Group Psychotherapy Column: Current Thoughts about Group Therapy Theory

John Breeskin, PhD

John Breeskin, Ph.D.

After 50 years of running a wide variety of groups I am tentatively ready to make some general statements about the field. These thoughts are the result of a lengthy process of my learning and they represent, as clear as I can make them, a part of my current conceptual framework.

I use, as fundamental building blocks, the sequence of:

  1. 1. A focus upon internal- personal learning
  2. 2. A focus upon intra-personal learning
  3. 3. A focus upon transpersonal learning

Another way of saying the same thing is looking inward, looking outward, and looking upward, always remembering that Jungian archetypes are the DNA of the unconscious.

These concepts are fundamentally based upon the four beats on the kettle drum as follows:

  1. Forming
  2. Storming
  3. Performing
  4. Adjourning (A necessary addition which cannot be ignored)

As an additional complicating factor, as if the topic were not complicated enough, the group, from a psychodynamic point of view, operates on two levels simultaneously. Level one consists of the content of the group’s membership with one another and can be thought of as content in the here and now.

The second level, operating simultaneously with the first, consists of the powerful family of origin dynamics which are inextricably merged with level one. The group functions on both levels simultaneously and every action on the part of group members can be looked at through the twisting tube of that kaleidoscope. A group member, for example, can act toward other group members with contempt but he/she is accurately mirroring how he/she was treated when growing up.

A fair pictorial analogy would depict a group therapist juggling tomatoes while blindfolded. Another ingredient in the Stone Soup is, for me, comfortably within this theoretical framework, is whether or not the individual group member presents himself/herself as either a victim or a victimizer. The “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” by Coleridge is particularly appropriate here as is the most famous short story in English literature by Herman Melville called “Bartelby , The Scrivener “ which is, to me, the Victim’s National Anthem.

Still another compelling image from my symbolic toolbox: My clients who define themselves as victims try to pay for my services by using counterfeit gold coins. I carefully bite the coins, learn that they are counterfeit and let my client know that I know. Then I take out a purse of true gold coins and I offer one of them to the client has a temporary loan until he/she can mint one of her own and repay the loan. As to reader will have determined a long time ago, my clients are very high functioning human beings and they have no trouble following me at the symbolic level.

It is my earnest hope that I have succeeded in thoroughly confusing the gentle reader of this paper. That has been my hope from the start. I hope that I have succeeded.

Your Friendly Shape Shifter Who Promises to Continue,

Sparky



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