The Journey of Facilitating Care
It is a sacred honor to hold the stories of others, to walk through places of great harm in pursuit of healing, truth, and goodness. Here, Kellay Chapman reflects on her training with The Allender Center and the ongoing journey of caring for the holy stories of others.
Five years ago, wearing awesome flats I don’t have anymore because my dog chewed just one of them, I walked into my first Wounded Heart group on wobbly legs. An acquaintance at church heard I was attending The Allender Center’s Training Certificate Level I and recruited me to lead a Wounded Heart group with her. I did not know what I was getting into, and as I climbed the stairs to our first meeting I wholeheartedly regretted saying yes. I had a limited understanding of my own story and worried I wouldn’t belong. I worried I wouldn’t know what to say as I listened to women share stories of sexual trauma. I sat on an impressively uncomfortable sofa and tried to control my shaking body. I worked to channel my inner Rachael Clinton. Rachael was my facilitator in the Training Certificate. Though I had only attended one session of the training at that point, I had already experienced Rachael’s ability to be honest, nervous, feeling, confident, and present all at the same time. That’s all I wanted to be, and I quickly realized how difficult it is to be both vulnerable and a leader.
Now 12 groups later and having walked with more than 70 women, I am still learning the complexity of offering myself to my groups. Holding boundaries and simultaneously inviting women to take up space. Attuning, containing, and repairing rupture in real time in the midst of the inevitable reenactment of harm. Trauma repeats itself, and it takes good training to learn how to avoid re-traumatizing people. When I first started this work I was most concerned with how to share my story, what the women in the group would think of me, and if I had enough authority to lead. Now I don’t worry as much about those things. I am used to being one of the youngest women in the room. I am aware my face usually invites people to underestimate me, and I enjoy surprising people. Now I worry that I will miss someone and not catch it, or that I will ask someone to go further than they’re ready to go in their story.
When I completed the Training Certificate Level I in the spring of 2014, I had amazing tools to aid me in my work with groups. I learned from Rachael how to use my body to understand a story, the importance of trusting my gut, the art of gently pushing people, and the necessity of matching my strength with kindness and my kindness with strength. Most of all I learned to pay attention to the story the person brings into the room: listen, remember details, notice what’s missing. I made a lot of mistakes in my first few groups. And I still make a lot of mistakes—but the mistakes I make now are different than the ones I made before. Early on I thought it was most important to get through as many workbook questions as possible. I don’t worry about getting through the material anymore, so my mistakes now are usually around forgetting to slow down and pace with the person who is sharing.
Trauma repeats itself, and it takes good training to learn how to avoid re-traumatizing people.
I began The Allender Center’s Externship Program in the fall of 2016. The Externship helped me learn to address what is in the room and watch out for how reenactment plays out it in groups. And the Externship taught me more about how to go towards the places where we most need to be seen yet where we are also most committed to hiding. In the Externship I heard two pieces of wisdom from Cathy Loerzel, one of the facilitators, that I take into every group meeting. First, “As a facilitator, your only job is to name well.” Second, “If you believe truth and goodness are buoyant you don’t have to spend your time dredging them up.” Cathy and Trapper Lukaart, the other Externship facilitator, put language to the role of group leader/facilitator, which gave me permission to inhabit the role instead of trying to get it right. Now I spend a lot of my time in groups naming how bad things are, and I love it. I love it because over and over I get to experience the buoyancy of truth and goodness.
Now my 12th group is coming to a close. The work is hard. I usually have a bad day on whatever day group meets. There is always a crisis before the first meeting of a new group, from a snowstorm to food poisoning to unexpected deaths. These things used to fill me with anxiety, but not so much anymore. Recently, one of my group members said she often does not know what to say to someone who has shared. She said it seems like I always know what to say. She dreams of leading groups one day and she can do it, but I told her if she’s waiting for the feeling of not knowing what to say to go away she will never lead a group. In my experience, the feeling does not go away. “Then how do you do it?” she asked me. I told her, I’ve made friends with not knowing what to say.
There is a holy familiarity for me now in that moment when a person finishes a story and looks up to meet my eyes and wait for my response. It’s not that I’m confident in that moment, it’s that I’m familiar with it and I have learned to trust the process. I have come to learn that, as long as I was listening and willing to put myself in their story, words will come. So as this reflection comes to a close what I want most to say is familiarity does not always breed contempt. Sometimes familiarity leads to friendship, even with difficult work and situations.
My training through The Allender Center, my current role as an Apprentice, and my work in Wounded Heart groups have allowed me to grow through being a novice, as opposed to growing out of being a novice. However unlikely, I have made friends with this dangerous and sacred work of holding stories with more than mere empathy or insight, but with the capacity to actually find join the storyteller, and to call them to truth.