By Liora Schneider, MA, MS
On October 2018, PAGPS hosted its fall workshop. This year, the event was entitled “The Strengths and Challenges of Group Co-Facilitation”. We were honored with experienced pairs of co-presenters, including, Karyn Scher, Ph.D. and Chris Dematatis, Ph.D.; Leiza Stanley, LCSW and Candace Irabli, Psy.D.; Michael Long, Psy.D. and Jim Bleiberg, Psy.D. Tom Hurster, MSS, LCSW, CGP, a member of our board, moderated the panel discussion, providing each pair of co-facilitators an opportunity to discuss the challenges and values that this mode of working brings to their clinical work.
The presenters, collectively, invited us to appreciate the benefits of working with a co-therapist in a variety of settings. Group co-facilitation can be challenging, most pairs noted, because there are so many factors to address, including their influence on group dynamics and the issues involved in managing finances, transferences, and countertransferences.
Leiza Stanley, LCSW, and Candace Irabli, PsyD, worked for the past seven years with an outpatient group for women with eating disorders. They pointed out the importance of having clear boundaries and rules between themselves as well as for the group participants. Open communication between the group leaders appears to be the most critical aspect of a co-facilitation relationship. The presenters highlighted the importance of processing sessions together, understanding each participant and their relationships with each of the group members, and the roles that each group facilitator plays in inviting family-of-origin content using a group-as-a-recapitulation-of-family framework. Leiza and Candace highlighted their shift, over time, from a student/supervisor relationship to a co-professional relationship.
Michael Long, PsyD and Jim Bleiberg, PsyD shared their experience working with a co-ed short-term interpersonal process group at West Chester University’s College Counseling Center. Being a student/supervisor pair invited insight into the kind of relationship to which most of the students in the audience could relate. It was valuable to hear the differences and similarities between them, in terms of how they experienced being on different ends of the power differential. They also highlighted the ways that each of them relied on the other to represent a different perspective on the group dynamic.
The last presenters were Karyn Scher, PhD and Chris Dematatis, PhD, who have co-facilitated a private-practice interpersonal process group with high-functioning adults for the last twenty years! They shared nuanced details about the ways in which, over time, they’ve negotiated and renegotiated their clinical roles with the group and each other. They fielded audience questions about how they managed finances and how they tolerated transferences and countertransferences to different group members. They also outlined how they divide the professional responsibilities of running the group, both during and between sessions.
The workshop appealed to the audience, which ranged from student trainees to early career professionals and seasoned group psychotherapists. Audience members were invited to ask questions, and were rewarded by frank answers. As an organization, we hope that this event removed some of the mystery about engaging in this sort of challenging professional endeavor.