Fostering Feelings of Awe in Group Therapy

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Michiganders have always been my favorite group of people for many reasons. First, I LOVE the way that Michiganders love their state. From Detroit to Grand Rapids, Traverse City, to the Upper Peninsula – you would be hard-pressed to find a Michigander who did not endorse and thoroughly enjoy the natural beauty of their state.


Awestruck in Michigan

Although I have not always been a year-rounder, I feel strongly connected to nature here. Sign me up to be outside in the woods or on the water! I find my mind eases when I realize the intricacies of the nature around me. I experience a calming effect when I allow the beauty of an inland lake to keep me in the present moment.


Sinking into a peaceful and joyful headspace becomes easier when I sit back in awe of my environment. 


A few weeks ago, a wise person told me, “I bet you feel better after that walk. Who could be anxious with all that natural beauty around? Something bigger than you created those woods”. This wise soul (hint: it was my mother) made me think about how to allow feelings of awe to help me put things in a healthier perspective.


What is this Feeling?

Awe is defined as the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world. It is feeling small but in the very best way. It is also a concept that can positively impact and bolster mindfulness practice.


awed by the view of water

No human hands shaped this view …


Think about a time you climbed and climbed during a hike. You are finally reaching the top to gaze at a magnificent view. Nothing you did created the view. No human hands shaped those mountains. And yet, the world gets to enjoy its splendor. That is awe-inspiring. Or consider being in the woods. Or fishing. Think of all living creatures who benefit from the complex ecosystem you visit. Consider how all of the different characteristics make that ecosystem flourish.


If you are outdoors a lot – consider electricity—or running water. Maybe beautiful clothing. Or a mind-boggling mystery novel that keeps you reading until the wee hours of the morning. Or your pets, who love you unconditionally and make you smile even during the toughest times. Consider art, poetry, and other creative pursuits. Aren’t those things also awe-inspiring? How did we get so lucky?


Fostering Feelings of Awe …

Recently, using evidence-based materials, we focused on fostering feelings of awe in the mindfulness group at the Sanford Outpatient Center. Clinically speaking, recognizing feelings of wonder in our everyday lives can be compared to a gratitude practice. Moreover, practicing gratitude has many health benefits and can be integral in addiction recovery. So, after some research on the topic, I embarked on bringing some awesomeness into the mindfulness group.



What Gives You Feelings of Awe?

I posed this question to the group: What gives you feelings of awe? The first items were all related to nature because Michigan is a wonderland to many of us! Lake Michigan was discussed in detail. The Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lake Shore was mentioned. One individual had a lot of unique information to share regarding current space exploration discoveries: favorite hiking trails, fishing spots, and national parks.


 Slowly, everyone in the room started to lean into the topic of “what awes us.” Magic was occurring.  


And as we continued, group members named experiences, events, and things that I could not have predicted. There were stories of loved ones striving and living up to their potential, of being proud parents and watching others succeed. Poetry. Visual art. Singers – Broadway singers. Laughter with family. Having gratitude. The written word. Profoundly, the awe of being in recovery was explored.


What a joyful conversation…

And so, I kept asking around. What a joyful conversation it has been. I asked coworkers, loved ones, and strangers on the street (kidding, kidding). The answers have been incredible! The gift of sports. The gift of medical services and advances. Being in awe of being employed. Being in awe of the food we eat. Of the people we meet. Experiencing wonder when we see fresh vegetables in a salad.


Awed by the farms we drive by – and the hardworking individuals who run them. Feeling awe when observing religious or spiritual practices. Experiencing wonder when reunited with family and realizing that nothing has changed.  Awe, for the gentle breeze that comes just before sunrise or sunset.


And for all of us in the addiction treatment field, we are awed by the resiliency of the human spirit and the knowledge that we can – and do – recover.



Ali Kitchin grew up outside of San Francisco, but most of her extended family lives in Michigan, so she’s glad to call Grand Rapids home these days. Ali has a bachelor’s degree in social work and a master's from Baylor University. She was a clinical manager at Sanford Outpatient Center and worked for Sanford from 2018 to 2023. In her free time, Ali loves to run (when weather permits), read science fiction novels, or be outside with her dog, Pepper!