Please read my earlier post that outlines my initial direction and intention for a group intervention for at-promise youth. Things changed quite a bit from the initial approach, but I believe the spirit was maintained.
My experience creating and facilitating a meditation group with at-promise youth helped me to see that flexibility and really listening to youth were my most important interventions. This group combined the more western psychological approaches of group therapy with meditation and movement. I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do and proceeded to hone the development of the group via my experiences facilitating. As I began to implement the group I realized some changes needed to be made. Initially I wondered what the subject matter for each group would be, but after I began I noticed themes arose. I came up with four or five topics that seemed to be relevant for these youth. The topic for each week of group would be the following: Trust, Unfairness, Struggle, Worry and Change. Initially, I would open up the group by presenting a topic of discussion and allowing youth to talk about a situation in their life that related to the topic at hand. At times, this went well, but at other times one or two youth would monopolize the discussion and continue to talk, go off topic and need to be redirected several times. This isn’t uncommon in our groups in general, but I thought I may avoid this situation by changing the order of group events. Another approach was to begin with breathing exercises. I would do two to three minutes each of deep belly breathing, alternate nostril breathing and slow kapalabhati. Each type of breathing was followed by noticing natural breathing (without effort) for a minute or two after the deliberate breathing exercise. The first time I conducted the group opening with breathing it went well. Subsequent times I did this, I had issues depending on the youth in the group. It is interesting to note that though some youth remained the same in the group for four or five weeks, a good number of them would change. I had to adapt the group when new kids came in to the facility. In addition, I would use images and poetry that related to the topic of the group in order to stimulate more thinking and creativity around the topic. I ultimately came to settle on all of the elements of group and would adapt the order based on the number of kids and the energy of the group. Group events roughly looked like the following:
Group rules (always at beginning of group)
Image and or poetry relating to topic of group and discussion
Discussion and examples of topic from life
Movement exercises (yoga, qigong or other energetic work)
Guided Imagery I (w/o role model) and discussion
Guided Imagery II (w/ role model) and discussion (optional) – role modeling and healing mentor meditation based on Tibetan Buddhist Deity meditation practice.
Closing recitation – “May I be peaceful. May I be happy. May I be free from suffering.”
I found that being flexible with the order of events and cutting out events when more important and fertile discussion arose was helpful. I would make sure to get in one or two guided imagery practices and some form of movement.
I discovered it was helpful for the group if I selected certain members to be present from week to week. I found that having kids who I identified as “leaders” and who seemed to have an “affinity” for meditation and yoga were good to have in the group. I would make sure that at least one of them was in the group from week to week. I would often exclude youth who had difficulty being open and focusing around specific peers, who they may have had problematic relationships with prior to detention. I would discuss this with them individually, letting them know why I did not want them attending group the next week. If I noticed one youth could not focus on breathing without giggling with a friend during group I would take time to discuss the situation with them and if it did not improve I would not have them partake in group the next week. I would work with staff to identify youth who naturally reached out for support and had an air of seriousness about them. I left it open that if a youth who had been asked to not join group due to problematic behaviors in prior groups, had an opportunity to speak with me one on one about rejoining the group. On more than one occasion I had a youth approach me and ask if they could rejoin the group. This had the effect of making the group something special that they wanted to join.
I had basic rules about confidentiality (what is said in this room, stays in this room), one mic (one speaker at a time) and respect. At the beginning of group I would allow the youth to explain the meaning of each rule. It was helpful to re-iterate the rules when youth needed reminding during group.
The initial guided meditation involved counting the breath backwards, letting go of counting and focusing on natural breathing. I utilized basic mindfulness approaches to settle the mind. As far as sitting posture went, I used the analogy of a garden hose and the difficulty of water flowing through it when it is bent. We often sat in chairs around a table, but some members after being in group for a couple of weeks wanted to sit cross-legged on the floor. After noticing the breath, I would have them imagine themselves in a place where they felt comfortable and relaxed. I would present the option of a special room or place outside as a place where they may feel relaxed and at ease. The youth would report that they would really feel like they went somewhere else and at times we would need to process sadness, when they came back into “ordinary life” to realize they were still in their current situation. Once the safe place in their mind was established, I would have them visualize the topic of the group. For example, if the topic was being treated unfairly, I would have them visualize a situation they identified earlier in group or the feeling of unfairness in general. I would request they observe it with curiosity as if they were a scientist with a subject or watching a movie play before their eyes. I would request they also move in to feel it in the body. Then, after visualizing and feeling unfairness. I would have them put their hands over their hearts and repeat to themselves, “I am fair to myself”. I would ask them to repeat this over and over as a mantra. I would then ask them to dissolve the words, images and the scene around them until they were sitting in the room. Next, I would bring them to notice the breath and get a sense of their body in the room on the ‘in and out’ breath. Finally, I would have them slowly open their eyes and return to the group in the room.
After the meditation we would discuss any experiences that happened during and after the meditation. Some youth would express that it was challenging for them to sit still. Some would describe what it was like for them to be in a place where they felt comfortable and relaxed and were able to describe this in some detail. One youth stated that he didn’t realize he could just do that (imagine) anytime he wanted and would like to do it when he is sitting alone in his room. Another youth stated that when we repeated the phrase “I am fair to myself” he had difficulty “giving myself a break”. This turned into a discussion about the difficulty of having self-compassion.
The second guided imagery meditation intervention involved bringing the role model into a similar scenario of unfairness. At times, I would have them visualize the mentor in front of them as they showed the mentor their current struggle with unfairness or as they visualized the scene of unfairness. At other times the mentor would enter from the side and put their hand on their shoulder. I would describe the mentor transmitting their support and mastery (power) to the youth from their heart to the youth or from their hand into the youth’s body. This support and mastery would fill their body in the form of light. Initially I did not specify criteria for the role model, other than to say “leader, teacher, wise counselor, elder, super hero, author, religious figure….” during the meditation. This gave the youth an opportunity to go with whomever came to mind. After the meditation, I had more than one youth comment that the role model they chose was unable to help them. They reported that the role model they chose may not be the right one for the job. This turned into a discussion on the qualities of a role model. I eventually added a group session that dealt strictly with identifying a role model.
The success of the group seemed often to boil down to how flexible I was in delivering my interventions. When I was least able to adapt to the group dynamic was when I felt things lose energy. However, even these situations became learning situations for all of us, when openly discussed. The youth would often be able to articulate why they were struggling and feeling antsy in group and we were all able to process it together. My distress tolerance played a fairly big role in the collective distress tolerance of the group. My history of meditation and distress tolerance as well as my comfort in delivering guided meditation also played a role. I am interested in conducting assessments at the beginning and end of group at some point in the near future to measure any interesting results. I am posting narrative quotes and summaries that I collected below:
Youth reported that the meditation was relaxing and that when he dissolved the world and the universe the negative things also dissolved. Youth reported it was nice to feel positive things.
Youth reported that during the reflection he saw himself changing and was able to visualize what he wished to change. Youth reported if felt good to notice change and feel supported.
“I had trouble visualizing a role-model / mentor. I had an idea of who I wanted it to be but I couldn’t see them clearly. What do you think that means?”
“This time I listened, followed along and focused and it worked.”
Youth was able to identify an effective role model in her life. Youth stated she had some difficulty with the visualization due to anxiety but that she is capable of “seeing things”.
Youth reported that when change showed up during the visualization she saw herself and that she had a difficult conversation with herself. Youth reported that she found herself difficult to get along with and this is what she needs to work on.
Youth reported that during the visualization she saw herself in a new light and that she hopes others see she has changed.
Youth stated when she reflected on a place that she feels comfortable in, it made her sad to be where she is now.
“I realized that the role-model I chose could not help me and that I needed to find a better one. I will think of a new one for next time”
“I chose Nelson Mandella as my role model.”
“I was sitting on a mound of dirt, next to a pond and had a conversation with a lizard.”
Youth reported that during the visualization he pictured himself on top of a mountain and entering a house with a family that appeared to be his family. Youth interpreted this as the possibility of having a healthy family in the future, something he did not think possible prior.
Youth reported during the reflection (role modeling meditation) he saw his past deeds play out before his eyes and he came to himself as a role model or a potential role model. Youth reported that this shows him he has to be there for himself in the future and that he has the ability to change.
Youth reported seeing a needle in front of him and how he is struggling with not using drugs.
Youth reported seeing two roads to travel down and that he has to make a decision about which one.
Youth reported that when they repeated “I am fair to myself”, they had trouble giving themselves a break.
“Caused me to see the person who was being unfair to me and think about fairness on both sides.”
“Hey, what were you guys doing in there with your eyes closed?” Youth stated this and asked to join group next time.
“Do you know what astral projection is? I felt like I was really up in a tree. Like I was really there.”
“When I let trust in, it was my mom. We had a long conversation.”
“I had trouble seeing trust. I didn’t see anything.” A peer responded by saying, “maybe that is because you don’t trust anyone”.
“I feel like a huge weight has been lifted”
“When I imagined myself on top of a mountain I looked down at our city and thought of how what I normally think of as big seemed completely different.”
“The lake I imagined was really clear and blue. I couldn’t believe how real it was.”