Cultural differences and similarities provide rich opportunities for interpersonal learning, understanding, and growth. Exploring cultural differences and similarities as they emerge in the process of group psychotherapy deepens individual and interpersonal understanding within a group and may also inform multicultural interactions outside the group. Despite the potential benefits for group members and the professional mandate for culturally competent therapists, many therapy, process, and training groups do not engage members in multicultural exploration. Groups provide a rich context for interpersonal learning through attunement to one’s own story and others’ stories. Exploration of commonalities and differences among members is an important dimension of group development. Member differences such as ethnicity, race, national origin, indigenous heritage, religion, social status, gender, age, disability, and sexual orientation may be referred to indirectly in groups through metaphors. In this interpersonally oriented group, the leader’s role is to help the group work with the metaphors that emerge and to encourage exploration of cultural differences and similarities. Metaphors may serve as a bridge for creating common ground that allows for exploration of cultural differences. Members will share their stories, attend to others, and gain techniques for bridging differences. Engaging with others’ metaphors provides an opportunity to connect with their creativity and their individual and cultural selves. This institute will highlight common metaphors and underscore interventions that facilitate or impede an exploration of differences.

The institute will begin with a focus on creating a safe enough context for engaging in this work together. The leader will attend to metaphors and images that emerge throughout the process. A common definition for metaphor will be offered. The focus of the group will initially be on member’s sharing some aspect of their cultural identity or journey. Other members will have an opportunity to interact with members and their stories. Differences and similarities will be highlighted. Particular attention will be paid to differences that may be bridged through further discussion and exploration. Participants will have an opportunity toward the end of the institute to process together leader interventions that may have facilitated or impeded the exploration of cultural differences and similarities. The elaboration of metaphors will be a particular focus. The application of this approach to training and therapy groups will be discussed.

Dr. Alexis Abernethy is a Clinical Psychologist and Professor in the Graduate School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary. She graduated from Howard University with a BS in psychology. She received her MA and PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. She has conducted institutes and workshops nationally on cultural competence and spirituality in group therapy.

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