Lessons learned from ten years as a Support Group Leader.

“When I arrived at NYU, I was so interested in this new career that I took it further than I expected and became a clinical social worker. From there, I received my Certificate in Psychoanalysis, and I’ve been a practicing psychoanalyst ever since!

What resonates for me most, as a Support Group Leader, is the interaction between the members of the group. I find it fascinating. They play off each other and it’s like watching a ball bounce around the room. It’s emotional and joyful. And it’s engrossing to watch the group’s involvement with one another.

Joan Gross has been a volunteer Support Group Leader for almost 10 years. And, at 93, she is stepping down as Leader to place her focus on other passion projects. We sat down with Joan to talk about her life as a dancer, student, teacher, social worker, psychoanalyst, and support group leader.

“I started my career as a dancer. I obtained a master’s degree in dance from Mills College in California and moved to New York to perform. I loved performing – I did the Perry Como Show, City Center, and plenty of Summer Stock. But after 10 years in the business, I was ready to try something new. And I decided that I was a good fit for social work.”

I remember one incredible moment when a member was so upset about a sibling’s behavior that he suddenly stood up and tore at his hair. The group responded with compassion and humor, which immediately diffused the tension. And the group member’s moment of desperation quickly dissipated in the presence of such
support and validation. Remarkable.

My job as a support group leader is to provide a forum in which everyone can participate, speak, and respond. And to make sure everyone feels like they are part of the group. I think my training as a performer and improviser has really helped me facilitate this group. I’ve been more expressive and empathetic. And – like any good cast member – I have great appreciation for everything that happens among the members in the group.

At this age, however, it’s time for me to streamline things. I will always love the group members, but I look forward to focusing on other things, like my continuing education classes, and training students in China (via zoom!) about psychoanalysis. These things keep my brain active!

After all my years as a support group leader, I would offer this advice to caregivers: Don’t lose yourself in the caregiving. Always remember that your own life matters, too!”

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