Taking A Stand Against Isolation

A history of group therapy at ProChoices, responding to the sense of isolation in the community

Group Therapy at ProchOICES

We hope to take a moment to share with you the history of group therapy at ProChoices, developed in response to the sense of isolation in the community that we heard expressed by our clients.

We also wanted to offer, with the consent of our group members, some snapshots of our first closed group program at ProChoices. The therapeutic letter, “Dear Isolation”, was written and drawn by Mik Fuqua* during our group activity “what would we tell Isolation”. Read on to read T. K Torme’s poem to Isolation, and a therapeutic letter written by our therapists, Stefanie and Sam, to the group members.

After the summer of 2016, we noticed our waitlist for therapy services at ProChoices was continuing to grow rapidly. In response to our struggle to meet this demand as a small, unfunded grassroots clinic, we decided to explore ways we could honour and offer support to our ever-increasing waitlisted clients. Hearing a common theme of isolation and loneliness in the Vancouver community arise from our clients further pulled us towards exploring ways to offer opportunities for community connection at ProChoices.

We also hoped to offer a space for individuals to discover for themselves whether group therapy might be a good fit for them without requiring a commitment to an ongoing, closed group. We further wanted to offer opportunities to our learning therapists to practice group therapy facilitation, both as witness and co-facilitator. In addition, we felt pulled towards offering space for our community to engage with each other in a supportive context, politicizing our experiences as we dismantle the meta-narratives that have impacted our stories, and gaining support from each other as clients patiently wait to be matched with a therapist. This invited us to begin coordinating a drop-in group therapy program at ProChoices, co-facilitated by three therapists: myself, Grad therapist Moira, and our Clinic Coordinator Amanda. Since its inception in September 2016, we have continued to offer weekly drop-in group therapy at ProChoices.

At the start of our work together, myself, Therapist, Moira and Therapist, Amanda explored ways we could collaborate with our community and group therapy members to expand and hone our group therapy offering. We began asking for written feedback after each group therapy session, and solicited themes that clients would like to explore in future groups. This granted us the opportunity to tailor our group therapy to the wants and needs of our community, so that our group therapy sessions could continuously be informed by the community we serve. We were hearing a want for a closed group option at ProChoices, and began to discuss and organize ways we could respond to this want.

Two other therapists, Intake Coordinator, Stefanie and Grant Writer, Sam, were excited to be involved in this opportunity and joined our group therapy team. They were interested in offering a closed group therapy option to our waitlisted clients. Within 24 hours, our group therapy spots were already filled up. We heard a common want to explore “isolation” during this six-week program.

This therapeutic letter to the group members, authored by co-facilitators Sam and Stefanie, offers a snapshot of how group members explored and re-authored their relationships to isolation over the course of this 6-week journey:

May 16, 2017

Hello all of you!

This letter, as promised, summarizes our group session from last Tuesday evening.

For those of you who weren’t present, this can act as a nice summary and connecting point; for those who were there, it can be a reminder of where we’ve travelled to together thus far.

Last Tuesday, you all shared how Isolation has influenced your lives; it has a long, and very detailed history. Despite this history and our tendency to time travelling — i.e. looking for the past as explanation for our present — we decided to honour the here and now, for that is where our connection to one another resides. Through honoring the here and now, we were able to uncover one of the biggest tricks that Isolation plays on us all — it recruits the story of the past in order to convince us that ‘this is who we are’, that this is our fate. Time travelling is one of isolations hoodwinks!

Inspired by this…we collectively researched what other tricks, jinxes, illusions and lies Isolation uses to try to convince us of this picture of ourselves and our lives, filtered through its lens. Isolation draws from our past experiences and preys on our individual vulnerabilities and insecurities in order to convince us of its truth. It lies to us, whether in a whisper or in a shout, always grating on our achilles’ heels. It uses media and social systems to trap us into experiences reoccurring without us even knowing we could question and resist them. How clever of isolation to convince us so easily of its invincibility! It is so sure of itself, we can’t help but wonder how true such rigid convictions can be! No one, not even Isolation, so sure of its truth can possibly be true for everyone and everything – can it?

Half way through the session, we began to co-research the counter-jinxes, counter-tricks, protests, and resistance we all have to Isolation. The room was overflowing with responses. We noticed our energy rise and our sense of community strengthen as we made space to acknowledge the ways we outsmart, defy, resist, and step outside of Isolation. Even in acknowledging truths beyond Isolation, Isolation was weakened. We talked about presence and vulnerability. We talked about reaching out, and opening our eyes to the support that is already around is. We talked about saying ‘fuck it’ and making yourself get out of the house. We talked about being kind to everybody, and assuming good intentions. We talked about outsmarting perfectionism; instead of “compare and despair”, we know, all of us, that there is always more to the projected images of ‘perfection’ that we see all over the media. We talked about taking responsibility, owning our parts, and getting outside of victimhood. we talked about connection and community. Imagination, and resilience.

We ended with asking each of you, what your unique superpower is — what is your “garlic” to the vampire of Isolation?

We are curious this week – what did your superpower allow for you since our last meeting?

See you tomorrow!

Sam & Stef

Written by Alisha Gori (Sept 2016 Cohort) with the collective editing support of the ProChoices team

Alisha Gori (Learning Therapist, Group Coordinator, Researcher/Writer) began her journey with ProChoices as a volunteer leading a research project that explored therapists’ understandings and meaning involving collectivist intention, unified values and principles, and the activity of individualism. The research data synthesized from her work project has made a contribution to the development of the ProChoices Clinic Council. Alisha later joined ProChoices as a Practicum student while completing her MA of Counselling at Adler University, and fell in love with the learning and practice of Feminist Narrative Therapy and the mission and guiding principles of the ProChoices Community Clinic. Alisha continues to work as practicing certificate program graduate therapist at ProChoices, co-facilitates client groups and offers her experiences as a learning therapist with other ProChoices therapists and in a blog series, exploring all aspects of Feminist Narrative Therapy from client, therapist, and a life-long student perspective.