Group Analysis – Difference is welcome

Group Analysis – analysis of the group, by the group including the group conductor:

Groups in general, and psychotherapy groups in particular, affect us in some ways that we are immediately aware of and in other ways that are completely outside of our awareness. We affect others in our turn – a group’s behavior is surprisingly responsive to any new member. The complexity of group processes means that group analysts refer to a group as if it is an entity in its own right. Just as we might refer to an ‘organization’.

So instead of seeing a group as a collection of individuals we need to see how other properties and dynamics emerge through group life. Sometimes this is conceptualized as ‘group-as-a-whole’. And no two psychotherapy groups will be alike – each one will have its own unique history and culture. This culture will have arisen through the personality and style of the group conductor, the personalities of the group members, the norms that will have developed around communication and the maturity of its development. The more mature and effective groups will have a capacity for self-reflection and an open culture that allows learning from experience and permits change. Such groups will have grown beyond the stage of fantasizing that their group conductor is all-seeing and all-knowing and members will be actively sharing the responsibility of the therapy work in the group.

Analyzing, for psychotherapeutic purposes, the visible and conscious group behavior and dynamics, and the subtle and unconscious dynamics, is group analysis, “analysis of the group by the group including the group conductor” (SH Foulkes). It is what makes this form of psychotherapy so unique and so effective for a very wide range of emotional and relational difficulties.

Group analysis is unique – in that the subjects of analysis are both the group-as-a-whole and the group members who comprise it, including the conductor. ‘Conductor’ is the preferred term for group analysts as opposed to ‘group leader’ as it better captures the democratic nature of an analytic group and the role and task of both leading and following a group’s unconscious agenda). Group analysis is effective – because every group member is developing both insight and outsight. Members have the opportunity to not only learn about themselves in relating to others but also to become aware of how others are experiencing them doing that relating.

Relating and attending to barriers against connecting:

This relating, this being in relationship with other group members and to the group-as-a-whole, provides a proxy for our intimate relationships, or lack of them, and provides a microcosm of our wider social relationships which are coloured by traditional cultural power hierarchies such as class and gender and race. But, importantly, the analytic group welcomes difference of every kind and a new norm is created that is inclusive and analyses any difference that is problematized.

Personal responsibility is expected if any group communication or behavior is experienced as having a negative intention towards another member. The distinction is made between declaring a negative feeling towards another or challenging a statement or behavior and attacking a person. Both the challenged and challenger will have something to learn if they feel safe to explore the conflict. Conflicts become points of growth as they are worked through in a way that leads to mutual understanding and compassion for hurts or offence caused.

Marcus Page

Group Analyst, Consultant Psychotherapist NHS (retired) UKCP no 5616