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For this discussion, watch the videos “Afrocentrics Approaches to Group Work” and “Group Counseling with Inmates: San Quentin Prison”, and read the Bonner et al. (2019) and the Owen et al. (2014) articles as noted in Module 3 Readings and Videos.
In your initial post, respond to the following prompts:
What do you think is missing in the group setting, engagement, and process with the inmate group from the San Quentin inmates video?
Based on what you learned from the “Afrocentrics” video and the two journal articles, how could the counseling group with the inmates be more culturally sensitive, culturally inclusive, and culturally relevant?
Please support your responses using current APA citations and references.
Professional Perspective: Andrew Susskind Segment 2 transcriipt
William Feuerborn: Hi, Andrew, welcome back. Andrew Susskind is a licensed clinical social worker and a certified group psychotherapist and is here today to talk us about diversity within group. Welcome.
Andrew Susskind: Thank you so much, William. I’m glad to be here.
William Feuerborn: Thank you. So I wondered if you could start out by just talking to us a little about how you think about diversity in your group work, in your practice, and how maybe you keep from missing important factors that could be diversity related.
Andrew Susskind: Sure, this is a big topic, and I just want to add a little context before I answer your question. I finished my MSW at UCLA in 1991, and it was a different time and place. We definitely talked about diversity. I felt like I was very much a newbie. I was in my twenties when I was a social work student, and the dialogue has changed. And as best I can, and I speak for a lot of my colleagues who have been around a while, it really is a humble process to keep up with the changes and to understand what’s been happening both in society and in a smaller community.
So I say that because groups, as a concept, are really like a microcosm of the outside world. And because they are a microcosm of the outside world, they may have different shades of diversity. They may have more, or they may have less. What I will talk about for a moment is the fact that I am in Los Angeles, which is a very diverse community, but I’m based on the West side of Los Angeles. And for those of your students who don’t know LA, the West side of Los Angeles is pretty homogeneous, and most of my clients—not most of my clients—I would say the majority of my clients are Caucasian.
OK, so I start with that just to say that I would love to see more diversity in my practice. Actually because of where I’m located, it generally just doesn’t happen. We live in a sprawling city with different folks getting different types of mental health support in different areas. So with that said, I do my best to go to diversity trainings and, of course, to try to look in my own personal biases. When I was in grad school, it was a different dialogue. Today, I’m just trying to learn about myself in 2021 and to bring that to the atmosphere of my groups.
William Feuerborn: Yes, thank you. When creating a group, do you think about it? I guess I’m wondering about how do we think about it as social workers, think about diversity and trying to inform people more broadly I guess I would say maybe about our group just to encourage some diversity?
Andrew Susskind: Sure, let me talk for a moment about a previous group that I actually was the leader of back in the 90s.
William Feuerborn: OK.
Andrew Susskind: This may help illustrate something. So at the time, I was working part time for Kaiser, and Kaiser had—and still does have—a very diverse member population, and I was asked to consider a bereavement group because I had a background in hospice and in bereavement. And so my supervisor at the time said, would you be interested in leading a bereavement group, and actually I really was. I wanted to bring that background to the department at Kaiser.
Now, the diversity of that group was tremendous. I was in the minority there as a Caucasian man, and the diversity was men, women, older, younger, African-American, Latino, some Asian influence. There’s all kinds of folks that would come to this. There’s actually a drop-in group every Thursday morning at 8:00 AM, and it was very well attended for various reasons. But the thing that I wanted to say in terms of diversity is it was so rich to learn about the different cultural experiences around bereavement.
I mean, certainly the people in the group learned a lot, but as a group leader, I was just blown away with how much they had to teach me in terms of rituals and traditions and ways that their individual cultures were healing from such issues, such as loss and grief. So that’s just one example of how diversity can be so—it can bring a whole different element to the healing process because each person in the group was learning about how their peers were going through it in ways that they had never thought of before.
William Feuerborn: Right, that’s just hitting me as you describe that how powerful that would be right to see how people that you may not have met or may not know from any other part of your life and here you encounter them in a group, they’ve experienced a similar loss and have a grieving process that you can connect with and learn from and grow from yourself as a client.
Andrew Susskind: It was fascinating. When I think back on it, I think that there aren’t many places in the world where we can gather as—in this case—as grievers to really heal one another in that particular way.
William Feuerborn: I hear a term lately used a lot as well, cultural humility, and I hear that in what you’re saying too is that curiosity and wonder and respect and just us being aware of what we don’t know and allowing clients to teach us.
Andrew Susskind: Absolutely, and part of that, William, is that there’s so much wisdom in every group that I as group leader, of course, hope that I have something to help the group along, but really it’s my job to follow their wisdom and to know that they have a lot of answers within them and that the healing process will happen, that I don’t have to actually work so hard to make something happen. And it’s the same way with diversity, and a client—there’s a gentleman in my newer men’s group right now. He has—what would he call—
He’s basically a mixed race. He has a couple different types of ethnicity in his background. And I just ask if I don’t know. Let’s say we’re talking about an issue around money and finances. There can be a dozen different ideas about it, but I really want to open that up with him and say, as we’re talking about this, is that something that was part of your cultural background? Is that something that your parents talked about with you? How was that handled? Because I never ever want to make assumptions.
William Feuerborn: Yes, another question I was thinking of asking you was about how we are aware of diversity within the room, which a lot of times means not knowing what we don’t know. So I think what I’m hearing you talk about too is maybe asking those questions, being aware that it could affect anything. Views on [inaudible] are different based on our own—even just family diversity. How we think about money, how we think about family, how we think about friendships. Almost any topic we could think of is affected by who we are. Who we are, and our family backgrounds.
Andrew Susskind: Right, and as we record this particular segment, we’re approaching the holidays and so Thanksgiving and Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and everything that’s being celebrated this time of year means something different to everyone, and it’s actually a very fertile ground to make sure that we’re not glazing over anything, but that we’re really talking about what those roots are. What those underlying feelings, those underlying experiences are that inform who people are today.
William Feuerborn: Well, thank you. I had one other question too about diversity in terms of working with the LGBTQI community, and just wondered if you had any suggestions. I know it’s a big question actually, but maybe how could we create a safe space in group for the community, the LGBTQ community to have a space to do their therapeutic work?
Andrew Susskind: Right, this is a terrific question, because there’s not an answer that would fit for everyone. So some people would benefit from an LGBTQ focused group. So there’s lots of groups out there specific, both therapy groups and support groups and psycho-educational groups, that are set up specifically for folks who identify as LGBTQ. So that may be the safest place for someone who wants to start their group experience with others who identify in that way.
With that said, there’s a lot of folks that come to me who say, I don’t want to somehow compartmentalize myself. I really want to expose myself to all kinds of backgrounds and to make sure that I’m able to integrate myself into a group that’s open to that kind of background. Again, for instance, in my newer men’s group—actually both of my men’s groups—I have two men who identify as gay, and about five men who don’t. And I don’t want to bring one person. That’s generally not a great idea to bring one person by themselves into an all straight identified group. And it’s what they call the Noah’s Ark principle.
You’ve got to make sure that you have two and two and two so that nobody feels like an outlier. But, again, that’s all part of the group preparatory sessions. I meet with folks several times before they come into group. I usually meet with them four times individually actually before I make an agreement for them to join a group. Because I want to make sure that we’re really setting up an agreement that works for them, works for the group, and works for me.
William Feuerborn: Good, well, thank you. That helps a lot. I really appreciate your time today, Andrew, and again, just a reminder to the students if you’d like to find more information about Andrew and his work, blog entries, podcasts, go to westsidetherapist.com, and you’ll find more information. So thank you so much, appreciate it.
Andrew Susskind: My pleasure, sure.