I participated in Social Therapy training in Spring 2016 while starting to volunteer in refugee camps and organize community performance activities in Greece. Social Therapy is an activity-theoretic practice developed outside of academia at the East Side Institute for Group and Short Term Psychotherapy in New York. Its primary methodologists are cofounders of the East Side Institute, Fred Newman and Lois Holzman. Social therapy looks at the group as the unit of the development. And relates to people as performers and creators of their lives.
What I found most challenging and transformative during the training was to learn how to not know. I did not know what it was like to live in a refugee camp and to have spent a fortune to find the long dreamed Europe with closed borders. I did not know how to be useful in a situation so complex and vast and I wanted so much to know. In crisis, with limited resources to be able to say let’s do this, I know it works. With our training group and the bigger supervisory group I learned a bit more how to not know together, to question, to build the group, to fail and to play discovering new language in a world governed and consumed by knowing.
Back in the camps, not knowing I started to try to learn how to ask, to lead by following. Following the leadership of young people, we co-created developmental experiences for the whole community, bringing together people that would not usually hang out to create new kinds of conversations. The supervisory group was the place, like a gym, to practice the activity of creating development together not knowing how to do that.
I have been trained 6 times as a therapist during the last 16 years. Degrees with grades on how to deal with human pain that I feel proud and ashamed of. Each time that I tried to know ahead what was the best way to deal with human pain I felt like a failed to be human. In this training I did not get a degree. I did not learn a good way to deal with human pain. In pain it hurts. I have learned that sometimes with this hurt we can choose to grow and create new emotions. When the conditions allow us, when we create conditions that allow us, we can choose to grow together even if we don’t know how.