Group Work as an Emerging Process

Peter H. Elting
San Francisco, California, USA
Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts

In the summer of 2002 I met in Florence with a number of Italian colleagues to discuss our various interests in group work. At the conference I presented a workshop with Wilma Scategni. In this brief paper, I will limit myself to a description of the workshop and a short explanation of the pertinent terminology, largely derived from J. L. Moreno’s psychodramatic structure.

While in Zurich, I specifically trained with Elynor and Helmut Barz in groupwork, based on Moreno’s Psychodrama. After my return to the United States, I initially offered these workshops under its intended title of “Psychodrama based on the Analytical Psychology of C.G. Jung.” Understandably over the years it shortened to “Jungian Dream Enactment.” The changes reflected my own intention to combine Jungian Dream work and Enactment based on the elements of my psychodrama training in Zurich. Groupwork can be an excellent addition for some analysands. Group work facilitates the appearance of psychic complexes with its underlying archetypal structures. Emotions appear more readily and dream images receive an added dimension through the self-directed enactment of its main characters.

The theoretical constructs are numerous and I would like to lead you back to a description of what happened during the workshop, where approximately eighteen colleagues from around the world had assembled. Bear in mind that the actual content of the work always remains with the group and I will describe here only its theoretical foundations.

We began by introducing ourselves to the group and then encouraged the group members to introduce themselves briefly. Everybody is self-conscious and/or anxious, so it is important to create various warm-up exercises during the initial assembly. The warm-up allowed group members to focus on issues of current concern such as unresolved dreams, fantasies or life stories. They warmed up together and prepared to move into action. My role as the director was to create a safe environment that facilitated self-disclosure and the willingness to act in a role.

We then split the group into small subgroups of four participants, instructing them to share a dream – if they could – and then select one dream per sub-group. After approximately fifteen minutes we asked all the members back in the group circle to share the dream they had chosen with the whole group. The emphasis was on listening and dream sharing, not interpretation.

We then asked everybody to get up and stand behind his or her choice of dream and protagonist for enactment. This is called a “psychometric choice.” A very involved dream with many substories was chosen. A simple majority prevailed.

The chosen protagonist then walked around to select willing group members to enact her (I will use the feminine preposition for brevity throughout) dream. Because of the short time available, we had agreed to focus on the one dream element. What could be enacted was open-ended and entirely unknown, limited only by time, the room space and the size of the group. Role selection had already been a meaningful process, showing aspects of existing transference patterns and projections.

At this stage I often work with a “Dedicated Auxiliary Ego,” who stays with the protagonist during the enactment process to help, challenge and protect. This auxiliary Ego is physically behind the protagonist and speaks only in the “I-form.” Thus the protagonist feels held by this alter-ego, making it easier to go into their inner worlds.

The following action phase consists of “Role Introduction, Play- Action, Feedback out of Role Play, De-roling and Sharing.” In the action phase I use some of Moreno’s techniques, such as “Role Reversal, Mirroring, Doubling.”

The dream element specifically chosen at the Barcelona workshop contained, e.g., a tree, rock, frog, woman, man, and forest. We chose – because of time constraints – to limit the roles. The protagonist chose a person from the group to enact the above elements and proceeded to introduce them to us. The protagonist stood behind the chosen role-player and introduced it in the I-form. For example: “I am an old oak tree in a dark forest, etc.” A role player for a tree told me about his experience: “When she chose me, I was slightly flattered to be chosen, to have some meaning for this young person. Soon it felt natural. I felt the group need for a tree. My sense of solidity grew and I wanted her to have a good experience. I wanted her changes and turbulence to be grounded.” You can see from this quote, taken partially out of a larger context, how the natural adaption to the role had taken place.

The protagonist then proceeded to direct the enactment of her dream. As the director, I help with additional questions in areas the protagonist obviously leaves out. In this phase I often use Role Reversal. In this case the protagonist shifts with the role-player and in essence answers her own questions. Intervention was important when the interaction drifted into a too-intellectual discourse,

Mirroring is simple technique of showing the protagonist what she just did. It is an important intervention when obvious details are left out.

Doubling is an additional function, whereby any group member can share, in the I-form, his thoughts on the interaction in moving behind the protagonist.

When the action phase ended, I de-roled every player by simply stating, “You are not a tree anymore, you are Bill again.” A brief but very important intervention, to protect participants from spending the rest of the evening in their roles!

We then got together in our large circle and entered the Sharing phase. A very important and necessary ending. Participants shared their feelings stemming from the roles for which they had been chosen. Then those participants who wanted to, shared the personal feeling evoked during the play-action phase. They said what it reminded them of, etc. Everything in this phase was presented in the I-form. No instructive or interpretive comments are permitted. This ending phase was primarily in support of the courageous protagonist.

I then ended the afternoon with the simple statement, “This Enactment is ended.” It was important to maintain a clear structure and time schedule, as these were the pillars to create a vessel in which the play took place.

Group Work needs to emerge in this very collective post-modern world. We need to connect past, present and future. Enactment can profoundly augment our analytic struggle to connect the individual and collective worlds.

Group Work as an Emerging Process: Reflections Based on the Proposed Workshop

Wilma Scategni
Torino, Italy
Centro Italiano di Psichologia Analitica

1. Introduction

Acknowledgments – A look at the contemporary world – Illusions and catastrophes – The fear of the void and its hurried antidotes – “Instant coffee, instant nirvana” – The other –The shadow and integralism – Individual, group, social world

At the 1992 IAAP Congress in Chicago, Helmut Barz presented an interesting paper on the method of group work that he and his wife Ellynor were using in their therapeutic and training settings. I would like to direct my readers to their works and others listed in the bibliography in order for you to get more acquainted with the technique we will be speaking about. In this context I am limiting myself to outlining some considerations that lie at the roots of the experiential workshop that I have presented with Peter Elting at this conference. The work of Peter Tatham with the Social Dream Matrix at the IAAP sections of the IAAP Congresses since 1995, allows us to encounter each other in these meetings through the direct experience of our nighttime reflections.

In our everyday world we are being constantly bombarded by mass-media images, words, and models that emerge and change instantaneously. These make us have desires, objectives, and goals that are cancelled, devoured, and burned in the very moment that they come to mind. The fatiguing quest for light, sense, and the absolute has been the goal of painstaking religious searching and of the adventures and wanderings of gods, demons, and heroes in every epoch and culture. This quest is being replaced by the desire – or better, the greed – to appropriate a heaven on earth materialized as technical consumer products. This Eden, however, turns out to be its direct opposite in its shadow side. It becomes a materialized hell that looms over us unnervingly and manifests itself in the loss of control over a technology that has become an end in itself. When this technology does not have any limits or container that directs it, it brings back specters of ruin, catastrophe and annihilation that loom against the shiny background of the new era. This is meaningfully probed in L’incubo globale (The Global Nightmare), the recent collection of essays by our fellow IAAP members from all over the world, edited by Luigi Zoja.

When the eyes, the ears, and the senses are bombarded by fragmentary impressions, they end up seeing too much and not taking in anything. A kind of anesthesia comes out of all this. It is no accident that since the nineteenth century drug addiction has become an ever growing phenomenon, an expression of a social problem that characterizes the modern life that is lived out in large industrial cities. The use of the drugs themselves has replaced the sacred context of the cognitive and spiritual quest through religious rituals. Once this has happened, drugs have spread as consumer objects produced by a refined chemical technology. (We have gone from opium poppies to synthetic heroin.) As consumer items they have spread, along with their most destructive consequences. They are taken to fill up a “void” and replace the desire for spirituality, for ecstatic dissolution, for the absolute, and for sensation.

When such aspirations are removed from the collective consciousness and deprived of a place to express themselves, they can easily take on destructive features and trigger unconscious aspects of the “shadow” as a response to the insecurity of the ego. This “shadow” is projected externally onto “someone other than oneself” as an individual and/or onto an ethnic group. Intolerance, racism, fundamentalism, fanaticism, addictions to drugs and absolutist sects and ideologies come out of this. However, these aspirations cause anxiety because they do not have any limits or containers that are able to make sense of experience for the individual and the community in a wider context. The problem may very well be located in the passage between the consciousness of the ego and the ecstatic experience, and in the path back, which puts the ecstatic experience back into the social context where the ego itself lives and acts.

2. The Group as Possible Response

The “Initiatory Passage” – “The Ritual and the Group” – From Anonymity to the Responsibility of the Individual – Fluctuations

The group and its therapeutic setting is what takes on the role of the container that makes the temporary experience of abandonment and nullification possible. At the same time, it puts the experience back into the context in which it is happening and gives it a meaning. This passage has all the characteristics and problems of an initiatory path. The blossoming of initiatory images in the dreams of participants in analytic or therapeutic groups can perhaps be looked upon as what the anima – in the Jungian sense – mirrors and brings back from the deepest levels of the psyche and from the multiplicity of the webs of relationships that live, manifest themselves, and act in the inexhaustible and kaleidoscopic variety of group dynamics. In fact, group dynamics can be looked on as a mirror of the continuous interlacing of the individuative processes of the individual group members with the global individuative process of the group itself. The group continuously proposes different perspectives on time and space, as in the constant “bombardment” of images and stimuli by contemporary life referred to above. Different planes of reality intersect constantly. However, the confusion and passivity that this can create are counteracted here by a space for reflection. This is where “psychodramatic action” is used with its continuous shifting among many dimensions: logical- conceptual, imaginary, sensual-emotional and symbolic. It is through this process that the protagonist – or better, the protagonists – again assume the responsibility for their own actions in their own existences and in those of others, and in the fragments of existence that the psychodramatic scene shows. This can happen where this technique is used, as in most of the groups that I conduct.

As opposed to the anonymity of the man-in-the-crowd in industrial civilization, who has neither face, expression, nor feeling, the group is a context which has a name. The group identifies itself from moment to moment as the carrier of constant and changing elements that enable the group members to keep on taking stock of themselves. At the same time the protagonist has – in addition to a name – a body, emotions, and feelings that determine how he or she acts and expresses him/herself in the group, which holds him directly responsible. This is the antithesis of a person who can push a button anonymously to activate a missile that annihilates and destroys people, homes and villages at a distance, who does not even hear its echoes, and who forgets his responsibility for his actions. Here every action finds an immediate response in the other members and in the group as a whole, a reaction that is returned to the subject along with the direct responsibility that the action entails.

3. Mirrors and Methamorphosis

“The Other than the Self”: from Obstacle to “Source of Renewal” – Mirrors – The Gorgon and the Mirror of Perseus – Passivity and Responsibility Again – Apparitions and Re-apparitions – Questions – From the Imaginary World to Concrete Reality – The Chimera: Group, Individual, and Autonomous Complexes – “The Conscious Ego” and the Group Leader: Parallels – The Chimera: Possible Paths for a Recomposition

The identity of the group, therapist and group members, seems like some fluid entity that is always open to the opportunity to take in new members, who – by the very act of being integrated into the group – are transformed from obstacles into sources of renewal. Thus the direction and driving force of the individuative processes of the group and of its single members can be expressed as the growing recognition in themselves and in the group of the ever-changing mutability of the flowing of existence. This is realized at that particular moment in their lives, in which something of what the scene and the dream that was performed on the psychodramatic stage is emblematic. Levels of reality can be shared and overlap with those that are purely subjective. The space for psychodramatic action and its immediate follow up time in reflection allow the participants to recognize and differentiate these planes in a continual play of mirrors. These reflect each other but are at the same time turned towards the world of everyday life, whose similarities and movements they mirror through the filter of the atmosphere of play. Likewise, they are turned towards the inner world and amplify its echoes.

The endless play of autonomous complexes continually modifies, transforms, and sometimes distorts the contents of the psyche like a funhouse mirror that creates continuous distortion – anamorphosis. Through these distorting mirrors figures appear deformed, altered, and at times totally unrecognizable according to different positions from which they are viewed. However, an observer can put together an image again. She or he does this through trying to find the correct points of view while always running the risk of getting lost. This image will be something whose deeper meaning can be gathered through infinite variations as its newer details and perspectives are being discovered.

The “mirrored walls” that surround the group and the psycho- dramatic protective frame, the temenos, widen its focus opening up towards infinity. The myriad reflections and interactions in the group change such spaces into a dreamy, fairytale setting, but with the thought in mind that in such a labyrinth our reason and the ego as a unit of consciousness could get lost at any time. The reflected fragments hark back to an ambiguous and fleeting universe that reveals itself, dissolves, and vanishes in the same instant, thus leaving traces of eternal unanswered questions. The Gorgon, reflected in Perseus’s shield, was able to be met and defeated by the hero, who escaped being turned to stone. Likewise, the palpitations, instincts and violent emotions can be filtered through the mirror of the other in psychodrama groups – through the other’s gaze, his or her gestures, and feedback. These emotions can be re-encountered, confronted, and sometimes defeated while avoiding their potential destructiveness, the petrifying power of the Gorgon Medusa.

Yet another factor that contrasts sharply to passive submission is this coming forth of responsibility, the conscious ego, that which puts itself forward as at least the partial maker of its own existence. Yet, the ego in question is no longer the simple rational and egoistic consciousness, but a consciousness in continuous dialectical confrontation with the images of the unconscious and with the other, who offers him or herself as a concrete reality in the group

The question then becomes: through which fragments and which mirrors do we see the so-called reality that surrounds us and how can we identify the constant factor that is in some way reflected there? Here it is a matter of searching for our own continuity by following its traces, getting to know it again, and re-stitching its interrupted patterns. Meanwhile, we should try not to lose ourselves, at least temporarily, in such multi-faceted multiplicity and to assemble our own image again, sometimes the usual one and sometimes the distorted one – in any case, an image in a thousand different perspectives.

Thus the group takes up the job of calling up images from the memory, dreams, and the imagination that have settled and been forgotten for years. After this time of forgetting, the images come back to life, and bring out new emotions, feelings, and moods. Yet at the same time the group is also a concrete relationship, an exchange and a confrontation other people in the “here and now.” In this context, the “conscious ego” reveals the form of a “chimera” – a bizarre composite of contrasting antithetical and scarcely reconcilable features.

The polyhedral nature of the psyche therefore gets to be reflected in the polyhedral nature of the group. Hence the group leader finds that she or he must consequently do the same job that the conscious ego and the “ego complex” does in relation to the so-called “autonomous complexes” or “partial personalities” that are found there. In both cases, the issue is to equilibrate spaces, to hold things together, and to make things coexist. Above all, the issue is to give back a meaning that would transform a set of emotions, sentiments, images, and feelings from a formless chaos into a cosmos in continuous evolution that finds its direction in its transformation. In this way the chimera can be changed from a symbol of the monstrosity into a symbol of the wealth of multiplicity.

From this perspective, it seems possible for us to face up to fear, confusion, and the loneliness; the nigredo, according to the alchemical metaphor. These are often encountered at the beginning and during the course of any analytical search or in the face of circumstances in life that “displace” us and make us lose our normal bearings. The next step may be that we take up more and more of the burden of our own responsibility by re-appropriating our “shadow” and “negative aspects,” which had been projected onto others and out the surrounding world. This can happen through encounter, dialogue, and our empathic identification with the other in one’s self rather than with the other as carrier of our projections.

4. Conclusion

Intercultural groups – reality – Maya

The images of the inner world are projected, reflected, and returned in the group. The group itself is basically nothing other than a sort of microcosm inserted into a wilder social macrocosm, represented in the multiplicity of interactions of consciousness, but represented even more by the personal unconsciouses, respectively those of the group and of the members that are reflected there. Furthermore, we should not forget that psychotherapy, training, and supervision groups offer a very significant economic advantage and the chance to reach “developing groups” in many countries and social groups who would not otherwise have access to psychotherapy and training.

From this point of view and from a broader perspective, the steady contact and confrontation with other cultures, ways of life, races, religions, and values becomes possible and is transformed from an obstacle into a source of wealth and creativity. (Such cultural confrontation is something that the present-day world imposes on us increasingly and the future will even more.) Jung himself demonstrated all this through his Eranos Round Table and through his life.

In the contemporary world, every kind of distance in time and space seems to have been cancelled by the lightning speed of the means of communication. Thus we are inevitably forced to be flexible. Once we stop feeling suppressed by this, but re-experience this in a responsible way, we can repossess an ego that does not recognize itself in fixed, nearly-rigid patterns but in a pattern of continual methamorphosis. Returning to the microcosm of the group, the so-called “reality” represented on the group stage in the flow of its continual becoming, which is at the same time the internal theater of the psyche, turns out to be not very different from what Hindu thought defines as Maya. This is an illusory and changing form through which ultimate reality manifests itself – emptiness and fullness at the same time.


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