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Peer groups: Cumbria spring group - first full day

The morning starts slowly and gently ... ambling up to the kitchen, doing some tidying away after the night before, switching on the big hot water urn ... then some yoga stretches, meditation, a plunge under the waterfall in the stream, walking up the drove path amongst the sheep and lambs. It's a beautiful sunny day. I've been coming here nearly every spring for 18 years and I can't remember such fine weather at the start of a group.

Then breakfast, hugging, greeting everyone as they gradually emerge from their various activities. We'd agreed to meet in the main 'group' room at 9.45am. We gradually feel our way into the group work. This group is unusual. We're 5 couples. My sense is of more tentativeness than is typical. I think caution at the start of a group is usual, but I suspect that there's maybe a little more because, in a way, couples have potentially more to lose.

Besides coming to peer groups where there are no formal leaders, I also run therapy groups as a paid facilitator. In a handout I use entitled "Group therapy - background information", I've written "Process groups tend to move through a series of developmental stages. These can be described in a variety of ways. Tuckman presented an early description which still contains much that is useful. His sequence was forming (orientation and dependence), storming (intra-group conflict and differentiation), norming (interpersonal intimacy and cohesion), performing (work and functional role-relatedness), and adjourning (loss and autonomy). It is important to emphasise that all stages of group development contain useful opportunities for learning and that one stage is not necessarily any better than another."

Despite the morning group's initial tentativeness, after a while one couple jump in to work deeply. I watch, feel, connect. Sometimes starting to work on important issues while the group is still warming up can be frustrating. Things may not ‘catch light' easily. This work though pushes through to caring, holding, painful, helpful connections. Special - particularly so relatively early on.

Then it's time for lunch ... the best sort of ‘family lunch' around a table out in the sunshine near the stream. I've seen paintings that carry the same open-hearted enjoyment as this meal. Then a break. Time for various walks. I join four others to walk out onto the top of the escarpment ... shopped as well in the local village for a few more provisions.

We meet again at 5.00pm. A discussion that, to me, feels general and political gets going. I come in after a while to try to bring the focus back to us in the group. Rightly or wrongly I feel it is more useful to work with issues that have more personal emotional charge, some edge rather than getting into talking a lot about there/then/outer issues - particularly if they feel engaged with on a heady kind of level. A couple of people used the space to begin exploring issues that are important for them. A bit tentative. Feeling our way in.

Then we had a great treat - an amazing feast cooked up as a celebration. Again, as so often in these groups, such a good sense of friendship, appreciation, warmth. Good conversations too. Because the work in the group sessions themselves is so hugely based on honesty and openness, this permeates all our interactions. So conversations on walks, at meals, doing the washing up or the cooking ... all tend to be clearer, warmer, more honest. And after the meal we danced ... great.

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