Flying home from AGPA, I found myself thinking about the take aways from this annual event — both from the recent one and the many I have attended in the past. These are the gems that can transform a workshop — even one that may have been otherwise unmemorable — into an event worth every minute of the time that was spent. In most cases they consist of just a simple phrase. But for me, each is a phrase that so well captures the essence of something important, that it is forever useful. I have often wondered whether any of these could be meaningfully passed on — free of context — or if the meaning is so connected to the rest of the workshop, that “you had to be there” to really appreciate it. At the risk of putting out gems whose brilliance may be missed by the absence of light provided by the actual workshop, I would like to share some of these and see whether they are as precious to others as they are to me.
The first of these came many years ago from an all day workshop with the late Mary Goulding, who said: “Feelings are things that can be expressed in just one word.” The next, also many years ago, came near the end of a two-day institute on psychodrama — which while beautifully run and highly enjoyable, was so far from the way I work that I doubted that I would make use of anything from it. Then came the gem, offered by the leader to a group member, who in expressing feelings toward his abusive father, showed more tears than rage: “Stop pissing on your Gunpowder.” Two related gems, also dealing with anger and its inhibition, came from Joe Shay in one of his workshops on projective identification, “Sadism expressed equals retaliation spared,” and from Susan Gantt during one of her SCT trainings, “The incredible power released in the expression of ‘undefended against rage’.”
The next was from a workshop on systems centered communication (SAVY.) Although the concept was not so named, I have used it for many years with couples and families with the name “Three builds Before a But” or preferably, the nickname, “The Five Bees.” This phrase describes the task of first joining with those with whom you disagree by stating three aspects of their position that you support, before telling them about the parts you disagree with. Another of my re-named gems is also from an invaluable SCT concept. This is one that SCT folks refer to as “Mind Reads,” the idea that we carry beliefs about what others are thinking/ feeling/intending that may have nothing to do with what is going on for them and are important to check out. Since, for unclear reasons, many of my couple patients objected to the term “mind reads” (perhaps because they secretly hoped for loved ones who might know what they needed without their having to say it), I changed the term to “Malignant Hypotheses,” a term that seemed closer to what was often going on and easier for my couples to embrace.
The next two gems came from a lively couple’s workshop in which the primary goal was to appreciate and practice the skill of active listening. Since this is something that I already know and regularly use, I decided that while I was unlikely to learn anything new, I could have a great time role playing the world’s most editorializing, and mishearing “active listener.” And so I did. But along with all the fun, there emerged two terrific couples’ gems: “Only one person can go crazy at a time;” and a comment on early, idealized love, “We are one and the one is me.”
My two most recent gems are from workshops led by NCGPS folks. The first, is a quote from William James, provided by participant in the workshop that I lead on the Impact of Communal Singing: “I do not sing because I am happy, I am happy because I sing!” The second is from a delightful improv workshop given this year by Ali Kimmell and Elizabeth Ehrenberg, which provided an exuberant action based method for “Celebrating Mistakes.” Like AFOG (Another fucking opportunity for growth!), which was a gift from a group that I supervise. This paradoxical concept is invaluable for those who work with folks with excessive perfectionism and self criticism.
And the last, saved here for the end, is from a workshop with Mary Susillo: “Death is the end of life — not the end of a relationship.”