Step 1 Acknowledge Something Happened

One evening, soon after the initial check in, there was an interaction between long-term members Ralph and Ronald, which also served to avoid something upsetting one of the newer members had mentioned in check in. I started to comment on it and got their names reversed. Suddenly, I could see by their expressions that I had done something. An instant review made me realize that I had reversed their names, so I rolled my eyes in comedic recognition. Both started to laugh, followed by other group members. Taking the cue from their response, I continued by asking in a humorous way, how they felt now that I had exchanged their personalities.

This was both playful and serious. Ronald was clear there was no exchange of personalities, while acknowledging the pleasure he took in seeing my mistake. Ralph was typically less responsive, but also dismissed any difficulty with it, commenting on similar mistakes he had made. I then acknowledge, at times, showing some dyslexia, for some reason confusing their names—not their personalities—simply because both names start with an R. That helped Vince, another longtime group member, who is severely dyslexic, express how he feels when he makes such mistakes.

I had acknowledged the error, checked on responses, and could then have explored other issues such as embarrassment, any transfer-ential emotions as well as the effects of the subgrouping of these two men. However, a new member had brought up a serious issue that was being skirted around. After acknowledging my mistake and checking immediate reactions, I chose to refocus back to what the group had been avoiding.

Step 2: Attend to the Transference and Other Projections

Members will have a variety of reactions. In taking responsibility for our actions, we do not want to inhibit members from recognizing and exploring their projections. In the following example, my error triggered basic feelings of inclusion/ exclusion in everyone, particularly in the person who was left waiting.

Peter was late for group, so I put the "Please Wait" sign out and the group began their check in. The last to check in was Juan, who had learned that morning that a friend had just died. Juan had joined the group two months earlier, three months after his mother's death, and one month after the end of a relationship. The group got involved in addressing his reactions, and I forgot to retrieve the sign. Unknown to me, Peter was waiting outside. Half an hour later, Peter rang the doorbell, reminding me to let him in.

Peter had been in the group for about nine months, working with major issues around intimacy and his feeling as if he did not really be long anywhere. I briefly apologized, and agreed when he asked, that it was my practice and responsibility to let people in after check in. He acknowledged some anger, but claimed it was about his issues, at first unwilling to directly address his anger to me.

After briefly checking in with Juan, 1 then turned to the group for reactions to what had happened to Peter. Members readily stated they would have felt very hurt, some more angry than hurt, if they had been forced to wait out there. A few added it would have been hard for them to ring the bell; after all, the sign had asked them not to do so.

Knowing that Peter had more feelings to express, I pointed out how I had reenacted one of Peter's worst fears. That freed him to more fully express his anger toward me, and relate more deeply what it triggered from his past. Other members empathized, discussing their own difficulties with feeling abandoned or rejected, as well as how difficult it was to confront an otherwise supportive authority. At the end I suggested to Peter that by ringing the bell, he not only avoided carrying his rage home by confronting me, but also asserted his membership in the group.

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