An Interview with Members of the Annual Conference Committee by Amelia Canally

Amelia Canally: I’d like to know more about the process of expanding the workshop from the traditional 1-day format to the 2-day model. From someone who always wants more training, I am completely thrilled! What are y’all hoping this will bring to the AGPS community? What motivated y’all to entertain the format change and execute the idea?

Scott Phillips: The conference pairs an internationally respected contributor to the field of group therapy with the rich experiential learning of actual group experience. The opportunity to observe interventions, experience techniques, and process the individual and group experience yields layers of learning unlike any other conference format I’ve seen. The Small Group Experience addition provides everyone access to a group experience without needing to volunteer for a demo group.

Katie Griffin: I became chair of this committee after the decision was made, so I asked Lisa Means (former President and prior chair of the committee) about the process. She informed me of two main factors in the decision. First, due to more competition from other thriving psychotherapy organizations in Austin, the one-day conferences weren’t as well attended as they had been in the past. Also, through focus groups, we learned that our members were looking for more depth in training and even more experiential opportunities. This thirst for group experience had also become apparent with the demand for our weekend Institutes. We were able to consult with other local affiliates of AGPA as we work on the conference format. Also, I recently led the LA 2-day conference, which only added to my excitement about our own shift to a 2-day format!

Incidentally, we are aware that a number of people will be unable to attend due to the overlap of the weekend with the Center for Group Studies October weekend. We want you to know that we had limited scheduling possibilities, and you will be missed!!

AC: What can participants expect in terms of the workshop structure? For years, the typical format has been didactic followed by demo group, post group processing and audience reactions. How will this be different? With the different structure, is a demo group still part of the day? Will we see Molyn in action?  

SP: The conference includes lecture, demonstration groups with debriefing, and Small Group Experience sections where everyone has the chance to participate in a confidential group. We’ll get a chance to see him in action as well as the leadership of highly experienced senior members of our group community during the Small Group Experience.

KG: We are so looking forward to the new formatit’s similar to the format you described but there’s more of it!!

Austin has some of the best group therapists in the country and I’m very excited about our small group leaders for this conference.

Over the course of the two days, Molyn will teach didactically 2-3 times, lead 3 demo groups with participant and audience debriefs and summarize towards the end of the second day. Lots of Molyn in action!

AC: A little birdie told me about the planned breakout groups for all participants to experience a process piece within the training. I have to say, my anxiety started churning! How will this work? Are the small group leaders working from the same framework as Molyn? Were the breakout leaders given any specific training or instruction about the goal or direction of the groups? How were they selected/asked? I know the AGPS community can be small and have a wee bit of crossover (grossly understated) how will dual relationships and confidentiality be addressed? Are the break-out process groups required? i.e.: Can we remain wallflowers if so desired?  

Ryan Spencer: That’s correct, we are very excited about this aspect of the training. We believe it will significantly deepen the learning, and attendees will get to know each other better and experience the leadership of an excellent local group therapist. Everyone will be assigned a group at the beginning of the conference and will break out into different rooms at the appointed times. Attendees will be instructed to let the administrator know if there is a conflict of interest within the assigned group, in which case they will be reassigned to another group. Small group leaders will meet with Molyn to discuss the frame and themes of their groups. Small group leaders were invited based on several criteria 1) Status as a Certified Group Psychotherapist (CGP) 2) Experience leading short-term process groups through AGPS or AGPA and 3) Esteem within AGPS. Austin has some of the best group therapists in the country and I’m very excited about our small group leaders for this conference. Attendees must attend their small group, but they can participate at whatever level they feel comfortable. Wallflowers are welcomed. 

SP: That’s right! It’s excitingespecially for those who may not want to be in a demonstration groupto have a chance to experience group work for themselves in a confidential environment. A great deal of planning went into this aspect and the format has similarities to what’s been done for many years on the national level. Selecting leaders who have led groups for many years at the national conference (AGPA) and have experience leading groups in this type of professional setting. The groups have confidentiality agreements, are observed for quality by an experienced designated observer, and have designated people to communicate regarding any concerns or feedback from the experience.

KG: Seeing this in operation in LA gave me confidence that it will add a great deal of depth to the conference and, despite lots of crossover in the LA group community, I was impressed by how smoothly the “assigning to groups process” was handled.

AC: Speaking of Molyn!! What a treat! Tell me about the process to invite Molyn to speak on this specific topic. From your vantage point, how does Molyn’s practice look successful to you? What do you see as his strength as a group leader? How has he influenced your development as a group therapist?

Jay Erwin-Grotsky: What can I say? Molyn actually wrote the book on psychodynamic group psychotherapy. As a teacher, writer, and practitioner of group therapy Molyn is a powerful, influential person. One advantage of membership in AGPA a is the exposure to teachers and leaders in our field. The board is always hoping for recommendations from members about presenters they have seen/heard that they would like to bring to Austin. Molyn is just such a presenter. His previous conference in Austin is well remembered and appreciated. The opportunity to learn more about effective group leadership is something any group leaderregardless experience levelcan find beneficial. We are very fortunate to have him coming back to Austin!

AC: Love the idea of developing successful group leadership practices and of course, curious, what does that mean for each of you? How do you define successful group leadership? What learning objectives will be addressed in regards to the development of successful group leadership? What can participants expect when thinking about the impact the workshop will have on them as a group therapist? How do you see yourself growing in regards to group leadership success? What obstacles or barriers get in the way?

RS: Molyn is both an academic and a clinician, and he brings a wonderful blend of current research on successful group leadership and a wealth of experience. Molyn will address what works in group therapy and how to assess what is and isn’t working in our own groups. I have seen Molyn present several times. He is a brilliant lecturer and gifted group leader. I expect to leave the conference inspired, excited, brushing up on some basics, learning about current research and stretched by observing new ways to lead group. 

The conference pairs an internationally respected contributor to the field of group therapy with the rich experiential learning of actual group experience.

SP: I’m very interested in the idea that effectiveness may have as much to do with attention to the practitioner’s effectiveness as it has to do with a particular theory. It lends value to the focus on understanding ourselves and our techniques betterand what better way to be seen than as happens in groups? Leszcz also gives attention to the ethical application of therapists’ use of selfan area where thoughtful guidelines can yield a powerful resource. Other learning objectives are listed on the website.

KG: “Successful group practice” to me means dynamic, progressive, enjoyable group therapy work! 

JE-G:  For me, successful group leadership is to create, fill and sustain groups that work in a functional, progressive and relational manner.  Also to embody successful group leadership in all the senses of the wordclinically, emotionally, and dare is say it, financially.

AC: Ryan, I’m guessing you had some hard selling/convincing to do for AGPS to embrace the new format—how was that for you? What did you notice about the process? How is it for you to bring something so new and innovative to the AGPS community? Also, the DoubleTree! Any resistance to the longer format/booking 2 days?

RS: It was actually a very easy sell. Austin is a vital group community that is hungry for expansive group training. A 2-day format gives more time to the presenter to go in depth and gives more time to participants to metabolize the material. The other selling point is that a 2-day conference is much more efficient than two 1-day conferences, with fewer plane tickets and hotel rooms. I’m very excited about this new format and I think AGPS will love it. The incorporation of small group leaders will allow AGPS to show off its skilled group facilitators. Austin is a powerhouse. 

Amelia Canally, LCSW, CGP has been working in private practice and agency settings as an individual, couple and group therapist since 2000.  She enjoys the ongoing learning and evolution within a private practice and the vitality and flexibility that come with the work.  She is married with three kids and has called Austin home since 1998.

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