Your Future Action Plan The more you can arm yourself in advance, the better. It's very useful to identify not only which thinking trap you fall into most but also the situations in which you are most vulnerable to it. Is it when something goes wrong at work, during a conflict with your spouse, when you encounter scheduling snafus? The inquirer senses a possible awkwardness in the coming together of a number of strangers with the purpose of working on personal problems, and he wonders what the therapist can do to get things rolling. To respond to the last concern first, the therapist proceeds with the assumption that the group can get started and work out directions without his guidance. He generally says something to the effect that the objectives of the group are known to everyone and that the group can develop and follow its own leads. There may be some uncertainty at first, but the best remedy for the uncertainty seems to be the establishment of the group's responsibility for its direction. Many different patterns are evident in the initial meetings. Some groups have a hard time getting started; Other groups get right at their business, with no delay, starting with as much involvement as one finds in individual therapy when the client is heavily burdened with anxiety and desperately in need of communicating his distress. A fairly typical pattern is for the various members of the group to tell something about themselves and to describe their problems, doing this informally and without pressure. Though beginnings vary, and later modes of expression show differences from group to group, themes characteristic of a particular group emerge and are developed in an identifiable process. The Development of a Group and the Concept of Themes You know the story about the emperor who had no clothes? Imagine being in that crowd. Imagine seeing everyone around you respond with enthusiasm and praise for the emperor's new robes. Imagine looking at him and thinking, But he's naked. At the same time, however, you are aware that every other person can see his clothes. Their certainty and unanimity make you question yourself.

You start to doubt your own perceptions and the evidence you've gathered with your own eyes. Hundreds and thousands of people are seeing his clothes, you think to yourself, yet I cannot. This many people can't be wrong. It can't be possible that he's actually naked. Think ahead and come up with one thing you can do to avoid falling into that thinking trap the next time that situation arises so that you can safeguard your problem-solving power. My Plan for Escaping Thinking Traps I choose to work on this skill because: The thinking trap I most commonly fall into is: The telltale signs that I have fallen into this trap are: What I will do/say to myself to escape this trap: The situation(s) in which I am most vulnerable to falling into this thinking trap are: The one thing I can do to avoid falling into that trap in the future is: Access Instant Calm The Payoff: Immediate relief from high stress in pressure-cooker situations The concept of themes has helped us follow with greater understanding the course of therapy for a group. The concept was originated when, in research efforts, there was need of a scheme for breaking down a long series of meetings into smaller units which would have some psychological significance. The units of the single meeting and of the single typed article of transcription are both arbitrary and without particular meaning for the people involved. A theme is a topic and point of focus in discussion, with a clear beginning and a clear stopping point. For each theme, there is a major participant who is the center of focus, and there are minor participants whose number and intensity of involvement vary from theme to theme. In a series of sessions, some themes are short-lived;

Other themes thread their way throughout all the sessions, recurring with deeper and deeper meaning, and with variations contributed by different members of the group. A good analogy is with music. A series of group therapy sessions, when analyzed with reference to themes, is not unlike a rather loosely constructed musical composition. A theme is stated and dropped. Is there something wrong with my eyes? What's wrong with me? That's what it was like for me to have a deeply felt, interior sense of who I was (genderqueer, and definitely not a girl or a woman), but have everyone around me act as though I was someone else (a woman). I felt like an imposter in my own skin. For decades, I thought the fault was in me, that only I saw the emperor naked, so I tried to clap and cheer and play along--all while feeling deeply ashamed that I couldn't see or be what everyone else saw in me. That's why, despite my parents' loving hopes for me--Linda means beautiful--femininity and feminine beauty were not tools I could use to be myself or belong. Coming to the realization that I was genderqueer (non-binary)--and always had been--and then choosing top surgery was a relief. It was freedom. It was a decision to trust my own perceptions and bodily intelligence. It was a decision to be who I am rather than perform an acceptable self for others. The big moment you've been preparing for is here. You're standing by the side of the stage, about to climb up to the podium and give a speech in front of one hundred people. No, make that one thousand people. You look out into the audience and see your mother-in-law, your boss, and, oh, let's throw in your high school gym teacher--all looking at you, expecting brilliance. You feel the anxiety rise as your face and arms go numb, your throat begins to constrict, and the pounding heartbeat in your ears grows louder and louder. Is this a good time to pause and work on your emotion radar or thinking-trap skills?

Sure, you can use these tools to analyze the experience afterward, but right then and there, you need a quick relief. We've taught you a few skills already to tackle your thinking and rewire your stress response. But what about those moments of intense stress, when you just need to calm down fast? What do you do when you need to get that hammering heart rate and those shaking hands under control ASAP so that you can perform at your best? Others emerge. An original theme is picked up again and elaborated. The movement is in the direction of greater detail and deeper emotional expression. Some themes are carried by a single voice; Formal structure is absent, but there is a clear pattern of development, an unmistakable direction and intent. The Process as Viewed by a Group Member In one series of researches, the members of a group were asked to keep diaries of their reactions to the group, makng their notes as soon after each meeting as possible. These diary notes were written independently and filed without being read until after the group had terminated, in order that each writer might be free to express his feelings. Combined with excerpts from interview materials, these notes bring one to a more intimate understanding of what a group therapy experience means. The writer of the excerpts below is Jane Harrison, a member of the group whose initial session is partially reported on articles 280-285. It was a decision to finally belong in my own body so I could also belong in the world. It meant liberating myself to be who I am. It also meant demanding and allowing others (and you) to see me as I am. This article is in part a coming out story, written for me, so I can authentically be seen. If you can't see me--and few people see my gender without my making the declaration--then I never have opportunities to truly connect, to feel loved and accepted for who I am. If you're immersed in self-help circles or follow mainstream magazines, sometimes it seems as if we're being recruited into the cult of authenticity.

At every turn, we're encouraged to be ourselves, to show up authentically. Yet what doesn't get articulated is the backstory, that a call to authenticity is politically laden and the path heavily influenced by privilege and disadvantage. It's a lot easier to be your authentic self when the world tells a story that your authentic self has value. Many of us become estranged from our authentic selves because we learn that those authentic selves aren't valued. Long-term change is what we're after, of course, but sometimes you need an immediate tool to get yourself back on solid ground. While you're rewiring the thinking habits that generate overwhelming emotions, why not also pick up a few skills to tackle the emotions directly? This is a bandage, yes, but sometimes you need to just stop the bleeding and tend to healing the wound later. Acute stress activates our sympathetic nervous system. It ramps up our bodies and brains to prepare us to fight or flee. Our hearts start to pound, muscles get tense, and throats get dry. Happily, our bodies also have a built-in relaxation response to counter this high-alert state: the parasympathetic nervous system. If we invoke the parasympathetic response, the fight-or-flight mechanism automatically shuts down. They are opponent physiologic processes; The relaxation response is the ticket to instantaneous calm. The reader might check back to her statements there, in order to get better acquainted with her problem before reading the notes below. It should be said that Jane was probably not the most profited member of the group. She probably ranked third or fourth in terms of benefit derived, and it is because of her median position with respect to gain that her account is selected for reporting here. The heartening progress, the dismaying setbacks, the final attainment of limited goals, so familiar in individual therapy, are seen again here. EXCERPTS FROM ASELF APPRAISAL ESSAY, WRITTEN BEFORE ENTERING THERAPY As I see my problem today, I can detect signs of its birth in my early adolescence.