Kay’s Journal: Synchronicity and Dr. Pennebaker

Kay Adams

The new Journal of Specialists in Group Work came yesterday and I picked it up with the passing thought, “Maybe there will be something in here for my blog.”

A quick scan of the contents table didn’t seem to offer much in the way of blog material, so I started with the editorial. And presto! There it was!

This issue’s editorial is about the places where group work could use more research. There were three areas offered, the last of which really captured my attention: more research on how supervision is done  in groups. The evidence is clear for the effectiveness of group supervision as a teaching/training model. But research on how to supervise groups is an identified area of underdevelopment.

Bingo! That’s what the Therapeutic Writing Institute has been doing for the entire decade of its existence, and that’s what I did for eight years prior as a mentor/supervisor for the International Federation of Biblio/Poetry Therapy. We know a lot about group process and how it works, at least with therapeutic writing as a core component.

Reading this editorial just days before our LIVE! with Kay with expressive writing research guru Jamie Pennebaker is synchronistic by itself. But just wait until you hear what we’re going to talk about —

Last week I asked Jamie if we could have a conversation about how to incorporate the 4-part writing model, and writing in general, into clinical settings, both as a one-time intervention and as an ongoing process. The 4-part write, particularly when paired with a reflection write, can yield rich, fertile soil for planting writing prompts that can deepen, expand, reframe, transform. In the research model, the write concludes with the last day. In the clinical model, the write continues through the writer’s harvested reflection and the skilled facilitator’s curation of writing prompts designed to extend the acquired insight into deeper process and solution-focused action.

I know this process works because I’ve been doing it for 33 years and I’ve taught thousands of facilitators and therapists about it (probably including many/most of you reading this blog). What has been lacking is a structured way to standardize an assessment that can be used to identify change as a result of therapeutic writing group process. We have also not had a standardized way to gather evidence on the effectiveness of the therapeutic writing group facilitation — the supervision of the group itself.

These are two of the questions I will pose to Jamie on Thursday at 1 PT, 4 ET. I invite you to include your own questions about how we might bring manageable research elements into our work. Write them in the comments section and I’ll curate a set of questions to ask.

Hope you’ll join me for what promises to be a stimulating conversation on Thursday! Watch your Tuesday newsletter for info on how to join the call.

Your turn! What questions do you have for Jamie Pennebaker?




5 Responses to Kay’s Journal: Synchronicity and Dr. Pennebaker

  1. Linda Barnes June 5, 2018 at 5:06 pm #

    Gosh, what an invitation! I’d love to know of (help create) a quick and easy pre/post questionnaire that could be used with the process you describe. I think the questions Jamie uses might be a good start (in Writing to Heal), but I’d like to see something a bit more robust, too. Can you think of a way to incorporate the “3 feeling words” technique you’ve used, and of course directions for the “reflection write” about a-ha’s, etc.

  2. Carol Roberts June 7, 2018 at 3:35 pm #

    From a non-therapist’s viewpoint, I notice that the class works when people read their writing to the group. It’s not so successful for the person who “passes” too many times. My one observation was that in one case, a person is not ready to be vulnerable. Does anyone have any comment about this?

    I listened in on the conversation among Jamie, Kay and Debra and thought I might try a “pre-class” question by asking folks to make a note of any stress or thing bothering them at the time…and look at it eight weeks from now. Thought I’d try it!

    • Kay Adams June 13, 2018 at 11:19 am #

      Carol, great question. The simple answer is — widen the possibility of responses. I usually say something like, “You can read what you wrote — or read your reflection — or tell us about your reflection — or tell us about anything that surprised you….” That range of options usually gets someone to self-select in. However, the first rule of any group facilitation (in my world, at least) is that there is no wrong way to do this. Therefore, continually opting out of sharing is not “wrong” and ideally will be normalized as perfectly acceptable behavior (which it is). Because we can’t say there no rules and then have our fingers crossed behind our back and impose a “rule” when it comes to sharing. Does that make sense?

  3. Carol Roberts June 19, 2018 at 3:21 pm #

    Yes, and I find very helpful the possibility of options. I can see that helping folks (and me as the facilitator) a lot. One example of someone opting out is not that she’s feeling vulnerable but probably angry about something and doesn’t want to vent yet anyway.

    • Kay Adams June 22, 2018 at 7:44 am #

      Possibly angry, yes, and possibly lots of other things — often times someone is self-regulating, as you say, through passing on the opportunity to speak. It’s very common for group members to read back what they’ve written and not want to share it or say anything about it. it could be intensely private, or a story that’s too long to tell, or something s/he decided s/he did’t really care about after all, or it could be very moving and intimate and s/he doesn’t want to cry — there are dozens of reasons why people might not want to share. This sounds like a good topic for a future Q/A w/K.

      Last thing — check in with yourself to see if it makes you uncomfortable when someone doesn’t share, and write that out. Often times facilitators interpret absence of response as failure to engage, and that’s simply not true. Just because they’re choosing not to engage with the process of sharing doesn’t mean they’re not deeply engaged with the process of their own work, which means you’re doing your job as facilitator. When a facilitator places her/his own need for validation above the organic process of the group member, that detracts from the opportunity to be in service. If it’s your own work to clear, clear it. I’m guessing you’ll notice almost immediately the difference in how you hold the space for sharing.

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