A Talk with Lead Trainer Paul Ginter
Paul Ginter is a licensed psychologist who serves as the Clinical Director for IFS Telehealth Collective, bringing more than 30 years of experience in Internal Family Systems. Working closely with IFS developer Richard Schwartz, Paul is an IFS Senior Lead Trainer for over 15 years, who has traveled the globe training professionals on nearly every continent, China and Bali as well.
In addition to IFS, Paul facilitates mindfulness meditation courses for businesses, conferences and clinical groups. Based in Kalamazoo, MI, Paul is also co-founder of the Center for Psychotherapy and Wellness and previously served as the Organizational Learning Officer at Fetzer Institute, a philanthropic privately operated foundation.
Paul also has this new project called IFS Telehealth Collective (IFS-TC) - an online IFS supportive community and group practice that you can find at this website.
Today on IFS Talks we are lucky enough to be speaking with Paul Ginter. Paul is a licensed psychologist who serves as the clinical director for the IFS telehealth collective. Paul has more than 30 years of experience with the Internal Family Systems model. Working closely with Richard Schwartz, Paul has been an IFS senior lead trainer for over 15 years. He has traveled the globe training professionals on nearly every continent, including Bali and more recently, China. Paul also facilitates mindfulness meditation courses for businesses, conferences and clinical groups. Based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Paul is the co-founder of the Center for Psychotherapy and Wellness, and he previously served as the organizational learning officer at Fetzer Institute, a philanthropic privately-operated foundation.
Tisha Shull: Paul, we're so happy to have you here with us today on IFS Talks. Thank you for joining us.
Paul Ginter: Thanks for having me.
Aníbal Henriques: Thanks so much for willing to sit with us. And how is it for you, Paul, to hear this bio, what parts come up?
Paul: When I listened to the bio, I mostly feel grateful for having so many opportunities with IFS work. You know, it's been such a big part of my life and I was fortunate to begin with this work fairly early. It had been happening for a few years, but I was relatively on the beginning end of this. So, and I've just been able to do get to do so many cool things and, you know, so much travel and getting to know amazing people and getting to share this work with so many people. So, that's the biggest thing is I think I just feel really very fortunate. I was thinking about the last couple of days and one of the things that I kind of laugh about is years and years ago, I wasn't so much into astrology, but I had an astrological reading with somebody and I was in my, maybe my mid-twenties or so, maybe late twenties and this person said “Oh, I think you're going to teach. And I think you're going to teach in Europe.” And that was so laughable to me because I had this huge public speaking fear. And I would, I thought “Man, this is the last thing I want to do is to teach at all, let alone teach in, in Europe.” And it turns out with IFS I've gotten to gotten to do that and, yeah, anyway, so I'm also like a bit surprised when I look back or listen to my bio that I've been able to do this in so many places around the world. So, yeah.
Tisha: Did you know that you would be a therapist growing up? Was there something that determined this path for you?
Paul: Yeah, you know, I didn't necessarily...Early on, I think it was in college that I began to think that would be a pretty great thing to do. I went to a small college and the guy that was the psychologist there seemed like a really cool person. And so, I thought I would love to do that. And I had since high school been exposed to a psychology class and began to know that I was always really interested in the way humans worked and just found us all kind of fascinating in a way. So, in that sense, I, you know, I haven't been one of those mid-career changers or something. I've been pretty much moving in this direction since college. Yeah.
Aníbal: But Paul, you met Dick right back at the start in Chicago, right?
Paul: Yeah. Pretty early. I mean, I think he had been going for a couple of years at that time or maybe several, but yeah, it was pretty early.
Aníbal: How were those days?
Paul: Yeah. It was actually a really exciting time. I had been working at a... just to give a little bit of that background. I had been working at a university in Tennessee and it turned out that my...woman that I had been engaged to, at some point, she contacted me and said “Oh, there's this amazing work with this guy, Richard Schwartz and it's going to be this really great fit for you.” And so, I began to read some of his work and then contacted him to see if he might come down to this university and do a training and he was willing to do that. He wasn't nearly as busy back then as he is these days. And so, I got to begin to get to know him. And then, at some point, a couple of years later, after traveling up to Chicago pretty regularly for a couple of years, I thought, you know, just want to be closer to this. So, I moved up to Chicago to be closer and worked at a facility for court ordered adolescents, that Dick was the clinical supervisor for consultant. And so, all the treatment was based on the IFS model. So that was a great way to be thrown into, you know, doing more of the work and was also involved with writing a manual that he was doing for rehabilitation workers back then using IFS. And it was just a really exciting time to be involved because it felt like there were new things happening all the time. You know, I remember, actually, we were having dinner with Dick and his wife at the time and I remember him saying “Oh, I've come up with these eight C’s...”
Paul: And what do you think they are? I'm never good at those things. So, it was actually my wife that was, I think fiancé at that time, that said “Oh,” she started to name off those qualities. And anyway, but you know, to hear those for the first time or to hear about “Oh, there's this thing we're doing now, which is unburdening,” or, and then there would be some times when I would find myself doing something and then talk to Dick and he'd say “Oh yeah, other people have begun to do that as well...” So, yeah, it was a really, it was an exciting time, you know, I think that there's, continues to be that people are really open to learning and growing with the model and it does feel like some of that's a bit more subtle now that there's this kind of solid base for IFS that's there. And so, you know, back then it felt a little bit like, “Oh, that's wow, that's an amazing new development in the model.” Yeah. So it was, again, very fortunate. I feel very fortunate to be around at that time to, to get to experience that.
Tisha: Did you bump into any resistance around the model?
Paul: You know, the thing is I have to say, I have this huge appreciation and respect for Dick because he was out on the front lines. And, like I said before, I wasn't one to be doing a lot of teaching back there. So, I don't think I came face to face with as much of the resistance as maybe, well, certainly as he did and maybe others as well, but I think, you know, it is different now in that there's a, you know, there's such a wave of enthusiasm for IFS. And I do feel the difference in that. There's almost like just this, given that, well, of course we have many different personalities inside there and at the time some of those ideas were newer, but I don't remember so much having a lot of resistance maybe because I think I always have alive in me as skeptic that could also, you know, lean if I was talking to somebody, I might be able to really acknowledge. And, yeah, it might seem a little weird that I talk like this and I think sometimes some of that resistance wouldn't be there.
Aníbal: Paul, and back then, I've heard that one of your expertise is or was mindfulness meditation. Was it already back then when you met Dick? Where you already fond of mindful-based approaches?
Paul: Yeah, I had had a fairly long, well, at that time, it wasn't that long, but, you know, for, probably close to 10 years had been doing a lot of mindfulness meditation, and I had come in contact with the mindfulness based stress reduction program that John Kabat-Zinn was leading. And, at the time when I was in Chicago, I eventually moved from working with those adolescents to, I went to a place that is an amazing place to working with cancer patients and their families. And so, began to do the mindfulness work with them. Yeah. So, that was, you know, always something and it continues to be something that I think is really compatible with IFS. So, again, yeah, it's nice to have that as an added tool in some ways for people, but, again, I think that they're for the most part, quite compatible.
Aníbal: So, Paul, am I understanding that the first model you practice as a therapist, it was IFS or you learned many others before?
Paul: Yeah, well, you know, my graduate training was a bit of a, it was a psychodynamic perspective, but to be honest, I never really fully embraced that. You know, I think in some ways I was more Rogerian in some ways, but it also, when I began to read about IFS, there was something about it that felt quite natural. And it was certainly much more effective than anything I had been doing, but it also felt like it was familiar to me. Like, I had been doing some bits of other things, you know, back then people were doing inner child kind of visualizations or meditations with people. And I was doing some of that. And there was an aspect of, you know, some other kinds of work that looked very similar to what IFS was. Again, I think IFS was this...well to me at the time, and continues to be, to be quite honest, just an amazing, amazingly powerful way of doing the work. But yeah, but it did feel pretty consistent with the way I saw the world. And, in some ways, some of the way that I was working already.
Tisha: I'd like to ask you about your journey to becoming a lead trainer. And within that, I have a question about how you worked with your parts that were fearful around public speaking, if that was a gradual process or if it was a big unburdening all at once? How did that happen for you?
Paul: Yeah, well, one of the things I sometimes say with a bit of a laugh or humor is that I actually never have taken a Level 1 training because I was in it early enough that I, at some point, Dick was wanting to offer trainings. And so, there were four of us at the time that he ended up saying, you know, would you want to help with the training? And so, yeah, so I jumped into that and that was not at all a very front and center kind of role. It was like a PA position, program assistant kind of thing. And so that didn't challenge my public speaking fears so much, but, and then I was actually, at some point I moved to Michigan and was a little bit disconnected from my IFS. Not totally, but I took a job with a foundation that just was a very interesting place to work and eventually, or a couple of years later, was really missing IFS and so, came back and began to jump back into trainings. So, but yeah, you know, the shift for me, public speaking wise, has been both, I've had some big unburdening moments where there's some pretty profound healing that happened. I tend to, I have this five or six-year-old in me that I think, you know, to this day, I feel quite a connection with. He’s a sweet little boy in there who, it had some things happen in my family at that age that we're pretty. And, at some point learned, this boy learned that it really isn't safe to speak up and, you know, people could be hurt. And, yeah, so, and so I have done some, a lot of work with him actually, and I think that's been a big part of the shift for me. It's also just doing it, you know, like, I mean, there's just kind of a behavioral part of just doing it over and over again and it becomes more and more comfortable. But to this day, you know, if it's a big enough group, you know, like, if I have to speak at the conference or you can hear my words “have to speak at the conference,” like in front of the big group, you know, I definitely will have those parts come up and get scared. So, you know, I'm still working on that, but I am, again, just, I can't tell you how grateful I am to be able to go into trainings, you know, with 50 people or even China training where there's 250 people there and to feel really comfortable is, you know, really both an amazing as well, it's kind of mind blowing to me. Like, I'll catch myself and just say, wow, like, I just, again, I feel grateful for that. And almost always really make it a point to thank those parts of me that have been scared in the past for, I don't know, trusting me, I guess, is kind of the, maybe the way to say it, but yeah. So, yeah, so it's, you know, I don't know if either of you two have ever had any of that public speaking fear, but it's a, you know, it's a pretty tough thing, you know, and remember my history of sometimes not taking jobs, because I knew that, you know, I don't know if I want to be this like tennis coach at a school, because I'll have to speak at the conference or at the thing at the end of the year. And anyway, so it's nice to have made a shift with that.
Tisha: Yeah. Thank you. My public speaking fear has sort of bordered on phobia really at times. And I know many of our listeners have parts too that hold fear, shame exiles around public speaking. So, I'm so glad you spoke to that. Thank you.
Aníbal: It’s the same here.
Paul, do you want to share more about this amazing experience in China? You said large, large groups of 200 participants. This can be scary.
Paul: Yeah, you know, that was, I have to say that was a... that’s been an amazing thing for me, the China experience, you know, both because I think they are doing some really remarkable work there. I could say a little bit about that because I do think it's interesting.
Paul: Yeah, there's this organization that's led by a woman named Hailan. Some people call her either the Oprah or the Dr. Phil of China. And she has this organization that basically has offered what I think are at the cutting edge of human psychology and spirituality, and has really...they've created this system in it’s very much peer oriented, you know, they don't really have psychologists so much in a place like China, but they took on the first of all, I don't know if this is first, but they begin to do like mindful self-compassion work and they had the very best people in the world, Chris Germer and Kristin Neff go to China and work with people and really quite committed to that work where I don't know the details exactly, but if you're a part of this at this point, maybe, I don't know if they have 12 hundred people involved with this group that meet regularly, but everyone's expected to do an hour a day of mindfulness meditation for, you know, for several years kind of thing. And then Hailan became very interested in IFS and began to connect with Dick and Dick went over there to teach, and then he did well, he did the first part and then I came in later and did a training to kind of the, almost like the second half of a Level 1 training in some ways. And yeah, and it's just remarkable what they're doing. They, again, they had this, like these webs of support and these groups. So, there is a kind of safety that's created within this organization. And, you know, there was some question about whether it would even make sense to go to some of the deeper places with IFS, like to exiles, for example, when people aren't really trained as clinicians there. But I do think that they've, you know, all the work that they've done really, there is a kind of safety and my experience there is it people go very, very deep with the model. And there’s just also this amazing commitment that they have. One of the kind of funny stories about this is that there were some people that couldn't make it to Dick training. And they said, well, could they come to yours? We have a bunch of ways to go catch them up to where others are and so they said, you know, they have to watch several videos of Dick doing work, they have to meet with groups of people and so forth. And, and one of them requirements was that they were to read Dick Schwartz's intro to IFS book 10 times. They had to read the book 10 times. And which I just think is, sounds a little crazy for most of us in our country. And I don't know for you in Portugal...
Aníbal: It’s a different culture.
Paul: Anyway, but I really, you know, it's like there's this amazing commitment to really deeply learning. And, part of my experience going over there was that people had really learned like the left-brain part of all of this so well, that then they could just be present. And, I think it was remarkable how deep people have gone. And then, you know, just then I got to go back because they wanted a big focus on cultural burdens and legacy burdens after the basic training and that was amazing to have people talk about, you know, some of those, you know, some of those cultural burdens and how much they're shared among people. And yeah, so very deep and rich, and there's just Hailan and there's a woman Joy, who's kind of the, her top person there. And they're just remarkable people and they know the model really well. And yeah. So, there've been conversations about how might we create peer groups like that in the States, and I think it's, you know, people are thinking about it. It's a little bit of a challenge, because I think we just operate so differently than they do there. But, it's, exciting.
Tisha: I can hear your enthusiasm. What does it feel like for you to be there? I imagine pretty different, what comes up in you?
Paul: You know, for one, I'm not sure what it is. They as a group were incredibly...there's just a lot of hospitality that's extended by the people there. I don't know. It feels a little funny to say this, but you know, in some ways I think their culture, they tend to hold up teachers in a particular way. So, that's an odd experience in some ways, because there's a bit of a, you know, a once in a lifetime thing for me to, to feel a little bit like, oh, that's a little bit like a rock star gets to experience that, because they, you know, they just, they so embrace people that show up. And so...
Tisha: It sounds like you are really welcomed.
Paul: Absolutely welcomed. Yeah. And again, I think it was partly that kind of energy that I just, I didn't feel anxious, you know, I didn't feel in-field public speaking fear even though there were yeah, whatever 250 people there. And, you know, it's just really a remarkable experience to go there and now we'd done. I was supposed to go back there to this last November, but it was, you know, we did the online thing. Yeah. So, I feel, again, very grateful to be connected with them.
Aníbal: Paul, do you see any major barriers, language barriers, or cultural barriers to prevent them from learning the model in the right way? If there is a right way to learn the model and to practice the model?
Paul: I, you know, that's such a great question. I don't, I was surprised that it didn't seem like there were a lot of barriers. You know, I don't, the thing is how do I know? Because I can't understand Chinese, like at all, you know, there's a couple of words that I would begin to pick up, but basically, I don't. And so, you're so trusting. But I have to say, I actually had, I had less concerns about that than in some other international trainings. And I think one of the differences is that the main translators, Hailan and Joy, they really deeply know the model. And so, and I knew that they knew the model, and I think there have been a few international trainings that were a little rockier because the translator didn't know the model. And so, you could begin to hear that, or maybe hear from participants, that the thing that I said, the ones that speak English wasn't, the subtlety was missed in the interpretation. And I didn't feel any of that in the China or haven't felt any of that and the China training.
Aníbal: Paul, we could eventually raise this same question when it comes to trainings online, we can also wonder how much the model is really well trained and passed on in these new modalities online. How was it for you? You already led some trainings online since the pandemic.
Paul: Yes. You know, it's been a mix. I, you know, there have been times, you've probably heard this from other trainers’, times when it's been surprising, how well it's gone online and to use IFS terms, I have been incredibly surprised to feel this thing happening in demo sessions online. And even in China, I feel like, wow, I just felt this same thing happen online than I feel in my office or in a group of people all together in the same place where, in IFS terms, we would say, there's this Self-energy that's present and it's palpable. Like, you know, so here I am talking to somebody that's a half a world away, and you could feel this shift happening between us, you know, and then you could even feel it as participants begin to give feedback into the big group. So, I've been, you know, just almost...shocked isn't quite the word, but like really taken aback and surprised by how much that can happen. And then there are these moments that I just, I feel this loss of just wanting to feel people's presence and I think in the trainings, you know, the thing that many of us trainers have talked about with this is that you, you miss a lot of the informal moments of, you know, somebody says something in the big group and, you know, you're going to get snacks or going to lunch or going to the bathroom and you bump up against somebody and you can feel their presence and they can feel yours and you can say “Oh, you know, I was really interested in the fact that you mentioned this and I was touched by that or, or whatever...” And I miss that. You know, I miss that kind of connection that I think happens that, you know, I mean, we still hear from people that the trainings, you know, you'll still hear people say things like, “Wow, this training has been the most powerful thing I've ever done,” and, you know, “I feel transformed or I feel more connected to a group of people that I've ever felt before.” So, you know, you still hear those things, but it just feels a little less strong, that kind of thing.
Aníbal: It looks like you're longing for coming back to traveling and do in-person trainings.
Paul: Yes, yeah.
Tisha: With that in mind, what's next on the horizon for you, Paul, personally and professionally?
Paul: You know, at this point, I have a lot of trainings lined up and I am looking forward to being in person. I think it's still a question about how that's all going to look. It sounds as though at least some of us have guessed that maybe part of trainings will still be online and part of them will be in person. Again, I haven't much heard about that. You know, there are some benefits about, less travel and less impact on the environment from being on planes and so forth. So, you know, I think there's less cost involved. So, I think there's some reasons to still do some online work, but I am looking forward to seeing people's faces and connecting with people in person. Yeah. So, I don't, aside from just the things that I have set up, I'm not one of these people that has some big vision for myself. Like, I just have never really operated that way. I am involved with the, you mentioned this in the very beginning, we have a group practice that I'm excited about, It's called the IFS telehealth collective and, you know, it's...with IFS exploding I think one of the challenges just personally for me is not having space for people to see new clients and then beginning to run out of people to refer to, you know, and so we're creating a practice that is going to be really just for people that want to have IFS. And it's a tele-health practice, but, you know, we're going to have...still in the middle of hiring people and having a staff of clinicians that are IFS trained and solid with the model.
Aníbal: So much needed, yes.
Paul: And so that's just going to be nice to have a place to say, “Oh, here, if you're looking for IFS therapy, here's one place that you can count on skilled people to give you that.
Aníbal: Beautiful. So important.
Tisha: Is there a website that will direct people?
Paul: There will be, probably in the next, maybe three weeks or so, I'm guessing the website will be up.
Tisha: Oh good, yeah. If you share it with us, we can put it on our session notes and...
Paul: Okay, great.
Aníbal: Paul, I have heard your son is a filmmaker and your daughter, a dancer. I guess it needs courage to let our children to pick on art as a profession.
Aníbal: What's your tip or recommendation to become such a happy father?
Paul: Oh, gosh. Again, I just feel so grateful for that. I mean, you know, I just, I think it's hard for kids to know what they want to do in the world. I mean, for so many, it's a bit of a struggle, or maybe they go through three different careers before they know what they really want to do. And, for some reason, our kids have just landed where they, you know, they just have this amazing passion for what they do and so it's a joy, you know, it's a hard world to make it so...And I remember some years ago with our son, especially that, you know, there was a way that I kind of think, “Well, you know, maybe you should have a backup if the film thing doesn't work out for you.” And some years ago, I just think we just said, “You know, this is your thing, and you're going to, you'll figure it out.” And so, I do trust that he will, but again, you know, people say, “Well, you know, are you and your wife or partner or whatever, are you artistic?” And we kind of laugh and say “You know, not that so much,” but for some reason our kids have landed and really just love what they do. Our daughter, you know, she's a dancer at NYU and sometimes made the comment that I don't ever remember her in all the years from the time she was five or something, I don't ever remember her saying “Oh, I don't want to go to practice, I don't want to go dance.” And, you know, she just loves it. And so, when you find what you love, it's great to run with that.
Tisha: Well, it sounds like they have a really good model.
Tisha: Seems like you're doing what you love as well.
Paul: Yeah, yeah, no, that is true. And, again, it's true for all of us in our family. We've gotten to do really, again, get to do what we love. And so, yeah, it's been really good thing. Very fortunate.
Aníbal: You are also known in our community for this beautiful decision tree for the unblending process, one focused on anxiety and another one focused on depression. What was your idea doing such a beautiful document?
Paul: Yeah, yeah. I have one that is kind of more toward unblending and right, the example of a client is a six-year-old anxious girl, or it's a person who's carrying anxiety and shows up as a girl. And then there's another one that's on unburdening. So, yeah. You know, I've been glad that for some people that visual of the decision has been helpful to some people.
Aníbal: Valuable one.
Aníbal: So, Paul, thank you so much for having us. It was a joy to be here with you and Tisha, and we hope that we can keep meeting and sharing this model, our work and our lives and wishing you happy holidays.
Paul: Thank you. Yeah. I just wanted to say that I think both of you are just really, really lovely people and you do such a nice job with this. Having listened to many of your other interviews, I think it's a gift to the IFS community and you do it so skillfully.
Aníbal: Oh, thank you so much.
Paul: So, thank you for having me here.
Tisha: Thank you so much for all that you contribute and for giving us your time and happy holidays to you and your family.
Paul: Happy holidays too.
Recorded 22nd December 2020
Transcript Edition: Carolina Abreu