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Peer groups: Wiston autumn group – second morning

Saturday - the group has now been running for 36 hours or so.  As I'd expected, I slept much better last night than on the first 'just-arrived' night of the group.  Getting up at around 7.00am, I still seemed to be the first person up and about - so it seems the group as a whole slept better!  Yesterday was so full.  To simply report the structure - I'd written, done some yoga exercises, socialised, and meditated before getting to breakfast.  Between 9.45 and 11.15am we met in small "support" groups of 4.  After a coffee break, we then met in the three groups of 12 to 13 for a couple of hours from 11.30 to 1.30.  After lunch many of us walked up Tinto, the hill that rises up beautifully just behind Wiston.  At the top of the hill it was blowing strongly - hard to stay on one's feet weather.  Then back for a game of slippy-slidey football in increasingly heavy rain.  I haven't played football since I was last at Wiston two years ago.  It was brilliant fun.  Then an attempt to find somewhere to hang sopping wet clothes, and arrive almost in time for the start of an afternoon group (in our 12) from 4.30 to 6.30pm.  Early supper at 6.30pm - we get catered for here at Wiston (unlike in the smaller groups at Fawcett Mill) so mealtimes aren't particularly flexible.  After supper two of the groups of 12 met together.  The third group had wanted more time on their own as they were apparently in the middle of something important that had come up.  Then by 9.00pm we'd finished any "formal" group work for the day.  Several people had generously brought wine to share.  Many of us met to talk and sing.  There are quite a few good musicians here - with guitars, and there's a piano.  I headed up to take a bath at about 11.30pm, but a whole crowd stayed on playing music and talking till late.

So that was the structure.  I could write for hours about the content, all the interactions - issues that were worked on in the groups and, just as important it feels to me, the many conversations over meals, on walks, and during all the in-between times.  An extraordinary beehive of complexity.  I'm not going to write about all this in any kind of detail because, absolutely rightly, we agree to keep the group content confidential.  Again quoting the wiki "a core reason for a confidentiality agreement is so that participants feel - whether here on the wiki or in the groups - safe enough to really open up and be authentic. People will vary over what kind of confidentiality agreement best helps them to do this.  The basic default confidentiality agreement should probably be assumed to be 'tight' with nothing personal anyone says being shared outside the group unless they have given their permission. The same goes for photographs, and video or tape recordings."

Two or three points I'll comment on.  One is how well, after supper, I felt we integrated two of the groups of 12-13 that had been working on their own over the day.  We used a "fishbowl" method where each group took 20 minutes in the centre talking about what they felt had worked well in their group over the day, and what had been more of a struggle.  The other group's members simply sat silently, outside the inner group's circle, listening.  After the 20 minutes, the outer group gave some appreciation and other observations.  We then swapped over, with the second group getting 20 minutes in the fishbowl.  I've been to many meetings where subgroups have come back and reported to a full group on how they've been doing.  Seeing the subgroup actually "in operation" was easily the most helpful way that I remember of getting a good sense of what another group has been like.  In fact, for me, 20 minutes was even longer than was necessary to get a good sense of how the other group had been doing.  15 minutes each seemed as though it would probably have been enough.  Well worth remembering this structure.

A second issue I was very aware of was my own occasional awkwardness integrating aspects of myself in this peer group.  I'm a very experienced therapist.  I've also facilitated a lot of groups.  I am, however, here simply as a participant in these peer groups.  I find it a challenge - mostly a good challenge - to work to find a balance with this.  I don't want to use my experience and skills in a way that distances me or disempowers others.  I also don't want to disown or ‘castrate' myself into acting as if I don't have this life experience - sabotaging contributions I can make that could be helpful for others and for myself.  It takes a while for me to get used to the steps of this somewhat different "non professional" dance.    

And more generally there's the challenge of the group exploring why we're here and how we're going to work together.  I have a recurring image of us as lumps of butter softening in a saucepan or a stew gradually simmering and the individual flavours slowly beginning to mix/infuse.

Enough writing for now.  It's time for breakfast ... and our group of 12 are the "sheepdogs" today.  Each of the groups takes on this task for a day of the group.  Today it's our group's responsibility to remind people of agreed structures and timings (for example to let people know when a coffee break is due to end or a group due to start).

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