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Peer groups: Scottish Mixed Group – beginning, initial thoughts, exciting & edgy

About 6.30 in the morning.  The lights of Aberfeldy shining through the dark from down in the valley.  We're at Glassie Farm Bunkhouse - fourteen of us staying here for three days.  I've written about this kind of peer group residential on a whole series of occasions on this blog - for example a UK Mixed Group in Cumbria this spring and a UK Men's Group in the Peak District last autumn.  The UK Men's Group, which has been running annually since 1993, spawned a Scottish Men's Group a good few years' ago, but the UK Mixed Group, which has been running since '91, never followed suit until now. 

We're a group of fourteen ... eight women and six men.  The men have all been to this kind of group before, but it's somewhat new territory for most of the women.  Having said that, nearly all the women are counsellors/psychotherapists so they bring plenty of understanding and experience to the group too. 

We came up here yesterday afternoon.  I got a lift from Edinburgh with an old friend.  Meditated in the car for a while.  Felt a bit challenged, partly because I'd taken responsibility for the first meal.  Couscous, roasted vegetables, Halloumi cheese & Harissa sauce.  Pretty good, especially when followed by a mix of mango puree, yoghourt, mascarpone & toasted almond flakes.  There was lots of help from others too, chopping vegetables, setting tables, serving the food.  A good coming together for the first evening.  After the meal we met briefly as a group, sitting in a circle introducing ourselves, saying a bit about how we were feeling and what we individually hoped for from these three days together.

Now it's before breakfast on the first morning.  People gradually emerging.  What do I hope for from this group?  I've talked in the past about seeing this kind of work as serving at least four functions.  It's a space for "personal growth work", a chance to develop and nourish friendships, a retreat - time out in the country away from our usual busy lives - and "outreach", a spreading of these ideas, skills, understandings & ways of relating.  These peer groups involve many things, and one of the most central is the triad, the "three-legged stool" of genuineness, empathy and caring.  That balance between being very connected with oneself and the ability to live authentically, while also being sensitive and caring about the others here.

For me there's a particular challenge in this group of acknowledging my place as probably the most experienced group participant here and the one who has mainly convened the residential, while at the same time being a genuine group member.  My guess and hope is that, as the three days evolve my sense of "responsibility" for the group will lessen and feel more shared out with others.  It is a somewhat different challenge though compared with other peer groups like this.  With other residentials, we have for years run an "only up to 25% newcomers" rule.  In getting this group started we've thrown this requirement out of the window and nearly 60% of us haven't been to this kind of residential before - although I've had some experience of group work with all of them.  The high percentage of new people feels both exciting to me and a bit edgy.  Exciting because, although we've evolved very effective ways of being & working together in the other peer residentials, there's also a strong tendency to keep doing things in much the same way.  I'm confident that this Scottish Mixed Group, especially if it continues to meet over several years, will develop its own particular flavour that's somewhat different from the other groups in this "family".  This residential also feels a little edgy to me as well.  The only up to 25% newcomers rule has meant that there's always plenty of experienced support available if things get difficult.  For example, if there's interpersonal conflict, the established groups have a strong culture of being open about this and using it as another source of learning.  It doesn't always work, but this pattern of "leaning into difficulties" is well understood and encouraged.  It will be interesting to see how this - and other issues - evolve in the fresh mini-culture of a group where the majority are "newcomers".

And see tomorrow's blog post on how the first day of the residential goes.

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