CURRENT TRENDS IN GROUP ANALYTIC THEORY
Ψυχίατρος – Ομαδικός Αναλυτής
(Παρουσίαση σε συνέδριο, Αθήνα 2012)
Rene Kaes the distinguished figure among group theorists, who is fortunately among us, in this congress, writes in his last book: “… more than two thirds of a century ago now, psychoanalysts worked with group settings (then with families and couples). They then built models and concepts to account for the consistency and modalities of the psychic reality that they discovered. An epistemological debate could have opened up at this time not only because these concepts and models require the founding hypotheses of psychoanalysis to be revisited, but also because they call for a critical examination of the methodological contributions that surround our conceptions of the unconscious. However – Kaes continues – nothing of the sort happened, and, to the best of my knowledge, no one has wondered why” (Kaes 2007).
An epistemological question of the same sort can be traced in the work of a research group of the Italian Group Analytic Association which it was organized to study the history of group analysis from it’s origin in the total field of psychoanalysis and other relevant disciplines. Edi Gatti Perdegato, a member of this group, says that to her profound wonder, the research group found out an enormous omission as well as dismission of the work of Trigant Burrow in most books and texts on psychoanalysis and group analysis.
Trigant Burrow (1875-1925) was among the first psychoanalysts to engage in group work and he was the first who introduced the term Group Analysis.
Most of his writings have to do with his social perception of the individual self.
To those wonders I would add my own one: This is the observation that psychoanalysts – almost never, refer to Bion’s work on groups, even if, they are talking about phenomena which are obviously group processes such as patterns and processes taking place, in multipersonal configurations like training institutions, societies or other social institutions.
Psychoanalysts do not refer to Foulkes, also, although he initially was a Freudian psychoanalyst of the Viennese circle. For such omissions I would suggest three explanatory assumptions: one connected with the underlying philosophical positions, concerning the perception of the individual and the group, one connected with the underlying scientific paradigms of psychoanalysis and group analysis, with the third explanation having to do with political constraints in the context of the psychodynamic movement.
The first explanatory assumption: As Dalal has put it (Dalal 1998) psychoanalysis and group analysis, are different on the basis of the degrees of emphases, they give to elements that are considered to be innate or learned. He adds, that, this difference in emphasis has a long and lively history and can be encapsulated by the positions taken by Plato and Aristotle.
He suggests to think of them as two templates: Plato standing for the emphasis on the internal world and Aristotle for the emphasis on the external world.
The psychoanalyst and group analyst Earl Hopper (Hopper 1996) put the problem in the form of a succinct question: does a particular theory emphasize projection or introjection during infant development? The answering of the question leads to see that the emphasis on projection prioritizes the internal world the “innate” and the instict. The emphasis on introjection prioritizes the external world, “nurture” and culture. From the dichotomy between internal and external world we are led to the dichotomy between individual and the group. Furthermore the notion of nurture is equated with that of the group, and the nature with that of the individual.
Freudian theory is, generally speaking, prioritizing the innate. It is so understandable that psychoanalytic community based in Freud’s one-body psychology could not be open to group ideas.
And now we come to the second explanatory assumption. This has to do with the underlying scientific paradigms of psychoanalysis and group analysis.
David Bohm, a theoretical physist who had participated in the activities of the Lifwyn Foundation (a foundation devoted to the work of Trigant Burrow) talks about the old Neutonian and the current modern scientific paradigms in physics. The first is grounded in “an order of the undivided wholeness”. The second is based in a modern order, which functions more like an organism than a simple machine. Like an entity, in which each part, grows in the context of the whole, so that it does not exist independently, nor can it be said that it merely interacts with others, without itself been essentially affected in this relationship. It could be said that Freud based psychoanalytic theory on the Neutonian scientific paradigm.
It could also be said in contrast, that, group theorists like Burrow, Foulkes, Elias and Dalal are based on the above described current scientific model.
It is striking how concepts like the group matrix, the communicational field, socialization and individuation processes (which in Elias thought are developing simultaneously) and the different degrees of symmetry and asymmetry in mind processes as Matte-Blanco put it (Matte-Blanco 1975), fit much more with this paradigm.
Let’s now continue with the third explanatory assumption. This, in my mind, has to do with political constraints in the field of psychodynamic theories and therapies. Psychoanalysis is obviously the first theory and treatment which developed in modern times within this field.
Psychoanalytic institutions training bodies and societies were then the first which developed and organized, the first to be “established”. To say that a group are “established” is to locate them in time and space. In other words to contextualize them.
Norbert Elias stresses that it is the fact that an older group had had a longer period of residence in a given space which allows the old, to organize, to cohere, and to exercise their power against other groups which are later developed.
Better cohesion means better organization, and so allows them to exclude members of the new group from participation in the existing structure of power very efficiently.
In the light of this view, the ostracism of Trigant Burrow and the neglect of Bion’s group work by psychoanalysts makes sense. Another implication of this situation is that the new group, (e.g. the group analysts), is not yet a group, and so lack the basic elements of cohesion (Elias 1976). One, as Elias, (Elias, 1976) could say, that the newcomers, being in parts and fragments, had not central identity, no name at least at the beginning, for them jointly to belong to. Thus they may be in a vulnerable state – vulnerable to being given a name, “a bad name”.
Group psychotherapy, and even group analysis, for instance, are often considered as the poor relatives of individual psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. Consequently they are considered as the “therapy of choice” for the poor relatives … namely those we have not enough available money and time for psychoanalysis. But let, in this point, see what happened when the … poor relatives were too many…
That was the case of the Northfield Hospital at Birmingham, in England, during the second world war. Northfield was a military psychiatric hospital over-crowded by neurotic soldiers suffering mainly from post traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety or psychotic problems.
Foulkes was by that time enlisted in the British Army having the degree of the major. His work at Northfield is now known as the Northfield experiment, and it is considered as the foundation of modern group analytic psychotherapy and therapeutic community.
Pat de Mare who worked with Foulkes at Northfield writes: “Basically the contribution of Foulkes at Northfield was the handling of a knew dimension, the social, the cultural and the political in relationship to neurosis. Neurosis in isolation is a relatively uninteresting condition and it is only when its true nature in relationship to context is – located – that it’s meaningfulness begins to be revealed, when meaning itself becomes located as the experience of individual, and context, establishing a relationship with each other”. That was the significance of Northfield. I realize today, that what I had witnessed there, was a man vitalized by the discovery of this crucial issue, of the link between the deepest “vertical” levels of the intrapersonal psychoanalytic, with its “horizontal” transpersonal social context (de Mare 1983).
The fact that group approaches got under way, during the war, with the high numbers of traumatic breakdowns, is pointed out by other writers too.
Helen Munro refers to the results of the various community and group approaches used by that time, as encouraging, but she notes, formulations tended to get bogged down either as psychoanalysis in group or as social rehabilitation. “Only Foulkes saw this clearly as an entirely new field of study, calling for new concepts to describe the new observations, building on and related to but different from psychoanalytic techniques and formulations” (Munro 1983).
Indeed, Foulkes made clear very soon his intention to base his group analytic psychotherapy on a new scientific paradigm: “All concepts used in discussing group behaviour should be concepts specifically derived from the study of groups. The application of ready-made concepts from individual psychotherapy only serve to blur the sharpness of our observation and distort it” (Foulkes and Anthony 1957).
This was indeed a great task. But due to the above mentioned philosophical, scientific and political constraints to which Foulkes was also subjected, the whole vision remained partly incomplete.
The task of completion of Foulkes’s work has been taken over by group analysts like Pines, Stacey, Dalal, Nitsun, Mendelssohn, Ettin and others whom I elsewhere have included in the “generation of emancipation” (from pure psychoanalytic influences and ideologies) (Morogiannis 2007).
An impressive representative of this “generation” of group analysts is Farhad Dalal, whose book, Taking the Group Seriously (1998), (printed in greek too at 2007) is one of the most important publications in the group analytic field since Foulkes’s first book in 1948.
Dalal refers to Foulkes’s two strains of thought as “orthodox” and “radical”.
“The theoretical elements that take the group seriously I have called radical and designated them to an idea of a Radical Foulkes. The elements of his theory that he is unable to free from this Freudian antecedents, I have designated to an Orthodox Foulkes” (Dalal, 1998, p. 13).
Dalal’s main critic to Foulkes is that he failed to follow through his radical agenda.
He concludes that the task of formulating a true group analytic language lies before us.
The difficulties towards this task have been legion, beginning with the structure of language itself.
According to Dalal’s view we are compromised even as we start to speak, as we start to use the very terms internal, external, individual, group and so on. Thus the main task is to see if it is possible to go some way to deriving a different way of speaking and thinking, of formulating phenomena in a way that does not make the notion of the individual at once central in a statement.
This aspect leads us to the question asked by Norbert Elias: “can anything be said about society which could not be found out of from studying individual people?” (Elias 1978).
Dalal investigates four possible psychoanalytic answers to that question, as they arise from the writings of Freud, M. Klein, Winnicott and Fairbairn.
All those thinkers are focusing on the notion of individuals inside groups and so Dalal not surprisingly says our task is to focus on the notion of groups inside individuals.
This statement brings us to the fundamental position of Elias: The social does not lie outside the individual to determine her-him from without. The individual also contributes to and constructs the social.
Moreover, Elias uses the term “constraint” to describe the situation where individuals are limited to what they may do, be and think, by social forces, but says that they also contribute to the construction of these cultural and social forces. This leads us to Elias’s term of figuration. Figuration is a notion that describes the interconnectedness of human existence. It is a term that is intended to transcend the individual – society dichotomy. In Elias thought the notion of figuration relates to the relationship between the parts, and refers to the same thing as “social structure” which is a description from the perspective of the “whole” (Dalal 2000).
Dalal gives us an analogy for the understanding of the concept of figuration. “It is as though, we are each attached to every other, with a series of elastic bands. This does not mean that our activities are determined by the group, rather they are constrained by the group. These “elastic bands” are what Elias calls interdependencies”. To say that humans are constrained by others – by people or things – is a way to talk about power. Power, Elias says, is a relationship. It is not an amulet possessed by one person and not by another.
Power is a structural characteristic of human relationships – of all human relationships (Elias 1978). What is of particular significance is the idea of power differentials. In the elastic band analogy, this is, how much pull, one has, compared to the other. In Elias words “whether power differentials are large or small, balances of power are always present wherever there is a functional interdependence between people (Elias 1978).
An important difference between Elias and Foulkes here, is that although both take up interdependence, the Eliasian notion of interdependence incorporates the notion of power, which Foulkes makes no reference to (Dalal 2000).
We are now in a territory where we can see better the concept of the social individual.
Groups are figurations, as described above. We are all born and grown up in such figurations that is, in our families, and other groups in which we live throughout our lives.
And now the crucial question: How can we define our position in the figuration that is, in the group or in the social?
Foulkes again: “As group analysts we do not share the psychoanalytical juxtaposition of an internal psychological reality and an external physical of social reality which for psychoanalysis makes good sense.
What is inside is outside; the social is not external but very much internal too and penetrates the innermost being of the individual personality. (Foulkes 1973 a).
And in another characteristic passage: “…the individual is as much compelled and modelled by these colossal (social) forces, as by his own id and defends himself as strongly against their recognition without being aware of it …
One might speak of a social or interpersonal unconscious” (Foulkes 1964). This, as Dalal put it, is a strong version of radical Foulkes, and gives us the idea of the social as unconscious. In other words the underlying idea is that the unconscious is structured by the social. This reminds the Freudian theory of the structuring of superego. In the light of this view the superego can quite legitimately also be called the unconscious social (Dalal 1998). But the same author warns us: Useful as it is, this is still a model of the social in the individual, the social in the unconscious.
To have a model of the social individual, per se, we need Foulkesian view, that the individual is permeated by, and simultaneously informs the social.
Foulkes introduced the term Social Unconscious in an attempt to describe the permeation of the individual by the Social.
According to post-Foulkesians, the social unconscious is a representation of the institutionalization of social power relations in the structure of the psyche itself. In this sense, it is a bridge between the social and the psychological. The material of this bridge is language, or as Elias put it: the Symbol.
Farhad Dalal says that the social unconscious includes, but is bigger than, the cultural unconscious. Cultural unconscious can be described as consisting of the norms, habits and ways of seeing, of a particular culture. This notion is the same as that of discourses a concept of post-structuralists. But as Burkitt (Burkitt, 1991) says we are subject to more that one discourse at a time – none of us is monocultural. According to Dalal the social unconscious, includes the power relationships between discourses. The social unconscious is a discourse which hierarchically orders other discourses. This ordering is also unconscious.
In this way of thinking the same writer equates the social unconscious with ideology.
Those aspects could be taken as an answer to Kaes ask “for a critical examination of the methodological contributions that surround our conceptions of the unconscious” as it was mentioned at the beginning of this paper.
Furthermore we could say that discourses we have already mentioned are not unlike scientific paradigms.
Dalal says that both the discourse and the scientific paradigm impose a particular type of order on chaos. The mother – infant psychoanalytic paradigm has taken the individual as primary and group as secondary.
The arguments presented here could be seen as elements of a process of deconstruction of the mother-infant paradigm.
But a new group analytic paradigm is yet to come into focus.
Dalal refers to some certain elements which such a paradigm is bound to have:
First is a constitutive primacy given by Elias to symbol, or social unconscious, instead, of to instinct. Second is a philosophical primacy given to multiplicity over and above the unity.
Third are mechanisms through which the illusion of an individual centre are instated. Fourth is the centrality of power relations and their constitutive repercussions. Fifth is the notion of a communicational field. Seventh is importance given to figuration of interdependence. Eighth, are realizations that some structures such as mind, thought and superego, that we have thought to be internal and private, are now thought of, as the property of the group.
Ninth is a new way of visualizing the unconscious. Tenth is the reluctance to denigrate the external. Eleventh is the thought that first and last we are always inside the social (Dalal 1998).
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