The Group Therapist As Storyteller

Marvin Kaphan

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.

(Arendt, 1968)


In my view, one important function of the group is the education and acculturation of its members, in order to achieve a level of psychological sophistication where they can identify the psychody-namics of their fellow members and themselves. My own orientation is eclectic and psychodynamic. Like most of us, when I began training, I received a psychoanalytic background, which has been modified by my experiences with interpersonal theory, humanistic and existential psychology (Sullivan 1968; Jones, 1953-1957; Maslow, 1968). One major goal of my work is making unconscious ambivalence conscious, so that patients are free to make conscious choices. This process makes use of interpretation. 1 believe, whenever possible, that there are significant advantages to making these interpretations through stories serving as parables (Crawford, 2004). One advantage of this approach is that the interpretation is not experienced as an ex cathedra authoritative pronouncement, but as an account of a discovery made by an "equal," from which the patient can draw the interpretation himself or herself.


All six of my groups were open-ended, having continued for over forty years, with patients entering and leaving based on their needs and growth. The groups are all heterogeneous psychodynamic groups, with, wherever possible, a family-like configuration of younger men, older men, younger women, and older women. Since these are all private patients, the groups all tend to be more or less high functioning, but each group seems to develop a personality of its own, which persists through the years.

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