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Peer groups: Cumbria spring group - second full day

Woke a bit after 6.00am. Lay in bed for a while, then up, washed. How am I feeling today? How am I feeling about the group? How are we doing? A bit pregnant, maybe a bit stuck. But at this stage of the group it isn't unusual to feel something like this. We've been feeling our way in. There are so many analogies that I find helpful in orientating to this kind of work, this kind of experience. One is that it's like cooking. The group is like the cooking pot, so it's crucial that people feel the pot, the container of the group is safe enough, that it can hold and allow what comes up to work through without spilling over and burning anyone badly. So part of what we're doing can be viewed as making a container that feels caring enough, safe enough, accepting enough for members of the group to explore and work on issues that may bubble up for them. Another aspect of this cooking pot metaphor is that it's important too that it's 'on the heat', that the way we are in the group helps people get in touch with issues, pains, conflicts, experiences that it can be helpful to work on in this environment. There are so many things going on in a group, so many issues, so many different viewpoints, that it's a challenge to develop ways of seeing things that simplify issues enough to help in making decisions about what to focus on or how to be, yet at the same time don't oversimplify so one misses the richness, the unknown.

One of the handouts I use in groups that I run myself is called "What should I talk about in the group?" It discusses a number of other metaphors that I've found helpful in orientating myself in groups - including the group as chamber orchestra or jazz band. The classic "Experiencing scale" is also relevant here - highlighting that 'talking about' in an intellectual way is probably not going to be enough. Almost certainly in this kind of group work it's going to be important to connect to emotions. One of the simplest and most useful 'tips' I pay attention to in a group is to look for the emotion ... in myself and in others.

... and now it's 4.00 in the afternoon and we've moved forward very well. I still find groups so amazing, so precious, so endlessly surprising - and I went to my first group in 1972. So even at breakfast there were check-in's and healing going on. Then the formal group time started and there was a round to give everyone a chance to say how they were feeling. Even this simple relatively free flowing exercise started to throw up so much we could work on. Pretty soon the main focus of the work shifted to a particular person deeply emotionally exploring their relationship with their partner and their high expectations of what their partner might be able to provide them with in the relationship. Of the 10 of us here, everyone has experience of working as a health professional or therapist or in some related field. We all also have experience of peer group work. It helps us hugely with making a decent ‘meal' once the 'cooking' starts. Two major areas that it is so often helpful to work with are past personal pain and how it still affects us in ways that are now out of date, and interpersonal difficulties and what we can learn from them. We had both these areas entwined this morning. Eventually we stopped for lunch at around 1.00pm. I and - probably most, maybe all - others in the group were feeling much better, closer, like land after heavy rain. Fresh, more at peace.

Then lunch, again al fresco like a big good family. Walking and talking. Then I came back to write this before restarting the group again at 5.00pm. And we check in and decide to do a 'fishbowl' exercise. The questions we agree to look at are "In our couple relationship what helps us feel more connected and what makes us feel more disconnected from each other?" For half an hour the five men sit on cushions in the middle of the group room to talk about how this is in each of our relationships. The women sit on the sofas around the edge of this ‘fishbowl', simply listening silently to what is said. Then with minimal intervening discussion we swap over. The five women sit on the cushions while the men sit silently observing and listening. Fascinating, moving. At this stage of the group - two days in - people are very ready to be deeply honest, vulnerable, challenging, caring. It's a privilege to listen to what different people have to say about the highs and lows of their couple relationships. It seems too that it's often easier for men to talk to men about this and women to women. Listening too can be easier when one is not expected to respond, just to listen. At the end of the two half hour sessions, we decide to go straight on for a further two sessions of about twenty minutes each. Still on the same topic - what helps/nourishes/connects us and what separates/distances/disconnects us. Now however there is the experience of what the women said to focus what the men now discuss, and vice versa. Very special. Tears. Challenge. A beginning too for each of us to look at how we want to change.

By now the supper was running late, but that was fine. Several of us shared the preparation while others played guitars or talked. Then another fabulous meal. Wine, jokes, sharing, warmth ... and later to bed.

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