Newspaper Article on Men’s Groups
Note: This article originally appeared in the Ventura County Star on January 31, 2010.
Men’s Group Is for Those Prepared to Deal with Emotions, Connections
By Alicia Doyle
Saturday, January 30, 2010
When a man starts a journey toward maturity and wisdom, he must go to places he probably has never been before; he must venture into the foreign territories of emotion and interdependence.
So says Tom McGee, founder of the Men’s Group in Ventura, which strives to provide connection with other men and promote spiritual and emotional growth while breaking down the isolation that men typically feel in today’s culture.
“Men carry so many burdens, usually silent and alone,” said McGee, 58, of Oxnard, a psychotherapist in private practice in Ventura who has been working with men — individually and in groups and retreats — since 1993.
“This is a confusing time,” he said, “with many changes in and confusion about gender roles, the meaning of work, and the difficulty in finding a true spiritual home.”
Targeting men 25 and older, the Men’s Group offers a small, intimate network of friendship that focuses on spiritual and emotional growth, relationships, parenting, careers and creativity — “something different than what is usually found around the water cooler or at the sports bar,” McGee said.
“These groups are geared toward men who have some facility in dealing with their emotions and are not afraid to share them with other men,” McGee said. “Also, it is for men who are interested in exploring ways of thinking and being that go beyond typical cultural patterns, including openness regarding emotions, spirituality, relationships and work.”
McGee has a remarkable ability to facilitate this process in a way that brings an increasing depth, richness and wonder to life, said Andrew Bassuk of Ojai, who was drawn to the Men’s Group a few years ago when he was going through a divorce and needed some support.
“In a day and age that we have lost a great deal of our sense of community, family and meaningful connection in our culture, Tom has found a way to bring men together from widely varying backgrounds,” said Bassuk, 45.
The group is home to men with diverse life experiences. They include a taxi driver, a physician, businessmen, a therapist, a registered nurse.
“Despite our extensive differences, what we share is a commitment to sharing our triumphs and tragedies, our struggles, our pain and our joys honestly and openly,” Bassuk said. “We share, we listen, we laugh and we cry. It’s been a very growthful and supportive experience for me. If only all men had such an opportunity, our world would be a far more peaceful place.”
John, 57, of Ventura, who asked to not use his last name, joined the Men’s Group to work on personal issues revolving around kids, marriage, unemployment, spiritual development and overall growth.
“The impact is a safe, confidential outlet for feelings and friendship,” he said.
Oxnard resident Kap Young, 59, first met McGee when his ex-wife — and the mother of his children — was dying of cancer, “and my life was upside down.”
After six months of one-on-one counseling with McGee, Young joined the Men’s Group in 1999.
“I sat with that group on Thursday evenings for five years,” he said. Today, “I do not know what my life would have been like without Tom. Through his quiet calm, I learned to listen to myself and others. He brought me into a circle of men where the silence of listening filled my heart and fed me at my core.”
Ron Lagerquist originally started meeting with McGee while going through a divorce and was later invited to join the Men’s Group. As a result, “I have a group of men in my life who are more than just friends; they are my mentors, sage advisers and fellow warriors,” said Lagerquist, 50, of Newbury Park. “They act as my role models who inspire me to explore my potential, face my fears and help to pick me up when I fall.”
The issues men deal with — families, career, relationships, spirituality — are universal, Lagerquist said; “however, there are few places where men can openly discuss their fears and apprehensions in a supportive, nonjudgmental setting.”
In addition to the wealth of emotional sharing and support, the group uses poetry, music, spiritual readings and ample time in nature, which gives the group an additional sense of aliveness, Bassuk said.
For instance, he said, “our twice-yearly weekend retreats usually held on Santa Cruz Island give us time to rest, hike, deepen our friendships and enjoy the beauty of this incredible region we live in.”
During the meetings — held Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in Ventura — there is usually a meditation, poem or piece of music to open the group and help members become present in the room, McGee said.
“Then each member has the opportunity to speak from the heart, using a format in which the speaker holds a talking stick and everyone else in the group just listens,” McGee said. “Once everyone, including me, has had a chance to speak in this way, we set the talking stick aside and engage in discussion and working through of what has arisen during the talking stick exercise.”
This simple format allows men to speak their hearts and minds and be heard in a nonthreatening atmosphere, McGee said.
“This tends to be very beneficial, especially over time, as men find they have a place to take concerns they would otherwise be carrying alone and a network of deep friendship develops.”
A man fully engaged in this work eventually finds he is reveling in community rather than resentfully making last stands alone, McGee said.
“A men’s group can be a vital part of this process, because the very existence of the group belies the myth that we must do it all alone,” he said. “It becomes a haven of brotherhood for those seeking to enhance their experience of emotion, spirit, insight, clarity and relationship.”
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