I first met Joy Redstone when she ran Carriage House and I applied there to do a practicum. I remember Joy scheduling my interview at the same time in the morning that clients would gather in the parking lot waiting for the door to Carriage House to open. When I arrived (I am a chronically early person) I found myself in the midst of this gathering and feeling sorely out of place. I was ushered into Carriage House along with everyone else and eventually found myself upstairs on a bench waiting for Joy and getting a visceral sense for the community I was about to work with. I have always secretly suspected that Joy planned it that way.
I sat in on the groups Joy facilitated and attempted to set up a women’s group. I learned that running groups for the homeless population required a consistent predictable presence, clear boundaries, a strong awareness of non-verbal communication, resilience to feeling like a failure and an open mind to what it means to create a therapeutic container. I learned that providing a consistent place, presence and time that people can come and go as they like is therapeutic in and of itself.
During my internship at Boulder Emotional Wellness I returned to Carriage House, which was then being called Bridge House under the new leadership of Isabel McDevitt and is now referred to as Path to Home. As part of my internship I began and co-led a DBT group with fellow intern Sarah Wilson and later Elizabeth Driscoll. After graduating I continued the group with a variety of Naropa interns that were provided by Boulder Emotional Wellness. The group began as a DBT group, then we called it a “mindfulness” group, briefly a reading group. The group took place at the Resource Center at 16th and Walnut for a few years.
Then the Resource Center closed. For a short time I hosted the group in my office but found the lack of access to a center, where people often would drop in as wanted or needed for other services, isolated the group from potential new members. I asked Joy (coming full circle), who now runs Naropa Community Counseling, if she would host the group. She accepted my request, came up with the group’s current name “Community Circle,” and offered to provide an intern.
I have always considered having an intern in the group a major asset. The group in turn provides interns with exposure to non-Naropa clientele, what I like to call therapy in “real time” with clients that offer a variety of complexities and of course an opportunity to observe group dynamics. Because of the “drop in” nature of the group a simple art therapy or writing exercise provides structure when the participants are not so consistent in their attendance. The more people are consistent, the less structure is needed as consistently reoccurring members start to build their own culture of connecting with one another. Lately I always come prepared with an exercise because the group is growing in membership and it is often unpredictable who will show up. It’s particularly useful to have an activity if you end with someone who has a lot to say or many people who do not know each other. It provides a way to break up individual experience, work with a common experience in the here and now and provides multiple opportunities for bridging. I recently picked up some wonderful writing prompts from participating in Kate Thompson’s "Writing for Supervision" group for therapists and from the many books she has collaborated on with others on the subject. I have gathered simple art therapy exercises that I have been exposed to over the years, a few recently from Ashley Eyre’s and Sarah Klein's workshop at the recent 2018 Four Corners’Group Society conference.
Community Circle has always been an exercise in the unexpected. Who shows up can vary. It is rare that no one comes. However often there are long periods where just one or two members show up regularly. We get one timers, those who come for a bit, show up now and then, go away and come back years later and then disappear again. A few of the early members still participate. Recently we have between 2-5 members. Now that the focus has expanded to open the group to a wider definition of “in transition,” the demographic can include anyone from an upper middle class person who has just lost their business that they have been running for 30 years to someone who is living on National Forest land up near Nederland. The art/ writing exercises provide a structure that offers both a personal experience that can be shared or kept private, an opportunity to connect with others and a place to share whatever predicament a member might want support with.
There are many times I have questioned the value of the group both for myself and the community at large. Often I feel the group’s existence is tenuous and on the brink of fizzling out. However due to the commitment of a few group members who have continued to participate over many years and the variety of different clients who have filtered in and out over the years I find it a rich experience which is strongly evident when I review my history with facilitating the group.
Elizabeth Stahl is a local psychotherapist who works with individuals, couples and groups. She also curates content for Integrating Connections