bus" - leave the group for a while - with space then made for others who are interested to get on.  Then another sequence of meetings till the next bus stop and so on.  We'll see.  Certainly a good start though!


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