The NCTS event held November 6-7, 2017, was designed for supervisors-in-training, pastoral counselors, psychotherapists, CPE interns and residents, clinical chaplains, and CPE training supervisors to examine behaviors and practices as it relates to living in a world turned upside down by political, cultural, racial and social change. As care givers, trainers and supervisors in institutional and congregational settings the CPSP membership were invited to examine our use and understanding of authority, leadership and meaning in a world of radical change. Guest presenters from the A.K. Rice Institute included Howard A. Friedman, PhD, Frank Marrocco, PhD, and Kimberley A. Turner, PhD, M.Div. While exploring the unconscious life of social systems was the primary focus of this year’s gathering, particular attention was given to engaging the unconscious and covert processes in group and organizational life; the dynamics of authority and authorization; power and other differences within and among diverse groups; and the group processes of negotiation and interpretation to facilitate collaborative learning.
I imagine that the learning varied among individuals, as well as, among the different groups. For me, this event’s learning surpassed that of any of the previous ones I have attended. This time, it had more to do with me being better able to know and claim my own identity and authority as opposed to previous times when I may have quickly agreed with a group in order to belong. Here is how I understand my unconscious process. I spent the majority of my professional life as part of a professional culture that practically demanded compliance in order to be successful. Selection for promotions and positions were based on a perceived common value and divergence was not tolerated inside the structure. It has had a profound effect on how I see the world and how I engage the professional world around me. Then, I understood power as hierarchically formed in a system in which people and positions are arranged according to their importance and perceived value. Today, when I consider cultural differences and individuation it gives rise to creating new understandings and in some cases, some misunderstandings. New understandings and misunderstandings makes it difficult to hold boundaries established in a context of conformity; it makes the world appear up-side down.
NASA astronauts train for the challenges of living and working in space. They become accustomed to the effects of weightlessness and often work up-side-down in and out of the space station. Astronaut Scott Kelly now officially holds the record for the longest consecutive amount of time spent in space by an American astronaut. He spent a total of 342 days on the International Space Station before returning to earth. Unlike astronauts, we don’t train for living in an up-side-down world. Perhaps we should. Drs. Friedman, Marrocco, and Turner successfully created a training environment that simulated a world turned up-side-down. There were no clear levels of power and no structures to promote boundary setting. But the groups soon began to create boundaries based on the cues that were being transmitted and interpreted internally. It didn’t take long before groups formed around ideological likenesses and in some cases dislikes. Even at the invitation to break free of a group boundary to form a different boundary, groups were reluctant to do so. Without exception, the values that the groups initially formed around remained the values that held the group together.
Scott Kelly is no longer in space so he doesn’t exercise on a treadmill turned upside down. I imagine he, like me, will never see the world the same again. Good teachers understand the power of altered perspective. Perhaps ours is first and foremost a profession about teaching others to embrace versions of a world up-side-down to show how it can be understood by exploring the different connections between people, culture and society.
The Reverend Dr. George Akins, Jr., is a recently credentialed Diplomate Supervisor in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. He is also credentialed as a Clinical Chaplain and as a Pastoral Counselor at Capital Health Regional Medical Center, Trenton, New Jersey. Reverend Akins is an ordained Elder in the Church of God in Christ and currently serves as senior pastor at the Refuge Temple Church in Englewood, New Jersey. He earned a Doctorate of Ministry from Drew University, a Masters of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Masters of Science in Telecommunications Engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He spent over 26 years in the US Army as a communications officer and as a program manager for new systems acquisition.
He enjoys his pastime riding his Yamaha V-Star Cruiser or in the cockpit of the flying club airplane. He and his wife, Lisa, parent three adult children and three grandchildren who live in Henderson, North Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee and Manassas, Virginia.