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Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee update

Honoring the 2021 winner and honorable mention of the Student Award for Outstanding Contribution to Diversity.

Cite this
Chen, E. C. (2021, November 8). Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee update. https://www.apadivisions.org/division-49/news-events/diversity-student-award

Work group high-fiving each other

At the APA convention in August 2021, we were delighted to present to Pavani Khera the 2021 Student Award for Outstanding Contribution to Diversity with Qurat-ul-ain Gulamhussein receiving honorable mention. 

Pavani is currently a third year PsyD student at the George Washington University. She completed her master’s in counselling psychology from India and worked as a psychologist in New Delhi for a few years before moving to Washington, D.C. to pursue her doctorate. She is also currently pursuing her training in group analysis conducted in collaboration by the Institute of Group Analysis, U.K. and Hank Nunn Institute, India. She is among the first cohort of group analysts’ trainees in India and is extremely passionate about promoting group therapy in India. Other than professional interests, she loves spending time with animals and actively pursues yoga and meditation during her free time.

Qurat-ul-ain is a PhD candidate in counseling psychology at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. She has enjoyed cofacilitating group therapy in community mental health, VA and hospital settings. She recognizes how powerful groups are for both individual and collective healing. Qurat-ul-ain has also led two support groups for communities that she belongs to, including for Muslim women at a suburban Minnesota mosque and for psychology graduate students of color at University of Minnesota. In her free time, she enjoys creative writing, reading historical fiction and practicing her Arabic and Turkish with friends.

In Fosslien and Duffy's view, “Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having that voice be heard.” It is in that spirit that we invited Pavani and Qurat-ul-ain to share their views about diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) in the context of group dynamics and group therapy. Moreover, we are delighted that both Pavani and Qurat-ul-ain have accepted our invitations to serve on the DEIB Committee so that we can continue to benefit from their powerful voices. As in the past, if you have any reactions or if you are interested in participating in the DEIB Committee, please contact Eric or Aziza.

– Eric C. Chen (chair) and Aziza Platt (vice chair) of the DEIB Committee

Diversity in group therapy: My personal journey

Recipient of APA’s Div. 49’s 2021 Student Award for Outstanding Contribution to Diversity.

What does diversity mean in group therapy? I have been pondering this question during the course of my training as a group therapist.  Starting my group analysis training back in India in 2019 and traveling to the U.S. to pursue my doctorate enhanced my understanding of diversity. The racial dynamics in the U.S. and political chaos that ensued over the past few years brought the importance of diversity and inclusion to the public mind. Workplaces and training programs have been trying to address diversity issues in their curriculum and incorporate such discussions actively in their meetings. I noticed that these conversations are not easy to facilitate and bring a lot of anxiety in the room. I can only imagine how they add to anxiety in group treatment.

So how can we understand diversity in group therapy? The best way for me to address this question is to reflect on my journey in my group analysis training. My group analysis is conducted by a British Indian while all the members are Indians. Although we all identify as Indians, each of us brings our unique accent, ethnicity, language, caste and perspective to the group. From the outside, our group might not look as diverse because we look the same. But when we hear each other’s’ experiences, we realize how different we all are despite us sharing a national identity. These differences stem from our various identities such as caste, ethnicity, religion, gender and also from experiences in our family of origin. We all speak in a foreign language (English) in the group that enables us to understand each other, but most of us have mother tongues that cannot be understood by others. Diversity in terms of our experiences and identities has allowed us to expand our perspectives and increased our ability to tolerate differences. In the current political climate of my country, finding a space where differences are respected provides hope and builds resilience to fight the political injustices. 

Being able to hold a group together with such diversity, however, has not been easy. In our group, we have experienced several ruptures around gender differences and our differences with respect to our ways of relating to each other in the group. These ruptures were opportunities for us to learn how to deal with conflicts instead of running away from them. I noticed that my group therapist normalized conflict in the group and encouraged every member in the group to share their feelings in the here and now. Instead of ignoring the conflict, he brought it to the center and actively intervened to help the members feel safe and contained in expressing their feelings. He acknowledged part of his identities such as his gender and nationality that granted him a privileged status in the group and encouraged members to express their feelings of anger towards him that were being displaced onto other members. I feel that my therapist’s willingness to be vulnerable and self-disclose were essential factors in facilitating the repair process.

In a similar vein, I have observed that conversations around diversity in the therapy group I cofacilitate provide opportunities for both rupture and repair. Recently, a Black identifying member in the group expressed her anger about the group space feeling “White” which caused her to feel unsafe. She also expressed feeling upset over the inclusion of two new members who presented very differently compared to the members who had recently left. From a group analysis perspective, this member was reacting to the threat caused by the introduction of two new members in the group. She was mourning the loss of the last two members and she was adjusting to the new recalibration of diversity in the group. Her ability to express her frustration and share that the group felt more “White” enabled other members to validate her feelings and express themselves openly as well. These conversations were difficult, and the group struggled with the possibility of a loss of another member during this tumultuous time. As a cofacilitator, my initial reaction was of fear and frustration because I did not want my group to fall apart. However, I was able to use my experience from my therapy group to become a secure object for this group to work through this conflict around diversity. Having a cofacilitator helped in dealing with my anxiety to deal with ruptures as a novice group therapist. We both supported each other and other members in the group to voice their difficult feelings. Looking back, we can observe that the group’s hard work in fixing those ruptures strengthened the relationship between the members.

In my experience of being part of therapy groups as a patient as well as a coleader, the meaning of diversity changed over the different stages of development of the group. And the questions of diversity forged opportunities to make stronger connections within the group.  This repair process would not have been possible without the solid foundation of safety and containment in the group, which I strongly believe are necessary conditions to facilitate conversations around the theme of diversity. In my experience, modeling self-disclosure of one’s feelings and identity factors as a group leader, and being able to convey one’s willingness to handle conflicts around diversity goes a long way in making the group space feel safer for members. Exploring the meaning of diversity for each member instead of assuming it based on how the group members look is more useful in facilitating such difficult conversations, which often lead to unresolvable ruptures in the outside world.

When your name isn’t American enough in group therapy settings

“Can you say your name one more time? I already have a hard time with American names, and your name is not…,” an elderly White female client trails off and looks up from her notebook, eagerly prepared to jot down my name. I feel my stomach tighten and my heart race. I’m a graduate student trainee joining this virtual therapy group for the first time. I quickly scan the faces of the other group members and the providers—all seemingly White or White-passing. No one seems to notice or respond. Was my name not American enough? Are American names exclusively Christian and White? I already feel othered as soon as I’ve stepped into the group therapy space. I take a deep breath, embrace a half-smile, unmute myself and repeat my name.

As an immigrant South Asian, Muslim woman and counseling psychology PhD candidate, I reflect on the multiple times I’ve experienced such comments. Indeed, minority graduate students and early career professionals experience discrimination, with subtle messages that can challenge their self-efficacy (Pedrotti, 2016). Supervisors and group leaders are encouraged to seek training and personal reflection to actively support minority graduate student trainees (Adams et al., 2021). 

Emerging research importantly educates psychologists to address discriminatory comments experienced by minority clients in group settings, such as by practicing calling in vs. calling out, mitigating defensiveness, reducing shame, and promoting engagement (Lefforge et al., 2020; Div. 49 webinar). However, more research is needed to address discrimination targeted towards minority graduate student trainees in group settings. In the meantime, we can still adapt from existing best practices for clients. For instance, to reduce the cumulative burden someone faces for the othering of their name, a group leader could state the following: “I used to make similar comments about names that were new to me, but I’ve since learned that it’s offensive because it makes people feel othered. It might feel more welcoming if we didn’t do that and just practiced pronouncing [her] name correctly” (Miles et al., 2021, p. 84). Another approach may involve acknowledging what happened, naming the underlying message, and helping group members reflect on past experiences where they have felt othered. While each situation and unique group dynamics may call for different strategies to address these issues, more mindful dialogue can facilitate a safer space for group members, graduate student trainees and supervisory facilitators.

References

Adams, L., Gross, G., Doran, J. M. and Stacy, M. (2021). Clinical supervisors’ experiences with and barriers to supporting trainees who have experienced identity based harassment. Training and Education in Professional Psychology. Advanced online publication.

APA Division 49. (2020, December 26). Ep 5: Training Group Therapists to Respond to Microaggressions by Claudia Mejia and Noelle Lefforge [Webinar]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JfXn5QQqig

Fosslien, L. and Duffy, M. D. (n.d.). How to build a culture of belonging? https://www.lizandmollie.com/workshops

Lefforge, N. L., Mclaughlin, S., Goates-Jones, M. and Mejia, C. (2020). A training model for addressing microaggressions in group psychotherapy. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 70(1), 1-28.

Miles, J. R., Anders, C., Kivlighan III, D. M. and Belcher Platt, A. A. (2021). Cultural ruptures: Addressing microaggressions in group therapy. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 25(1), 74-88.

Pedrotti, J. T. and Burnes, T. R. (2016). The new face of the field: Dilemmas for diverse early-career psychologists. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 10(3), 141-148.