Guidelines for Creating Affirming Group Experiences

Recommendations from the AGPA Task Force for Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion*

The aim of this document is to broaden the awareness of AGPA members as we work to become a more inclusive organization. The following guidelines, while not exhaustive nor fixed, have been created to provide strategies for effectively addressing microaggressions and potentially oppressive dialogues and behaviors in groups. As with any change process, AGPA's efforts towards increased inclusivity is a complex, challenging process that requires patience and compassion.

❖  Intersectionality and Increasing Awareness of Power and Privilege

Intersectionality, a term coined by Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, takes into account individuals overlapping identities and experiences in order to understand the complexity of the advantages and disadvantages they face. Intersectionality is a framework for conceptualizing cultural identity, as operating within systems of power, privilege, and oppression. We all have multiple identities: some identities give us privileges and others lead us to being marginalized or disadvantaged. For example, in the mainstream U.S. society, there are numerous identities (depending on one’s context) that typically hold more privilege than others: White, Heterosexual, Cis-gender (identifying with the gender assigned at birth), Male, Christian, Able-bodied, a United States citizen, English-speaking, etc. With privilege comes unearned benefits, including power. An individual can simultaneously hold a position of privilege and an oppressed identity. It is important to explore and be aware of our power and privilege and how this may lead us to act in biased ways or cause harm inadvertently.

Intersecting Axes of Privilege, Domination, and Oppression
Reproduced and adapted with permission of Kathryn Morgan the originator of the Intersecting Axes of Privilege, Domination, and Oppression, andAnn Diller (personal communication July 2, 2019.)  Originally published in "The Emperor's New Clothes" Three Myths of Educational (In-) Equality"  in The Gender Question in Education: Theory, Pedagogy, and Politics, Westview Press, now Harper Collins. 1996, p.107.

Diagram-intersecting-axes-of privilege

 ⮚     As a group facilitator we need to be aware of our position of power and privilege in order not to abuse our power and reify oppression that already occurs in society at large.

⮚     If individuals are discussing their marginalized identity or identities, monitor responses (emotional, physiological, cognitive) that indicate defensiveness.

  • Try to focus on the group member’s experience and avoid bringing up the facilitator’s feelings of marginalization as this can be invalidating to the group member.

⮚     If a group member has a certain identity, do not expect them to speak for all people who share that identity or to educate the group about their identity.

⮚    Be aware of who is speaking in groups

  • Are members with privileged identities taking up more of the space in the group?
  • Is the group dialogue oriented toward a privileged perspective?
  • Be diligent about making space for other voices. 

⮚     Be attentive to cultural assumptions and stereotyping. Facilitate open discussion of and feedback about assumed norms, values, expectations, etc. For example, the assumption that adult members who live with their parents are doing so because of some shortcoming, rather than following cultural norms.

❖  Microaggressions and How to Intervene (Micorinterventions)

Microaggressions are everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or hurtful messages to someone based only on that person’s membership in a marginalized group. As a response, microinterventions are “the everyday words or deeds, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate[s] to targets of microaggressions (a) validation of their experiential reality, (b) value as a person, (c) affirmation of their racial or group identity, (d) support and encouragement, and (e) reassurance that they are not alone.” (Sue et al., 2019, p 134).

These responses incorporate four major strategic goals:

  • Make the invisible visible
  • Disarm the microaggression
  • Educate the perpetrator
  • Seek external reinforcement or support

If you commit a microaggression 

  • Notice the urge to defend yourself-- recognize that despite your intentions, we need to attend to the impact of our words and actions.
  • If you are able to be sincere, apologize as soon as possible, and invite everyone into the conversation, welcoming constructive feedback about the impact of your microaggression. 
  • Express appreciation for being alerted to your mistake.
  • Describe what you think you have learned and also recognize that if you expect accolades, recognition or forgiveness, you may inadvertently be creating another microaggression -by asking the target of our original microaggression to validate you. 
  • Despite the benefits of rupture and repair, injured group members may not be ready to forgive
  • Do your research - read and learn more (consider this a life-long learning process). 

➢ If you witness others making a microaggression

  • Consider utilizing strategies of “Opening The Front Door” (Ganote, Cheung, & Souza, 2015).
  • Observe: Describe clearly and succinctly what you see happening
  • Think: State what you think about the microaggression 
  • Feel: Express your feelings about the situation
  • Desire: Assert what you would like to happen
  • Be careful not to shame either party, but to invite reflection on potential conscious and unconscious bias as well as the contrast between intent and impact.

❖  Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Considerations

    Don’t assume all group members identify on the gender binary, as either men or women 

  • Some members may identify as genderqueer, genderfluid, non-binary, or transgender. 
  • As a leader, consider sharing your pronouns with the group during your introduction. 
  • Consider asking members to share their pronouns during introductions.
  • Use “they” versus “he or she” if unsure of someone’s pronouns.
  • Understand that some members may be exploring their gender identity and unclear how they identify.
  • Do not pressure anyone to “choose” a gender identity if they are not comfortable doing so.

⮚     Expect diverse sexual orientations will be present among members of your group 

  • Use the term “partner” instead of wife, husband, boyfriend or girlfriend, unless/until a member addresses their romantic partner or partners using a specific term.

❖  Use a Universal Design Model when shaping norms and rules of the group

⮚     At the start of your workshop or institute, explain that in an effort to create an inclusive group culture you want the environment to be as accessible as possible and encourage participants to let you know if there is anything you or the group can do to facilitate their access or comfort. Be aware of factors such as physical access or other ability issues. This may include, but not be limited to, being aware of the location of the nearest bathroom and elevators.

⮚     Health and medical issues may trump attendance or punctuality. It can be helpful to be flexible and to avoid pathologizing. 

⮚     Be aware that not all group members have English as their primary language and some members may have a hearing impairment. 

  • Be ready to ask members to slow down if talking too quickly, to articulate as clearly as possible, and to repeat themselves if necessary so all members can understand the group discussion. 

❖  Communicating with Members who have Low Vision

⮚     Speak to the individual when you approach them. 

⮚    State clearly who you are – speak in a normal tone of voice, being careful not to talk louder or slower than you normally would. 

⮚    When conversing in a group, remember to identify yourself and the person to whom you are speaking. It will also help to ask group members to do the same.

⮚     Tell the individual when you are leaving their side or the room. 

⮚     Offer assistance but do not insist on helping. 

⮚     If you are offering a seat, ask the individual for permission to place their hand on the back or arm of the chair so that the person can locate the seat. 

❖  Communication with Members who are Hard of Hearing

⮚      Ask the person if they are able to hear you and ask about the best way to communicate. 

⮚     Look directly at the individual, face the light, speak clearly, in a normal tone of voice, and keep your hands away from your face. 

⮚     Rephrase rather than repeat statements. 

⮚     Short sentences tend to be understood better. 

⮚     If the person did not understand you, then try using different words to express your ideas.

⮚     If there is an interpreter present, speak directly to the member and not the interpreter.

❖  Communicating with Members with Mobility Disabilities

⮚     If possible, put yourself at the wheelchair user’s eye level, or take a few steps backward so the other person does not have to “look up” at you. 

⮚     Do not lean on a wheelchair or any other assistive device. 

⮚     Do not assume the individual wants to be pushed; ask first and respect their response. 

⮚     Offer assistance if the individual appears to be having difficulty opening a door but wait for the response and respect their answer. 

❖  Communicating with Members with Speech Disabilities

  • If you do not understand something the individual says, do not pretend that you do; ask the individual to repeat what they said and then repeat it back to confirm your understanding. 
  • Be patient. Take as much time as necessary. 

⮚     Never assume a person has a cognitive or intellectual disability when they have difficulty with speech. 

⮚     Do not speak for the individual or attempt to finish their sentences. 

⮚     If you are having difficulty understanding the individual, consider writing as an alternative means of communicating, but ask first. 

❖    Best Practices for Facilitating Difficult Dialogues

 In Derald Wing Sue, et al's (2009, p 188)  important article, they identified the following best practices for facilitating difficult dialogues that can assist us all in our group work in addressing issues of race as well as other cultural identities:

⮚     Support members who take risks to share their experiences of oppression and marginalization.

⮚     Validate the experiences of People of Color.

⮚     Leaders of dialogues on race need to assess their own comfort level and anticipate when they might feel triggered in these dialogues. 

⮚     Discussions regarding race are necessary.

⮚    White identified leaders and members need to be willing to accept a different racial reality from People of Color.

⮚     Recognize that a direct approach in managing and discussing racial dialogues is helpful.

*These guidelines were developed by the AGPA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force chaired by Sophia Aguirre ( The mission of this Task Force is to promote the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the organization in the areas of leadership, training, policy, research, and practice.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Task Force Members:
M. Sophia Aguirre, Ph.D., CGP (Chair); Eri Bentley, Ph.D., CGP; Li Brookens, LCSW; Karen Cone-Uemura, Ph.D., CGP; Wendy Freedman, Ph.D., CGP; Paul Gitterman, LICSW, MSC, CGP; Craig Haen, Ph.D., RDT, LCAT, CGP, FAGPA; Phillip Horner, LCSW, CGP; Michele Ribeiro, Ed.D., CGP,FAGPA; and Ann Steiner, Ph.D., MFT, CGP, FAGPA


Ganote, C., Cheung, F., & Souza, T. (2015). Don’t remain silent!: Strategies for supporting yourself and your colleagues via microresistances and ally development. In Roy, P., Harrell, A., Milano, J., & Bernhagen, L. (Eds). POD Diversity Committee White Paper at the 40th Annual POD Conference (pp. 3-4). San Francisco, CA.

Sue, D. W., Lin, A. I., Torino, G. C., Capodilupo, C. M., & Rivera, D. P. (2009). Racial microaggressions and difficult dialogues on race in the classroom. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 15(2), 183-190.

Sue, D.W., Alsaidi, S., Awad, M.N., Glaeser, E., Calle, C.Z; et al. (2019). Disarming racial microaggressions: Microintervention strategies for targets, White allies, and bystanders. American Psychologist, 74(1), 128-142.