Markie Silverman, PhD, LP, Michigan State Counseling Center

Michigan State University

From an early age I have had to learn how to navigate in predominately White spaces. As a Black woman professional this has had its benefits and costs. In many of these spaces it was imperative to assimilate to the majority regarding the way I dressed, talked, wear my hair, and even my hobbies. As a young woman in academic and professional spaces, I desired to have spaces where I felt safe to be myself and for me, they did not exist. It has been through my training and professional development where I learned to allow myself to reduce my code switching and be authentically me in professional and academic spaces. Since starting my career, I have been passionate about serving marginalized populations and creating/supporting spaces where these populations can be authentically themselves.

In August 2020 I started my role as Staff Psychologist and Group Coordinator at Michigan State University Counseling and Psychiatric Services (MSU CAPS). In this role I have had the opportunity to not only facilitate identity-based groups but also frame the groups program. When I was reflecting on the success of our group program, one thing I am most proud of is the various safe spaces we provide for students from marginalized populations. It is important to share what has helped us create safe spaces for marginalized populations, so others who are experiencing barriers can identify strategies for creating these spaces in their institutions.

One of the most significant contributing factors have been buy-in from administration and staff. With administration and staff support we have been able to offer a wide variety of identity based groups for Black Women, Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Women, Women of Color, Gender Identity and Sexuality groups, Black Men, Students of Color, Latinx Women, and Students of Color who identify within the LGBTQ+ community, amongst others. It would be important to note that these spaces would have been hard to offer if we did not have a diverse staff to facilitate these spaces. I have found that representation is important when creating these spaces.

Administration must value diversity and inclusion, to hire and retain staff from diverse populations. One strategy to increase staff and administration buy-in is by offering internal trainings on group counseling and the importance of identity-based spaces. Trainings can help others understand the benefits of group counseling, feel more confident in making a referral to group counseling (as the primary treatment modality), and increase confidence in facilitating groups. Before offering group trainings, I found it helpful to survey staff and complete a group program needs assessment. The needs assessment was a strategy I used to help me identify what topics I would focus trainings on and what modalities were most helpful for our staff. For example, our staff found experiential training and didactic training more helpful then training videos and reading articles.

Additional benefits of having a diverse staff is that you have a rich resource of ideas and passions. This has led to me starting a group committee within our department where we discuss changes, new groups, trainings, new policies, and needs. The development of a group committee has also helped with reported increase in staff satisfaction and buy-in. I have also been able to implement a group counseling specific consultation space where staff members can consult regarding group practices/interventions, barriers, and successes.

 Another key area of our group program is its integration with our training program. Expanding the involvement of trainees into our group program also improved the number of groups we could offer, the variety of group topics we could offer, and buy-in from staff and administration. Most importantly, trainees can develop their skills in offering culturally competent group counseling at other settings once they successfully complete the training program.

As many group facilitators know, marketing and advertisement is a key factor in recruiting for your groups. We found it helpful to review the wording of our advertisement, the images used in our advertisement, where the flyers were being shared, and the process used to gain access to the group space. With this in mind we also reviewed where our groups were being offered. We have found it helpful to offer groups in spaces students have identified to be safe spaces and in their campus communities. Developing campus partnerships is an important strategy for developing multicultural safe spaces. Part of our marketing and advertisement strategy is to use our community engagement and outreach opportunities to build relationships and share about our group program. In my experience, when students have been able to establish a relationship from a community engagement, they have been more likely to attend groups.

As a group coordinator and early clinician, I have found building my network and attending trainings and consultation groups to be extremely helpful. I have found the group counseling community to be generous in sharing resources, offering mentorship, and providing consultation. If there are any early clinicians looking for a way to develop their group counseling skills and/or senior clinicians new to group counseling,  I would highly recommend attending the conferences, attending in-person and/or virtual trainings, finding a mentor, joining the various listservs, and joining a consultation group. By integrating myself into the group counseling community it has made me a better clinician and group coordinator. I have also benefited from group counseling spaces intended for black indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) clinicians.

While the importance of multiculturalism and safe spaces have had increased attention and support, as a society and discipline we still have room for improvement. As a group coordinator I plan to continue to become more aware of my biases, further my training, and support the development of safe spaces for all the students we serve. I appreciate all the hard work others have done in this field before me, and I hope to continue to help develop another generation of mental health professionals who value group counseling and are skilled to offer culturally competent group spaces. I hope as you are reading this you are inspired to support and/or develop safe identity-based spaces at your institutions. If you are already doing so, thank you for the work that you do. Sharing strategies on what has been effective in your work is a great way to continue this work and help others overcome barriers. While the larger long-term goal is for all people to feel safe in all spaces, that is not the reality in the current time. Until we get there, identity-based spaces are needed to provide support, increase feelings of safety, and normalize marginalized population’s experiences.