Group Therapy Dynamics Essay

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Group Therapy Dynamics

By the very nature of culture and humanity, humans tend to be group animals -- they thrive in groups, coalesce into groups, indeed, the very process of moving from hunter-gatherer to cities was part of a group behavior. Within this essay we will first look at group normative behavior, intergroup communication and leadership, and finally the way in which group behaviors influence individuation and specific responses to that group's culture. Group norms are defined as a set of internal rulings that are followed by the group members in order to increase the overall efficiency of the group's activity. These norms usually refer to the members' behavior towards themselves, their hierarchical superior and group outsiders, as well as to their approach and attitude towards the work they are expected to perform. Norms determine the way in which groups solve problems, make decisions and do their work. They influence interactions between members and between the group and the facilitator. Norms reflect the group's culture of shared values (Berry, 2007; Characteristics of a Group - Group Composition, 2007).Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Essay on Group Therapy Dynamics Assignment

A group's cohesive nature is given by its features' and members' ability of coexisting and completing each other in order to form a balanced and harmonious whole. To achieve these, group leaders needs to take into consideration three major elements: interpersonal relationships, structural relationships and organizational relationships. After having taken into consideration the three relationships, group leaders need to consider two additional forces that influence the unity of the group: the size of the team and the technology used within the group. The size of the group has a direct influence upon the cohesion of the group in the meaning that it critically impacts communication between members. The greater the number of members within a group, the harder it is for them to properly send out their messages and insure they are clearly understood. In their path from the transmitter to the receiver, information may be distorted or even lost; thus impairing the function of the group (Witte and Davis, 1996).

This is the very nature and foundation of Group psychotherapy in which one or more trained therapists treat a small group of clients together. It is typically characterized in general terms as cognitive behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapy, but often applied to the psychodynamic process in which change is developed by exploring and examining interpersonal relationships within the group. Thus, thus group finds similarities and differences and is able to extrapolate their feelings better within the safety of a group -- knowing that the other individuals are feeling just as uncomfortable (Montgomery, 2002). There is clear academic evidence for the efficacy of group therapy, particularly for depression, abuse issues, and traumatic stress issues. There is less evidence for the use of group therapy as a key factor in recovery for other pscyhological issues -- borderline personality disorders, sociopathic issues, or schizophrenia (McDermut, 2001; Kanas, 2006). There are, however, literally dozens of variations on group dynamic therapy, each with varying degrees of theory, practice, special methods, interventions, and focus. For the purposes of this essay, we will focus on two of those theories as related to group dynamics: the Tavistock-based method of Wilfred Bion and Irvin Yalom classic text "The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy."

Overview of Bion- Wilfred Bion (1897-1979) was a British psychoanalyst who pioneered group dynamics. His theories developed by working with a group of pioneering doctors who were tasked with treating psychological issues from returning British soldiers after World War II. This became the Tavistock Group, and his research with what we would now term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder became part of his 1961 book, Experiences in Groups. This book actually became a guide in other fields besides psychotherapy, and became popular with the encounter group movements in the 1960s (Symington and Symington, 1996, 2-13).

Bion departed from traditional Freudianism with his theory of mind. This paradigm has two underlying assumptions: 1) truth for the individual will emerge with mental growth, and 2) the individual's mind grows through exposure to truth. Thus, the foundation for mental development and actualization is a process in which truth is continually being uncovered, for Bion, truth is the personal understanding of emotional experience. In his model of development, then, the individual is continually evolving with emotional experiences that translate into thought and truth for the way that individual views the world. However, everything is centered on the individual outside of the analytic hour, and the processes that occur during that time period. Within the therapists time with a patient, there should be engatement without memory, desire, or undertaking. Outside the analytic hour, though the process for growth and uncovering truth occurs (Bion, 2004, intro, 5-6).

Bion's basic assumptions about the role of group processes within group dynamics revolve around his way of defining the group type and the assumptions surrounding those group types. The types are a Work Group -- the aspect of the group's functioning that focuses on the primary task of the group, or why the group was formed in the first place. The second is the Basic Asumption Group, which desribes the tacit assumptions that are underlying the behavior of the group. Within these two group types, Bion holds three basic assumptions; dependency, fight-flight, and pairing (Flores, 1997, 541-3).

In dependency, the group attempts to protect itself and the vulnerable members of the group. This can result in passive-aggressive behavior, ignoring the group leader, or acting in such a mode that the leader is only able to elicit comments with great strength of will. With fight-fligh the group takes on an active and almost defensive nature -- the group must protect itself at all costs; either through aggression or retreat (avoidance). When a group adopts pairing, individuals within the group pair up to carry on the work of the group by their own interaction. The other member of the group are delighted because it takes the focus off them, yet they are still able to vicariously participate. It is natural that a group will adopt one of these assumptions, but it also diminishes the efficacy of that group. The task of the therapist is to interpret which assumption is being acted upon and react accordingly. In this way, the forward motion of the group will not waver (Sutherland, 2000).

Overview of Yalom -- Irvin Yalom (1931-) is a medical doctor, author of fiction and non-fiction, a well-known and oft quoted psychotherapist and Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Stanford University. After graduating from Boston University's School of Medicine he completed his internship at Mount Sinai in New York and the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, then worked for two years at the Army hospital in Honolulu, forming his basic theories about groups and group dynamics. He began his academic career at Stanford in 1963, and it was here that he flushed out the experiences he had while working with soldiers returning from Vietnam, developing his model of group and existential psychotherapy (Yalom, 2008).

Yalom's central belief is that inner conflict within the individual is due primarily to that individual's own confrontation with what we might call the "natural laws" of existence. These "givens" are freedom and slavery, life and death, isolation, and meaninglessness. These four major concerns are the framework with which the therapist conceptualizes a client's problem and develops a treatment. The theory of mind for Yalom is that although humans are, by their very nature, individuals and alone, we continually pine to be connected to others. We want to have meaning in our lives, but we must ultimately come to realize that it is impossible for us to depend on outside stimuli (other people) for our own validation. Thus, we must realize and understand (and accept), that we are fundamentally alone throughout our life. The typical result of this revelation is a degree of anxiety in knowing that our validation must come from within and not from others. It is to the degree which we choose to accept that, and move through life, that our psychological health depends. The task of the therapist, then, is to help the individual face the truth about their individuality and find an appropriate plan with which to deal with feelings of doubt and uncomfortability that often arise when realizing we are so very alone (Yalom, Existential Psychotherapy, 1980, 1-44).

To Yalom's credit, he continued to revise his work on group therapy in combination with existentialism. As he notes, in the 1940s when group therapy was introduced it was novel. Now, there are groups for almost everything -- panic, arthritis, MS, cancer, abuse, etc. In addition, the clinical settings for these groups are also incredibly diverse, and require a different approach than a traditional setting. Moving from his earlier notion of cure, Yalom now believes that the task of group therapy is to harness reality -- causing change and growth that is a positive step for that individual. Thus, whether in a formal group therapy or simply as an individual who wishes… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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