Simple Intervention

A simple intervention is proposed: a type that a group psychotherapist may make in many different circumstances. Here, its significance lies in its being a response to the perception that everything is combining to encourage attention to the individual in crisis. There are any number of ways of saying it, but the essence of the therapist's contribution is:

"I wonder what others in the group are feeling as they listen to what Ms. A has been telling us ? "

There are a number of factors that support this sort of intervention:

• it provides an antidote to the temptation, which the therapist may feel, to try to reassure the group by demonstrating his or her own ability to treat Ms. A-a response that would tend to reinforce doubts about the value of the group;

• it shifts the perspective so as to suggest that, in order to understand Ms. A's communication, there is a need to see it as part of a larger picture; and

• it introduces group members to unfamiliar ways in which their own responses-negative as well as positive, belong in, and form part of, the group's life and so begins to extend the general sense of belonging in the group.

What may emerge, in response to the therapist's enquiry? Initially, group members may respond by returning to the scenes that Ms. A has been describing, renewing their attempts to find ways to correct the perceived problem that she has presented. If this occurs, the therapist may try reiterating the question, in a different form, so as to put emphasis on feelings about the situation in which group members find themselves, in the group. The purpose of the intervention is to make available, to the group, as much information as possible about what has been happening, during this session. Expressions of sympathy, helplessness, anxiety, anger, feeling rejected or ignored will all help to build a picture of the scene that is being played out. Some will undoubtedly contain resonances for Ms. A and it is important to find ways to include these.


At any moment, the preferred intervention reflects how the therapist understands prevailing group-developmental tasks. When the group is trying to lead us to the individual, we should be most alert to the needs of the group. From the writer's perspective, the individual's problems cannot be made sense of, outside the context in which they manifest themselves. The therapist's efforts are directed toward creating as effective a demonstration as possible of the group's ability to function as a 'working model of the world'.

It is desirable for group members to learn to report supposedly unhelpful and even unsympathetic responses, as well as more obviously helpful ones. In order to understand the meaning of an act or utterance, we need to discover the sorts of responses that it evokes in others. For members of a new group, the fact that "unwanted" feelings can be received as a valuable contribution to the group's work may be a surprising discovery-one that begins to change the terms of

What and Who Belong in the Group? Managing Early Crises 291

belonging and group membership. Rather than conceiving of the group as a problem-solving instrument, this intervention seeks to foster a sense of the group as somewhere to think about the context in which a problem has its place, within a nexus of relationships. Ms. A may, initially, be dissatisfied with the shift of focus; in particular she may feel angry, or disappointed, believing that the therapist has taken from her that which she is seeking. However, by shifting the focus away from her, we begin to create a situation where she can find other ways to express the feelings involved in her secret acts. Given time, she may come to feel that there is a place for these feelings, in the world, and thereby extend her own sense of belonging.

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