Personal Awareness (PA) Groups

Why pursue personal awareness?

Personal awareness (PA) is central to effective teaching and clinical practice. Self‐reflection is the basis of both personal growth and practice improvement. Clinicians solve problems by applying learning from previous experiences to current clinical dilemmas “automatically,” without conscious direction of thought. We know little about whether the same process occurs when we face relational, psychosocial or affective dilemmas. Feelings evoked by work with patients and students are among the most intimate and exhilarating or difficult that people face. We are all aware of barriers to self‐reflection, such as time pressures, predominance of the biomedical model, physicians’ and educators need for compartmentalization for survival, and burnout. It is becoming increasingly clear that if we leave feelings unexamined, they can become additional barriers to effective patient care or to competent teaching. One cornerstone of professionalism is to integrate our affective experiences in order to foster personal learning with subsequent benefits to our patients and students. Few chances for this kind of exploration and integration exist in traditional medical education.

Personal awareness groups are opportunities for conversation about meaningful events (either from work at home with patients and students or from events within the course), and the effect of the feelings these events evoke on the work of health care provision, teaching, job satisfaction, and learning within the course. All AACH personal awareness groups use as their essential model the teachings of Carl Rogers (widely recognized as the founder of the person‐centered approach, the basis of many applications in education, group/organizational work, and counseling) and follow three group principles to create trust and safety that support personal discussion: the conversation of the group remains confidential ‐ what is said in the group should remain within the group each participant decides how much or how little to say, and says as much or as little as s/he wishes each participant speaks for him/herself, not for others

How is personal awareness work integrated into Winter Course?
Because our skills are indelibly linked to what we bring to interpersonal interactions as unique individuals, personal awareness/development work is a unique learning opportunity offered at this course.  A significant portion of the course (eight sessions totaling 13 hours) is dedicated to PA group time, in which attendees are placed in small groups led by trained facilitators.  Attendees remain in the same PA group for the entire course, so relationships are formed the absence of any group member can negatively affect the cohesion of the group.  Skipping sessions or leaving early has proven to dramatically take away from an individual's experience at the course, and also the experience of their group members.  For this reason, all attendees are strongly encouraged to attend and full participate in ALL sessions for the entire course.  

The goal of these PA groups is to provide a learner-centered venue where each participant will clarify her/his own learning goals in interpersonal and communication skills, personal awareness, and reflection. Trained  facilitators and fellow group participants will collaborate to fashion exercises that will help accomplish those goals. These goals may involve enhancing one’s relationships with patients, colleagues, or other team members; processing through challenges in interpersonal relationships and formulating approaches for further management; or, for intact teams that may come to the course, understanding and improving the team‐building process and team function. These groups have low learner to faculty ratios and present a unique opportunity to address challenging communication scenarios, to practice skills learned in course workshops, and to receive feedback from faculty and peers.  In the learning groups, learner safety is key to support learning. 

We offer several options for personal awareness learning, so that you may choose one that meets your learning needs and style. 
2017 PA Group Offerings
Anima Learning- Ted DesMaisons, MBA, MTh.

The Anima Learning approach to group development combines insights and practices from four streams: growth mindset, contemplative practice, applied improvisation, and positive reinforcement. We start with the assumption that every individual carries a spark of curiosity that leans toward connection and creativity. Rather than looking to fix or correct when in groups, we come together in a skillfully improvised “community of solitudes” to nurture each other’s innate wisdom—and to explore the group intelligence that emerges from that nurturing.  This takes both fierce determination and resilient patience. We establish baseline agreements for our work together so that we can challenge systems and assumptions of privilege and oppression as we go. We pay careful, compassionate attention through the practice of mindfulness. And we learn together through shared play. 

Ted DesMaisons has been synthesizing innovative approaches to learning for over 25 years. Combining humor with gravitas and intention with inspiration, Ted helps create safe spaces for exploring what really matters. After completing his graduate work at Stanford (MBA, Arjay Miller Scholar) and Harvard (Masters of Theology), Ted taught religious studies and philosophy at Northfield Mount Hermon and trained with the Center for Courage and Renewal and Rachael Kessler of the Passageworks Institute. He has studied improvisation with Patricia Ryan Madson at Stanford, Bay Area Theater Sports (BATS) in San Francisco and Loose Moose Theater in Calgary, Alberta. He is the founder and principal of ANIMA Learning, a trained Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) instructor, and a Level 2 certified TAGteacher. He also serves as the US Partner for the UK-based Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP). Currently based just south of San Francisco, he regularly explores the worlds of growth mindset, applied improv, contemplation/mindfulness, and positive reinforcement on his ANIMA blog ( and Monster Baby podcast ( 

Matrix Leadership- Amina Knowlan, MS

The Matrix Leadership approach focuses on forming groups as interconnected living systems. Leadership occurs through the relationships and attention to the developing Whole. This style fosters communication between each pair of people “in the eyes and ears of the group” as a foundation that is highly inclusive. The remaining Matrix Essential practices include cultivating a ground of health and resilience, appreciative and differentiating feedback, differentiating from habitual roles, distributing emotional fields and perspectives, engaging with differences as collective intelligence, and redefining conflict as differentiation that leads to true collaboration and emergence. Heightening awareness of the impact of systems of privilege and oppression and developing mindfulness and connection with Source (or Wholeness) are also centrally important.

Amina Knowlan, MS co-founded Matrix Leadership in 1990 and is currently the Director and a Lead Trainer, Facilitator, Consul­tant and Coach. She has been facilitating groups and trainings in cities throughout the U.S. and Europe for 30 years. Her formal background includes training from the National Training Laboratories for the Behavioral Sciences, as well as an M.S. in counseling and teaching psychology at the University of Missouri. For four years she was the director of the Groups and Outreach Programs in Interpersonal and Group Communication at the University of Missouri Counseling Center. She was a trainer for the Hakomi Institute for Body-Centered Psychotherapy for 12 years. She was also a co-owner and practitioner at Wellspring, Partners in Health (a holistic community medical clinic) for 15 years. She currently works as a consultant, trainer & coach for corporate executive teams, businesses, health care organizations, schools, communities, city and state governments, and non-profits. She incorporates system’s approaches; somatic, energetic and intuitive awareness; multi-cultural and diversity training as well as dance, movement, voice, art and practices of mindfulness into her work. She also leads retreats for women en­titled Fully Embodied Woman: Remembering the Sacred Feminine. She considers herself a social artist and cur­rently works internationally in St. Petersburg, Russia. She is currently in the final stage of editing a book on Matrix Leadership, with expected publication in 2016. Amina has two adult children and lives in the beautiful mountain foothills of Boulder, Colorado. She currently enjoys salsa dancing, swimming, singing and hiking with her dog, Kuma.

Diversity- Gerald Boyd, MDiv, ICADC, CADC II

The purpose of this group is to explore the nature, roles and impacts of oppression at the institutional, personally mediated, and internalized levels.  Working from the assumption that all humans want to be allies with each other, this group aims to increase the participants’ understanding and acceptance for the importance and complexity of creating space for diversity in the present context of the socially unbearable.  The group will draw on diversity principles, Rogerian and Matrix- based methods to help achieve participants’ learning goals.  Through experiential and didactic components, participants will have the opportunity to explore personal awareness of their numerous identities and the subgroups to which they belong; illuminating, investigating, and ultimately honoring differences between those identities and subgroups; and uncovering the roles of oppression, both external and internalized, and privilege in all interactions, both conflictual and otherwise.  

Gerald Boyd, MDiv, ICADC, CADC II has more than 50 years distinguished leadership in human and civil rights, anti-oppression, anti-racism, grass-roots organizing, and libertarian struggles. He is co-founder and COO of Peacwerks Center for Well-Being, LLC and Eastern Shore Training and Consulting, Inc .  He has worked in the fields of applied sociology, human development, and addiction recovery for more than 30 years. He holds an Honorary Psy.D and Master of Divinity in transpersonal psychology, is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor II (CADC II) and Internationally Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ICADC), a Certified Anger Management Specialist, a Certified Life Coach, and a Certified Mediator and consultant specializing in diversity and conflict resolution, and personal and social transformation. Gerald is currently living on Oak Grove Plantation in Eastville, Virginia and living his dream building a counseling practice in Exmore, VA.

Family of Origin (FOO)- Maysel Kemp White, PhD, MFT, FAACH

Each person's upbringing affects how individuals relate to one another.  The group will use sculpting or genograms depending upon the number of participants and participant interest.  The group will analyze each member's genogram as a tool to explore how this history led to or maintains our current strengths and "hot buttons".  A second option is to select a time in one’s history when there was a significant event and to use the team to physically sculpt the relationships in the family of origin.  We will explore whether these reactions still serve us in ways that are useful in our professional roles as providers or teachers of relationship-centered health care.  

Maysel Kemp White, PhD, MFT, FAACH is a passionate advocate for improving the patient and family experience of care through compassion, collaboration, and culturally and linguistically appropriate care.  Maysel is a Nationally recognized speaker and teacher of relationship-centered care. She has spent the last two decades as a serious learner of healthcare communication, relationship-centered care between providers and patients, interprofessional team members, and leaders.  Maysel works in collaboration with healthcare professionals to facilitate cultural transformation using relationship-centered and strengths based approaches.  Dr. White served on the Board and as Vice President for Education for 10 years with the American Academy on Communication in Healthcare.  Currently, Dr. White is the CEO/ President of her consulting company Healthcare Quality and Communication Improvement, LLC.  She received her Doctorate in Child and Family Development with a focus on Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Georgia.
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