The Unconscious Process Of Identification

A process group is often about countering or disconfirming a patient's negative identifications and encouraging the individual to speak with his or her own "true voice." Group therapy helps the patient do this in a number of ways including exploration of the negative identification, confrontation of the identification, providing new sources of identification, and by encouraging the patient to gain healthier identifications (Rutan & Stone, 2001). McWilliams (1994) writes that it is the capacity of human beings to identify with new love objects that are the means by which psychotherapy, of any kind, achieves change. This is especially true in group therapy with its multiple opportunities for identification.

When patients enter psychotherapy, it is not uncommon for them to speak in a psychological voice other than their own. They speak with the voice of someone with whom they have identified. This identification can be with someone from the patient's past or someone from his or her present such as a spouse. The latter identification can be understood via the concept "identification with the aggressor." McWilliams (1999) writes that "identification with the aggressor" occurs in traumatic situations and operates as a defense against fear and the sense of impotence.

If the patient is speaking to the group from the position of the negative identification he or she will do so in a distinct manner and tone, which can be evident to the group and to the group therapist after a certain amount of experience with the patient. Also, when the patients speak from one of their identifications, a certain message about how they see themselves and how they expect others to see them will be communicated. In addition, a certain feeling/tone will also be communicated by the patient.

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