Gary Burlingame, chair of the department of psychology, presented the Karl G. Maeser Distinguished Faculty Lecture on the unforeseen impacts of BYU scholarship at the BYU forum on Tuesday. Dr. Burlingame used the work of his team, Consortium of Group Research and Practice (C-GRP), to illustrate the ripple effect a single project can have on thousands of lives.
Burlingame framed his address using three scriptures he memorized as a young boy. He credited those verses and their accompanying lessons for guiding his life and work at BYU:
1) Scripture: Luke 6:10: "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much"
Lesson: Be faithful, diligent and give your best effort, even if the task is small. If you do your best, a larger opportunity might be given to you.
2) Scripture: Proverbs 3:5-6: "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.... and he shall direct your paths."
Lesson: If a task seems daunting, you have the promise of divine guidance and support.
3) Scripture: Hebrews 13:2: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware."
Lesson: Be open to unexpected interruptions because you may unknowingly be responding to a divine opportunity with an unforeseen impact.
The Ripple Effect
Burlingame explained how these guiding principles have played out in the work accomplished by BYU's C-GRP team.
The C-GRP team researches group therapy treatment practice and works to improve clinical practice. The study of group treatment is so crucial because groups are a big part of how we interpret life.
“We play and worship in groups and live in neighborhood groups. We go to school and learn in groups. These early groups set the tone for how we participate in groups the rest of our lives – at work, church and as we end our life,” Burlingame said.
When the C-GRP was newly created in the early 1980s, it received a federal grant to replicate a controversial study on the best tactics for group treatment. C-GRP spent five years analyzing the moment-to-moment exchanges between group leaders and members, honing in on the importance of balancing sharing life experience and love for the group members with theory-guided interventions.
The conclusions from that study were published in the Handbook of Group Psychotherapy, the industry's guide of leader group competencies needed to run an effective group.
"We began with the 1985 study, which led to the Handbook, and then another ripple effect occurred right after the Handbook was published," Burlingame said. "The Utah State Hospital (USH) knocked on C-GRP's door."
During a routine re-certification, Medicaid surveyors had given Utah's only psychiatric hospital a failing grade. The hospital had 90 days to correct the way it delivered group psychotherapy or lose funding, resources and employees.
C-GRP agreed to help the hospital by implementing a group competency using the Handbook, which led to a shift in training and hospital culture. The efforts were so successful that the outcome measures used by the hospital and C-GRP were later adopted by the state of Utah, benefiting 70,000 patients receiving mental health treatment.
But the ripple didn't stop there.
Following the Bosnian War, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) asked UCLA and BYU's C-GRP for competency training to help Bosnians traumatized by genocide. There was no way the BYUstudents could individually treat every Bosnian affected by the war, but the students learned that each group member shared the trauma treatment with fellow classmates, who shared it with other schools, parents, siblings and eventually the trauma material ended up on a local radio station.
Wanting to share what they'd learned about treating trauma survivors in groups, the C-GRP published a special issue in the flagship group treatment journal of the American Psychological Association just a few weeks after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Sharing a close relationship with the American Group Psychotherapy Association (AGPA), whose headquarters were just a few blocks from the twin towers, C-GRP was called in to help train hundreds of clinicians with trauma treatment for 9/11 survivors. Today, that protocol has been implemented in 100 U.S. sites affiliated with the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress.
The group's most recent work has focused on helping balance destructive perfectionism and self-criticism that can lead to depression and anxiety that can be seen in college students. Trial research is being conducted on campus through CAPS.
"I was personally overwhelmed by the complexity of group work with the seriously and criminally ill patients at USH, and the level of unimaginable trauma experienced by the adolescents in Bosnia and the sacredness of working with survivors and first-responders from 9/11. I could have never imagined who we were going to serve when conducting the 1985 study or tediously summarizing group research for the Handbook. You will never be able to predict the ripple effects of your work! My advice is to do a good job in the small and simple things; it’s the pathway for greater things"