Written by: Claire Pfarr

September 15, 2023

We’re back with another group facilitator Q&A! This time we sat down with Tina Cook, who leads lots of relationship-focused groups at Circles. We know you’ll enjoy getting to know Tina as much as we did.

Q: Tell us about your background and what brought you to Circles.

A: I have a master’s in community counseling and I’ve dabbled on and off in group therapy and individual and family therapy over the years. But one of the things that really captured my attention about Circles early on was the fact that there were these video session groups that could really help people heal from a virtual standpoint. I immediately felt like that could really help me get a really big reach. I knew it would look very different from traditional settings–one person at a time or one group at a time. I just felt like I really belonged in that atmosphere so I could reach more people more quickly. Therapy definitely has its process and sometimes that process can be really slow. But at Circles, because the reach is so wide, we get to help so many people a lot faster. That really captivated me right from the start.

Q: How did you find Circles initially?

A: I knew I was seeking something really different. I was already doing a couple other mental health things at the time, but in my searches for new and different things, Circles popped up and I thought it was so interesting. I knew quickly that I’d really like to be part of it as a facilitator.  So I completed a few questions and uploaded my resume. At the time they asked for a short, 60-second video. Of course my phone was doing something weird that day and even though I made a video, I wasn’t even sure it had uploaded, so I was a little nervous about it. I had done the video two or three times and eventually just hit the submit button. And obviously it worked out!

Q: I know you’ve been with Circles for a while and have done both video and audio rooms. What would you say are the big differences?

A: A nice thing about the old video sessions was that it was a set group of people each week.  With the audio rooms, it could potentially be different people every week. So the way you build community with different people every week isn’t quite the same as you do when you have the same people every week. You have to be on your toes a little bit in the audio rooms because you can prepare for what you think you should expect, but occasionally I also get new people who have never met me before. Naturally they’re not really sure how I run my spaces, so you have to hold space for that too. 

Q: A lot of your sessions focus on relationships. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

A: WhenI first came to Circles, I sort of fell into the relationship space because they gave me video session groups that were relationship-based. That included divorce and separation, which definitely resonated with me on a personal note as well because I’m divorced myself. Then I started getting a couple grief rooms and a couple rooms focused on narcissism, which is a pretty hot topic. I have learned to just assimilate and do it all. While I definitely enjoyed the grief topics and it was really amazing to be part of that, for some reason, I tend to end up with lots of relationship topics, and that’s great too.

Q: You referred to narcissistic relationships as a hot topic. Do you find that those are the most popular groups?

A: Absolutely. As a mental health professional I can definitely say that’s a trending topic. I can’t go anywhere on social media without someone talking about narcissism. So it’s definitely buzzing in the audio rooms, too. I think a lot of people jump to conclusions about the people in their lives being narcissistic, but I try to remind everyone that not everyone is a narcissist and probably haven’t been diagnosed as such. Usually I say words like “tendencies,” “behaviors,” or “characteristics,” so we can keep it fair and open. A person may have narcissistic tendencies or behaviors without being a true narcissist. Naturally a lot of people want to either fix their partner, or they want to be released and they want to heal, so sometimes they jump to conclusions. 

Q: Do you find that in audio rooms people feel a little safer because nobody can see them? 

A: People certainly spoke up more in the audio rooms and they’d verbalize that it was so easy. Because they couldn’t be seen they felt more comfortable letting it all out. That said, now I’m hearing people request more video rooms and other ways to connect with each other. Of course there are also some people that come faithfully but they don’t speak at all. Sometimes it’s because they’re at work or their kids are around so it’s simply not feasible for them. But even people that start out saying they’re shy and may not speak a lot sometimes end up feeling warm and comfortable by the end and can’t resist joining the conversation. 

Q: That’s a good point about people who might be managing work or kids throughout the sessions. Do you think some people almost think of it like a very helpful podcast?

A: I do believe that! I’ve had at least one member say to me, “I really liked your format. This is great. You should just do a podcast, and I’d just listen to you all day.”

Q: Would you ever consider doing a podcast?

A: I absolutely would do it.

Q: Great! Maybe we’ll have that to look forward to! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: I really believe that Circles is ahead of the times. They’ve taken this deep dive into understanding the true importance of community. Connection is important, and they’ve created this really safe space to be able to do that. Healing takes place when people feel safe. I tell my members that every opportunity I get: Create safety, because where there’s safety, there’s change. Where there’s safety, there’s vulnerability. If you don’t feel safe, you’re not going to speak on it. You’re not going to act on it. So we talk a lot about safety. 

We also talk a lot about non-judgmental spaces. I’m not looking to determine if something is right or wrong. One of the words I use a lot is “curiosity.” Let’s get curious. Let’s investigate. Let’s look at things with less judgment, and less shame or blame. Let’s get nosy. Think about when you were growing up and your parents were always getting in your business. This is where you can get into your own business and pay attention to your emotions, your thoughts, and your behaviors. Get nosy and pull back those layers and get to the root cause of what you’re experiencing.