The Group In Crisis

A mixed-gender adult psychotherapy group had been meeting for approximately two years. Up until this phase, in the life of the group, members had learned to express both positive and negative feelings toward the therapist and one another, and reflect upon their thoughts and feelings toward one another in the "here and now," but suddenly this began to change. Communication in the group quickly became devoid of real feeling, almost lifeless. People talked solely about problems in their lives outside of group, but it was as if life outside the group had sucked the life from within the group and between the members. In addition, a couple members were either periodically late, or did not come, often offering seemingly reasonable excuses. It was the pattern, not the absence per se, that was suspect. Attempts by the therapist to explore members' reactions to one another or to the absences were met with either silence or feigned acceptance. The group-as-whole seemed to thwart any attempts by the therapist to intervene. Finally, one member announced that he was leaving, which led to two others expressing that they felt similarly. Suddenly the group was in serious trouble.

THE INTERVENTION Examine Induced Countertransference Feelings

One of the more important things I can do, as a group therapist is to examine the feelings I am having about what is occurring in the group. With this group I was feeling particularly frustrated with the lifelessness of the group, but more with what I thought was a group-as-whole resistance toward me and the contract. Becoming clear about these feelings through consultation with a colleague helped me appreciate the high degree of frustration in the group members that was being induced in me. Could it be that the members were also feeling frustrated with one another's deviations from the contract? With this understanding I was the intervention.

Stay Mindful of the Contract

My group contract not only identifies patterns but is able to decrease the intensity of my own emotional reaction and extract myself from my own counterresistance to breaking the impasse. Thus it proceeds with defining lateness and absence as a form of nonverbal expression of feelings (i.e., "Put all thoughts and feelings into words, not action"), but also encourages other members to confront devia tions from the contract as they occur. The contract can be a starting point from which to identity resistance.

Confront the Group with Behavioral Observations About the Resistance

Avoiding interpretation and speculation when sharing one's assessment of a group's destructive resistance is essential if the members are to be able to look directly at their resistance. Framing the observation from the standpoint of the contract will keep the therapist's observations on firm ground.

If Necessary Draw any Aggression to the Leader

It is assumed that once the therapist confronts the group directly with its resistance, which in this case was due to the indirect expression of aggression through lateness, absence, and emotional withdrawal, the members' frustration, which had been induced in me, would come out more forcefully. Because the group is in such a tenuous and frustrated state, risking the attack on a member would only further indicate that the group is a dangerous place to be. As a result of this assessment, it is imperative that the group therapist protects members from attack and scapegoating, and one way this can occur is by directing aggressive responses toward himself or herself.

I basically told the group that I was not surprised that some people wanted to leave, and that I could not blame them. When they asked me to explain my statement, I elaborated, telling them that it was clear to me that the group was bogged down, and that the emotional sharing that had at one time been a fact of life in the group, had all but completely died. Moreover, I pointed out that people had in effect been leaving for some time through absences, lateness, and emotional withdrawal, and that it was a matter of time before they would leave the group altogether. I further suggested that they must have been frustrated with me for not being more of a stickler with the contract, and suggested that without my help they must have felt powerless to stop the withdrawal.

Belief Change 101

Belief Change 101

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