The Transitional Object

The concept of transitional objects to reinforce object constancy has been a long-established precedent in the study of child development and the psychodynamic model of psychotherapy (Baldwin, 1967; Stone & Church, 1973; Rutan & Stone, 2001). Yalom (1985) posited that in group psychotherapy, the individual client and/or the group as a whole might view the therapist as a transitional object. In my groups, I often utilize a small, inanimate object to serve as a transitional object that ties the client to the group when he or she is dealing with a particularly difficult situation outside of group. This object encourages the group member, as he or she goes through the days between group meetings, to remember the support and attachment he or she feels from and toward the group. This intervention helps and supports him or her through the tough times in the real world.


This technique has been used successfully in several different types of groups. Specifically, I maintain two ongoing insight-oriented women's psychotherapy groups in my private practice where this transitional object concept was developed. I also facilitate mixed-gender weekly support groups with cancer survivors at The Wellness Community of Philadelphia, a center serving adults with cancer and their families, and I have utilized this concept there with significant success.


The group uses a glass crystal or small stone as a totem or transitional object. The item belongs to the group and, periodically, is passed around the room and then sent home with a group member who is feeling a particular need for support or encouragement as he or she faces the week ahead.

Genesis of This Concept

Pat was crying, chokingly describing to the group her anxiety about her upcoming visit to her parental home in a Midwestern state. Pat had experienced cruel physical and mental abuse in that home, and although she had done significant work in therapy and felt prepared to deal with the issues she might face once she was there, she admitted to feeling significant anxiety about leaving behind all of her support systems in Philadelphia. She was particularly upset about not having the support of her group for the two weeks she would be away. Just then, another group member dove into her large handbag and pulled out an old chandelier crystal. She offered it to Pat as a token of the group that she could carry with her on her journey. The group decided that, to make the crystal have even more power, we would pass it around the room and each member would hold it, symbolically putting positive energy into the crystal for Pat. Pat took the crystal with her on her trip and reported back to the group that having the crystal in her pocket helped her as she faced the old fears in her childhood home. The crystal then returned as the property of the group to be used again by others as needed.

The Crystal and the Stone: Use of Transitional Objects in Groups

After several years of using this and other crystals as transitional objects in that group, we also began a practice of giving a small glass crystal to each member as she leaves group.

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Getting to Know Anxiety

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