The Group Contract

The group contract in a long-term psychodynamic therapy group is an explicit agreement between therapist and group members about the expectations and conduct for successful group membership (Fehr, 2003). It covers topics such as logistics of group meetings, fees for group therapy, confidentiality, and expectations about the minimal duration of group treatment as well as more intangible issues such as the necessity to explore the relationships within the group, particularly with the therapist. The contract also brings emotional issues, which are often difficult and avoided, such as money, sexual feelings, and anger, to a conscious space within the group member and highlights the importance of working with these issues as a vital part of the group experience. The idea that group is meant to be an avenue for verbal exploration of both intrapsychic and interpersonal conflicts is specifically spelled out in the contract. The directive to "put thoughts and feelings into words and not actions" is always an explicit part of my own group contract. Of particular importance in this intervention is the agreement that there is to be no contact between members outside of group.

Therapeutically, the group contract has several purposes. Initially, it provides a uniform set of expectations to each of the group members. Although there is nothing "democratic" about the contract, it is generally accepted as a benevolent directive from the group leader, which ultimately has the health of the group member at the heart of the document. Since the style of leadership in psychodynamically based group psychotherapy is less active than many other forms of group, the contract often provides the only structure for a beginning group. It is often the first shared experience of the group (Rutan & Stone, 1993). With group membership comes the inherent agreement that all will abide by the directives of the contract. The sense of predictability and safety these "rules" imbue in a new group can be a life raft for anxious new members.

Although the group contract feels predictable, safe, and comforting to a new group or even a new member in an open ended group, over time the group contract can take on many other meanings and purposes. The following intervention will illustrate one such manifestation of the therapeutic usefulness of the group contract in the later stage of an established group.

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