Editor’s Note: Bill Haydon has been a contributor to the Group Foundation for a number of years. He and Karen Travis, Past Chairwoman of the Group Foundation and Editor of Group Assets, recently had a conversation about how and why he got involved in the Foundation and his continuing support of our work. Below is that discussion, edited for clarity. Excerpts from the conversation will be included in the Spring 2021 issue of Group Assets, as the Faces of the Foundation column.
Travis: So, Bill, thanks for taking the time to meet with us this morning. I have just a few questions in terms of the interview but first and foremost, thank you so much for being a donor to the Foundation.
Haydon: It’s a pleasure to support any way I can and I intend to continue on doing it as long as I can.
Travis: We appreciate it. We just had a successful meeting, the AGPA Connect. It was totally virtual; it was a big success. I tell Diane [Feirman] from my seat it looks seamless but I know behind the scenes, I'm sure, I can't even imagine all the work that they did, but we had a lot of scholarships and students and new professionals able to come because of people like you.
Haydon: I love that, that's really good to know.
Travis: I know that you first heard about the Foundation through Mary Nicholas. And when Mary approached you, how was it that you were interested in hearing what she had to say and deciding that you wanted to give to the Foundation?
Haydon: Well, let me try to put this together in a coherent and sensible way. I think it was my own personal experience with group therapy, and how it changed, how it helped change my life, and how it benefited me and what I reflect back on my experience. And then Mary mentioning the Foundation which I didn't know existed, I thought, hey that sounds like a great entity, helping people to learn and a way to contribute back. There's also a mechanical thing to the Foundation where you can touch more people. So the contribution is more powerful than giving to a foundation where it's just individual practitioners, one-on-one. Group therapy, I think, is better — it's more useful. So that's really kind of why. I just felt that it helped me so much, and I had benefited and thought it was a great thing that's really sort of under-appreciated. I mean it's kind of a funny thing: the only time people really ever hear about group therapy is when Woody Allen comments on it in one of his old movies, where he's talking about being in group therapy or something. And people think of it as this old, like, 70s concept or where rich writers get together and commiserate, that sort of thing. They don't really know about it, but there are so many benefits to it. There's lots of other models too, like recovery programs and that kind of thing, that could also use the group concept. So really I think it's just a great model for accessing support and helping people change their lives for the better.
Travis: I'm really glad to know that group therapy touched your life. I mean, group therapy touched my life, too, but I'm a group therapist, I've been doing group therapy for 39 years now. And, I can attest to it personally as well. It was great for me many years ago; sometimes I think, why did I leave that group?
Haydon: I know, I know, stay forever, right?
Travis: So, I feel like maybe I put a little plug in for the scholarship program but I was wondering if, in talking with Mary, or reading about the Foundation and learning all that we do, are there specific programs that you feel are more important to you than others?
Haydon: No, not really. I think the Foundation knows where to allocate money and how to manage it properly so I wouldn't have any sort of criteria around that; I think it's really where you see it’s most and best used. I think that's fine.
Travis: I would just like to say we appreciate that trust in us, we really do. That means a lot.
Haydon: I mean, I sort of know a bit about the Foundation from what Mary says, and my own experience, but I wouldn't be able to kind of weigh in and say, "Oh you should do it this way or that way." I leave that up to you.
Travis: So, what is your profession, Bill?
Haydon: Well, it's sort of in transition, I had owned an investment firm for the last 12 years and I just sold that. So I'm sort of retiring. I'm going to be working for only one client, who asked me to work exclusively for them, so I'm going to transition into that as kind of the next chapter. The group actually that I sold my practice to, we did meet with them, Mary and I. Mary talked about the Group Foundation and they were engaged and interested in supporting it as well. So I kind of put the lock on them and said, "Hey, you guys gotta support the Group Foundation."
Travis: That's wonderful. Thank you. So I asked what you do for a living, because I really am interested in understanding what inspired you to give as not being a person in the mental health profession. I think (and Diane may have a different opinion) that sometimes it's easier to talk about the Foundation to people who are in the mental health profession because they understand group therapy or they understand the importance of mental health. I know that you said that group therapy helped you, but are there other things that you want us to know that inspired you to give, even though you're someone who isn't directly in in the mental health profession?
Haydon: No, not really. It was just my experience learning what, I think if you would let it happen, what happens in group therapy, what happened to me. And, just remembering how powerful that was in my life, and then just feeling like I would want to make that available for other people and it's not. It doesn't have to be like a long-term thing. It could also be those sort of triage initiatives that you have, where there's a world event and you do different things. Mary told me the story about the power plant explosion in Connecticut. And, I remember that, I remember when that happened and people were able to talk. Those things are really powerful and it's like, this is kind of a non-industry term, but it's sort of like a bandwidth thing where you can access the most good with the way that you do it. Now as opposed to if you thought about all the people that were traumatized from that plant explosion and they all have to find their own individual therapist and make appointments and all that. And then they're sort of cut off and there's a randomness of the competency of a provider too. Whereas there's a thing that happens organically in a group where of course competency is critical, but there's also this sort of thing that happens within the group, it's like an unwinding of something with other people and it just sort of happens like a family experience. So if one of the victims of the explosion were trying to find a practitioner, there's randomness and who he would find may not be a good fit. But the fact that he was able to do some of his work with other people who experienced the same thing, there's something that organically happens. I don't know what it is, but it just does happen, and I really think that that's very important. So that was something I was interested in.
Travis: In a way, you're answering this now, but what was it like when Mary approached you?
Haydon: She didn't really approach me, she was sort of talking about it in an excited way, talking about what she was doing. So she didn't solicit me or approach me; she didn't say "would you do this?", she just started talking about it and I was like, that's something I could totally get behind. Because we support other things too, the Cancer Foundation, that kind of thing. So I thought that's something that I could definitely get behind and really feel confident about it. Getting to the best, the greatest good. So I liked that as opposed to supporting the initiative of, say, single practitioners focusing on rebirth experiences or whatever, it's like I don't know if that's as impactful to the world as is group therapy. I think it's much more impactful from again that kind of bandwidth perspective and also that organic thing that happens with a group of humans.
Travis: I think that's really important for us. Mary didn't say "Hey, Bill I would like to talk to you about something, can we have coffee or dinner or whatever sometime?" It just happened, she just started talking and you found it interesting.
Haydon: Totally; it's the kind of thing where I was open to it, we get together and we do things like we have lunch and breakfast, that kind of thing. And she started talking about it and when I heard about it I was like wow; it was almost like I found it on my own just by listening to her — she didn't solicit me or push me. I hope that doesn't hurt her credentials.
Travis: No, no, no, it doesn't. In a way it's funny you say that, because I think what happens sometimes, particularly with a number of our members, is they almost view it as, "Oh, I have to go out and talk to people and say let me tell you about this thing." Mirroring what you said about group, it's just a natural part of a conversation that can organically happen in terms of, let me just tell you what I was doing the other day related to what I do through my work, and if it sparks interest in the other person, then you pursue the conversation and if it doesn't, you don't.
Haydon: I think that to me the way that it happened, it was easy to support, as opposed to being solicited to support something you sort of can’t get out of — like buying Girl Scout cookies from your friends, you're like, "All right, I'm totally not going to eat them but I'll buy them anyway." You go in and you give the hundred bucks or whatever. But [Mary] was really just sort of talking and I was interested, really, and able to get behind it, from her excitement and enthusiasm and part of it was my experience— that helped of course because I was in a group for an extended period of time and my life changed for the better.
Travis: Thank you so much for sharing that. I appreciate that there can sometimes be shame or embarrassment about going to therapy.
Haydon: The group thing, I think helps with that too, because you see other people. It's funny sometimes when people ask me about group, I say, one of the easy benefits is when you share something that you feel very concerned about or maybe you feel some guilt or shame or you feel strange about it. And you share it. You are so pleasantly surprised that people don't jump out the window or object or say "I never want to know you ever again." They don't do that, they just kind of sit there and have a spectrum of reactions that make everything so much more human and just calm you down. That's a huge benefit.
Travis: The Safe Space.
Haydon: That comes from having other humans in it. It's better than a practitioner saying, "Oh, it's fine, let me give you my clinical assessment" because then you're kind of like oh great — but there isn't that human thing when you have other humans going "Oh, it's not so bad." I have so many stories. Obviously, I would never reveal anyone's identity but stories that are just funny and I could probably write a book of what was discussed in them, and just how funny and amusing and interesting and insightful the reactions are from other people, how different or similar they can be.
Travis: True, true. So it sounds like at this point you feel invested in the Foundation; I heard you say that you would continue to be a donor for as long as you feel like you could. So, when you do think about the Foundation, at this point in your giving and in your life, are there any words or images that come to your mind that you'd like us to know and the readers who will read this?
Haydon: Again, I think it's really about just the kind of human experience of a group. And the benefit of that and the bandwidth approach where you are doing greater good. You're doing more, you're impacting the world more than one-on-one practitioners. There's also focused kind of groups like the explosion of the power plant. I think that's really important where you have a natural disaster and you can have the advantage of everyone together. You don't have someone talking about a divorce and the other one talking about the trauma from the explosion and another one talking about eating disorders — they're all there to really get it out from the same experience. That to me is really just super important, especially nowadays where there's so much going on in the world and people need so much help and they don't really know where to go.
Travis: I remember when Katrina hit, you may remember that, that hurt, including those of us as the caregivers. People from AGPA came to Louisiana to help us process that, so we were all together around a very tragic kind of event, and it was very powerful and very healing. We only were able to meet for two days but we really made use of that time with group therapists who donated their time and helped us process that as caregivers who were working with people who were suffering.
Haydon: I think it's huge.
Travis: It is, it is. So, we want to know, are there certain things that you would like to see us do going forward, as a Foundation, to advance mental health in our world?
Haydon: I would say maybe more promoting the organization, creating more awareness, because it is sort of a little bit of a secret. For me it's a known thing. But I think a lot of people really are not aware of the existence of group therapy. Like what is it, what does it do. I think you may think about promoting it in some way. That would be the only thing. I mean, I couldn't tell you how to actually conduct the group sessions or any initiatives. It seems like it's still not a well-known thing and I think it should be. So I don't know if there would be something that you may be able to do. But just keep doing what you're doing and I'll keep supporting.
Travis: This was such a pleasure. It was just easy. I can really see that you're speaking from your heart and your head.
Haydon: Again, group therapy was really important. Everybody can work and improve and we all have higher levels to move to but that helped me when I was involved in it years ago for sure. So I have a kind of a sweet spot in there. And of course I like Mary quite a bit. It's easy to get behind a star she likes.