Responses To Intervention

When this intervention is introduced in an existing group that is not used to discussing the fee payment, the group members are likely to express shock, outrage, and resistance. As in many families and cultures, the discussion of money may have been taboo, so that the status of fee payment, an essential component of the group's health, has become a group secret. Once the members see the benefits of this discussion, however, they are likely to participate more willingly. New members may be more open to the discussion, since they are given the opportunity to review the payment policy before they choose to participate in the group.

When a member pays less than is owed or does not bring a check, there may be a reason that the member feels that the therapist has not earned the fee that month. This may be a way to express frustration with therapist absences, empathic failures, frame breaks, withholding silences, and many other behaviors that the member experiences as "not good enough." Often these behaviors may be interpreted as transference, a re-experiencing of similar frustrations with significant caregivers during their formative years. Group members usually appreciate the chance to discuss and work through these feelings. Sometimes the therapist discovers that something needs to be rectified, from therapist errors to circumstances as minor but important as adjusting the lighting or replacing an uncomfortable chair.

When a member overpays, group members can help each other guess why a member might feel that the therapist has more than earned his or her pay last month. Sometimes members worry that their free expressions of negative feelings or their acting-out behaviors have injured the therapist or the group. They can benefit from hearing feedback about their participation. This is especially useful when the member has been venturing into more self-disclosure or participating in conflict. An overpayment may also be an unconscious attempt to establish oneself as a special favorite of the group therapist. Uncovering this wish can lead to a fruitful discussion of competitive strivings in the group.

Deviations from the payment policy can reflect many other meanings, for each member and for the group as a whole. A general wish to avoid anxiety and shame associated with money management may lead to a hasty, inaccurate calculation of the check, or "forgetting" the check at the first session of the month. Since group members are aware that the health and life of the group depends on the therapist being paid, hostile wishes toward the group or individual members as part of unresolved conflict may be enacted by delayed, short, or miss-

The Fee Payment As an Aspect of Group Communication

ing payments. When nobody pays correctly or on time, the therapist reflects on the general functioning of the group or the possibility that the group has experienced a trauma.

Of course, the therapist also experiences a variety of responses to fee payment and must be ever alert to countertransference reactions to fee payment deviations. These may be enacted by the therapist through failure to collect and process checks on time, inaccurate calculations of the amounts owed, and inappropriate comments or interpretations in the group session. The therapist may use countertransference reactions to understand what is being communicated, and to prevent and rectify problems in the group.

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