Generational Mentoring: Weaving Mentees and Mentors Together

Karen Travis, LCSW, BCD, CGP, FAGPA 
This article appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Group Circle
Karen and Etta picture

What a delight and honor to be asked to write this article on mentoring in celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the AGPA. Mentoring is a topic that is very special to me. In the June/July 2003 issue of the Group Circle, my AGPA mentor, Etta Martin, MSW, CGP, FAGPA, and I were featured along with two other mentor/mentee relationship pairs (Scott Rutan, PhD, CGP, FAGPA, and Sara Emerson, LICSW, MSW, CGP, FAGPA, and Frances Bonds-White, EdD, CGP, FAGPA, and Anne McEneaney, PhD, ABPP, CGP, FAGPA). The article, Mentoring: The Heritage of AGPA, was written by Sally Hansell, LCSW.

I first met Etta on an escalator on our way to the Women's SIG at the 1996 AGPA Annual Meeting in San Francisco.  She informed me that it was time to begin presenting at AGPA, and I said, "Yes, ma'am."  At AGPA's 1999 Annual Meeting in Houston, I presented for the first time on a panel on mentoring.  The rest is history, a Etta and I have presented on mentoring several times at AGPA and the Canadian Group Psychotherapy Association.


During the 2015 Annual Meeting in San Francisco, I led a panel with three of my mentees where we showed videotape of Etta speaking about our relationship, as well as about her own AGPA mentor—Pearl Rosenberg, PhD. I completed a circle by offering a tribute to her 19 years later. That Open Session, Promoting Secure Attachment through Generational Mentoring: A Family Affair, is a historical account of AGPA mentors/mentees and a testimony to the strong role that these relationships play within our organization.


David Stoddard, author of The Heart of Mentoring: Ten Proven Principles for Developing People to Their Fullest Potential, states: “Effective mentors recognize that mentoring + reproduction = legacy.” Mary Doyle, author of Mentoring Heroes: 52 Fabulous Women’s Paths to Success and the Mentors Who Empowered Them, notes that mentoring “… is an opportunity to empower, supporting a protégé’s growth at their own pace and in their own way, introducing your protégé to other helpful people, watching someone exceed your level because of you and sharing your gifts, your time, your knowledge and your self.” It is important to note that mentoring is a commitment of time; money is not exchanged, so the relationship is different than that of being a supervisor. While there can be thin lines between mentor, supervisor, therapist, and role model, each of these hold different meanings.


Historic Relationships

The mentoring process is crucial to the personal and professional development of a group therapist. Consider some of AGPA’s more historic mentoring pairs, including mentee Molyn Leszcz, MD, FRCPC, CGP, DFAGPA, and mentors Irvin Yalom, MD, DLFAPGA, and Harold Bernard, PhD, ABPP, CGP, DLFAGPA. Dr. Yalom opened up the AGPA world to Molyn after the latter finished his residency; the mentoring relationship emerged during his fellowship year. Dr. Bernard opened up opportunities of responsibility within AGPA. It is no small matter that Dr. Leszcz went on to co-author The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy with Dr. Yalom.


Mentee Ruth Hochberg, PhD, CGP-R, DLFAGPA, and mentor Saul Scheidlinger, PhD, met shortly after Ruth completed her doctorate and moved from New Jersey to California. Dr. Hochberg told me Dr. Scheidlinger selected her as his mentee and introduced her to the local Affiliate, the Los Angeles Group Psychotherapy Society. Mentee Marti Kranzberg, PhD, ABPP, CGP, FAGPA, met her AGPA mentor, John Gladfelter, PhD, ABGP, while in her mid 20s and not yet a doctoral student. Their 35+-year relationship continued until his death. Elliot Zeisel’s, PhD, LCSW, CGP, DFAGPA, group mentor was Lou Ormont, PhD, and while writing his doctoral thesis, Dr. Zeisel tracked down Dr. Ormont’s first group analyst, Alexander Wolf, MD, and interviewed him. Ultimately, Dr. Zeisel entered treatment with one of Dr. Ormont’s mentors, Hyman Spotnitz, MD, the founder of the Modern Analytic Method.


For those who may not know of the successes of these mentees: Dr. Zeisel is on faculty at the Center for Group Studies and the Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies, a sought-after speaker and leader in our field, having served on the Boards of AGPA, the Group Foundation for Advancing Mental Health, and the International Board for Certification of Group Psychotherapists, and one of the Special Institute leaders for AGPA Connect 2018 (formerly known as AGPA’s Annual Meeting) to be held in Houston. Dr. Hochberg is living a lengthy life, had a prosperous longstanding career, is an enduring member of the AGPA, and was the first Chair of the Group Foundation for Advancing Mental Health. Dr. Kranzberg told me she excelled in her group career because Dr. Gladfelter helped her think critically, be aware of herself, and be comfortable being different—a maverick. She continues to practice in Dallas and teaches at the Fielding Institute in California.


Common themes emerged in the accounts of these mentees, who all now serve as mentors to others. All four believe in the power of the AGPA and mentoring, and share an understanding and awe for the power of group developed through the mentoring relationship. All noted that having a mentor led them to becoming involved in their local Affiliate Society, as well as the AGPA, which helped them excel in their group career. All also noted that their mentor helped promote their work and wanted them to grow and develop. Said Ms. Hochberg, “The power of AGPA lies in its broad acceptance and involvement in many different aspects of group practice. It is always evolving, expanding, and renewing to reflect our changing world.”


What do mentors receive from their mentees? It was clear from the responses of those I talked to that to be a mentor is an honor. “The most valuable gift I received from one of my mentees was a sense that I was successful in paying forward the enormous gifts that had been bestowed upon me through the course of my professional life. The best way to repay our mentors is by contributing to the growth and development of the next generation,” said Dr. Leszcz. Dr. Kranzberg put it this way: “ It may be the most valuable gift you give yourself and your clients.”


From Historical to Personal

This article would not be complete without me writing about one of my own mentees, Annie Yocum, PsyD. It is worth noting the parallels of my relationship to Annie and my relationship to Etta. Annie is from Pennsylvania and I live in Louisiana. Etta lived in Oregon, and we would set up specific times to talk by phone. Annie and I also met at the AGPA’s Women’s SIG, where a discussion about mentoring took place. I offered my availability to mentor, and after the meeting, Annie approached me and asked if I would consider mentoring her. I liked her capacity to risk take. We set up a phone call to discuss what she was looking for in a mentor and determined we were a good match. We talk once a month about her career, particularly the group practice she is building. Other topics have included her involvement in her local Affiliate, the Philadelphia Area Group Psychotherapy Society, where she serves as President, as well as her desires to be involved in the AGPA leadership. I invited her to be on the mentoring panel at AGPA’s 2015 Annual Meeting in San Francisco, which she accepted.


Young professionals are vital to AGPA. It is important to involve them and listen to them. Annie told me that what has been most helpful to her in our mentoring relationship was having “a forum in which to talk about group therapy. There are not a lot of people doing process groups where I live. I don’t have anyone to have those conversations with. The formalized, though it thankfully does not feel formal, nature of our relationship helps keep me accountable,” she said.


What do young mental health professionals need from their mentors? “Some new professionals need the nuts and bolts of starting and growing therapy groups. In agencies or similar settings, insight is needed in dealing with difficult aspects of institutions when it comes to groups,” said Annie. She went on to say how much she appreciated being invited to present at the AGPA Annual Meeting and being introduced to people in AGPA.


Etta was a pro at introducing me to people and encouraging me to participate in governance. She stretched me to lengths I did not know I had. As I have said many times and will say again, mentoring and being mentored is vital to the group psychotherapist. In Etta’s words: “Mentoring helps give a person a leg up.”


Etta’s late husband, Perry Roth, also an active AGPA member, was a master weaver. When I visited Etta last, she asked that I choose one of Perry’s weavings to take home. The gesture was striking to the heart. The weaving hangs in my group therapy room.


We are all woven together through forbearers of mentoring, experiences, people we know, and this wonderful organization called AGPA. My life has been made richer by being mentored and by mentoring.

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