Therapist Selfintervention

For some time, I listened to the silence. I tried to determine what I could learn about it while I too was silent; I discovered a double task: listening to the group silence and listening to my own silence. Listening to the group silence takes some effort. It is possible, if the group therapist understands the input from one person, for the therapist to make connections on various levels between what is being said by one member and connect it to other members of the group, their histories, or conflicts that are similar. To the extent that this is true one must wonder again why then are not the others making the connections?

It is possible, and necessary, to take various views regarding the group's silence. Resistance to participate in the group process can be understood and therapeutically managed as a process of germination, which will eventually turn into something useful. Self-generated understanding may lead to possible insight, or, to understanding silence as a developmental fault indicating the absence of an empathic mirroring person or process in the person's early life. Assessing the quality of the group silence is dependent on the therapist's intuition and empathic capacities. At best, it is a problem, given the number of people in a group, to find one reason to explain the behavior of an entire group. Assessing the impact of the therapist's silence on patients, who have "relationship hungers" and often fill the void created by the group therapist's silence with powerful fantasies, is even more difficult: the group therapist must be guided by his or her attunement to the patient's needs as well as the group's reaction to that anxious/ fantasybound patient.

When considering those prolonged silent moments, it also must be considered whether the group is putting pressure on the therapist to intervene, to speak, to take responsibility for the matters being spoken about, or to say something that individual group members cannot articulate because of defensive reasons. In this manner, the silence is like snow to Eskimos in that it has to be understood for its meaning, depth, texture, and (emotional) color.

If the group therapist is compelled to speak and understands the nature of the group silence it is best to make the comments general (Bollas, 1987). Here, we have an additional problem not found in the dyadic situation: discerning the nature of the "cause of the silence" must be determined.

A Clinical Example

Many years ago I had a male patient who was terribly socially uncomfortable when in any role other than his professional one. He suffered many inhibitions and, when emotional, was prone to exaggerated, frustrated angry outbursts. It seemed when he spoke that no one responded to him and he would soon turn his description into a factual speech that seemingly went on and on laboriously. I frequently commented on the absence of a response to his speaking and the group members responded over time that they sensed the tension underneath his words and were wary of drawing to themselves his anger. That seemed plausible enough, however, later I noticed that people often were not looking at him when he spoke and thought that odd. I said nothing about that event and it was not until much later that I noticed that he did not look at anyone when he spoke. He looked at a point on the wall opposite where he sat. Although the causes for his behavior were deep in his developmental history (as dialogue emerges from the mother-child unit), it seemed clearer to me that another contributing factor for the silence was the absence of eye contact between him and any member of the group. The group members were also made uneasy and silent by his talking and not looking at anyone when he spoke.

LISTENING TO ONESELF IN GROUP Pressures for the Group Therapist

• respond to being spoken to, and

• answer questions and be pulled into behaving like a member of the group.

Even the factual areas of therapist responsibility can be used in the group or at its regular stopping points to have a special, (non group) relationship to the exclusion of the other group members. Freud (1912) and Bion (1970) have paid special attention to a special therapeutic form of listening that requires access to the group therapist's unconscious processes and it seems that every attempt to engage the therapist is also an attempt to turn the therapist's attention to reality events and away from deeper emotional understanding.

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