Great counselors know how diversity influences group dynamics, but it’s the sort of knowledge that can take half a lifetime of training to master. That’s why every two years, a new cohort of Manhattan College graduate Counseling students travel to London — one of the most diverse cities in the world — to learn by doing.
By participating in a three-day group relations conference, Identity, Culture, and Class in Group and Organizational Life, students join a temporary organizational system to explore some of the forces, conscious and unconscious, that influence the choices and decisions we make in such settings.
It all takes place at the renowned Tavistock Centre, an international hub of excellence for mental health training and education. Manhattan has collaborated with the center to hold this biennial conference since 2013.
“The Tavi,” as it is more commonly known, has been on the forefront of exploring mental health and wellbeing since the First World War, and can name Sigmund Freud among its early honorary vice presidents.
Fittingly, before the 2017 conference began, students sampled London’s hallowed psychiatric history by visiting the Freud Museum — a mere block from the Tavistock Centre — that exists in the London home of Sigmund Freud. There, they learned about the early foundations of modern counseling practices.
“Our students were transported back in time and exposed to psychoanalysis, one of the main theories to influence the profession of counseling.,” says assistant professor Jennifer Gullesserian, Ph.D., who co-led the most recent trip in July 2017 with, adjunct professor Neil Busuttil, Ph.D. “Counseling is a distinct profession but has it’s roots in the pioneering work of Freud and other important theorists that followed him.”
The tour served as good mental preparation for the experiential systems-based conference that began the following morning. For three nine-hour days, participants were placed in a variety different roles within small and large groups, from a leadership position, to observer to participant. Each counselor in training was challenged to discover the way they assume different roles based on different organizational structures.
It’s an invaluable experience for mental health and school counselors.
“Our students have the opportunity to discover firsthand what it's like to function in a group system and how difficult it can be at times to be isolated, pushed out, or feel overly focused on,” Gullesserian says. “As the leader of the group, you have to manage all of that. You need to understand what it’s like to be in a group to effectively conduct one.”
Osiris Duarte ’18, a School Counseling graduate student, says delving into matters of personal identity with individuals from all over the world was an eye-opening experience.
“The conference really pointed out how, as humans, we do a lot of jumping to conclusions,” he says. “Once we know the attributes of a person, like gender or ethnicity, we assign them stereotypes or generalizations — we think we know them. But as professionals, it’s our job to be open minded and give people a chance to actually express how they feel about certain things and how they see themselves.”
In addition to a new set of group relations skills, each participant came away with an internationally recognized certificate of completion. Ruth Morrongiello ’17, a School Counseling graduate student, framed hers, and immediately added the accomplishment to her résumé. The trip, she says, was “well worth it.”
“Not a lot of us were aware of the level of rigor and prestige associated with Tavistock before the conference, but it didn’t take long to realize it once it began,” she says. “It’s an honor to have trained there; not many graduate students in the world do.”