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Developing Nuclear Ideas

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Building and expanding on concepts presented in his previous volumes (Relational Group Psychotherapy: From Basic Assumptions to Passion, and Resistance, Rebellion and Refusal in Groups: The 3Rs), Richard M. Billow presents a coherent and innovative model of group psychotherapy.Developing Nuclear Ideas: Relational Group Psychotherapy offers, in experiential terms and with vivid examples, a theoretical and technical approach to understand and organise dynamic group process and drive it towards satisfying the goal of all therapy, the hunger for emotional truth. By developing nuclear ideas, the therapist and the group itself go about the task of containing and making sense of the perceptions, conceptions, affects, and enactments present in all groups. The volume also addresses the impact of thought-limiting, action-orientated polemic ideas.Integrating contemporary theory with cutting edge technique, the author focuses on the personal nature of the intersubjective process, locating the therapist's experience in the centre of the transformational intensity of group life.

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Chapter One - Developing Nuclear Ideas

ePub

In the course of leading a group, ideas flow in and out of my consciousness. Some seem to originate from within me, although many emerge from the verbalisations and behaviours of others. Even if the group appears to move on, several ideas linger and begin to impinge. They are now asserting influence on me; unavoidably they affect group process. So, I think about why the ideas or set of ideas has captured my attention: what they have to do with the clinical situation—present and past—and with my psychology, to the extent to which I understand it.

I consider how these ideas relate to what others are saying and doing, linking together, if I am able, unfolding intrapsychic, interpersonal, and whole group themes and processes. It is at this point of connection that a nuclear idea begins to coalesce, but it must be examined. I try to see if the idea has relevance to others, and is applicable to smaller or larger milieus, or both. This places the idea in intellectual and symbolic contexts, which also have cultural and historical dimensions.

 

Chapter Two - The Four Dimensions of a Nuclear Idea (Experiential, Affective, Symbolic, and Metapsychological): On Scrutiny

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“Man will only become better when you make him see what he is like”

(Chekhov, 2006, p. 113)

Scrutiny's passionate gaze is directed inward and outward, towards self, other, and the others—the whole group, society at large, and the universe itself. It has been a focus in myth, theology, ethnology, political philosophy, social and aesthetic criticism, and empirical developmental research. In this chapter, we investigate scrutiny through the lens of the container–contained. I will illustrate how scrutiny may, as a nuclear idea, come to serve as both the container and the contained, and, also, how the very experience of scrutiny may drive or inhibit the development of nuclear ideas. For scrutiny has been, and remains, ever-present and consequential—potentially harmful, or life affirming and, especially, therapeutic. Punishment, exile, death; praise, status, creative achievements, and personal growth are possible outcomes.

Scrutiny is an instance of curiosity, which may be bounded or unbounded. For curiosity is associational: it follows consciousness and the derivates of non-consciousness, producing links, the precursor to new meanings. Scrutiny, in contrast, centres on a particular object or theme. It evolves towards organisation, rationality, bounded by an expanding set of connections. Productive thinking involves both: curiosity, more wide open, and scrutiny, more concentrated, allowing meaning to be established as well as suspended.

 

Chapter Three - Grounding the Nuclear Idea: Sense and Clinical Sensibility

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“During the past long and difficult years he had trained all of his senses. It was as if he had sharpened the blades of his hearing, sight and smell”

(Mankell, 2005, p. 313)

The “blades” of hearing, sight, and smell, a metaphor from the Swedish crime writer, Henning Mankell, provides an introduction to the metapsychology of sense, and the role sense plays—phenomenologically and symbolically—in the development and utilisation of a nuclear idea and, hence, in the life of the clinician and the group.

As Chapter Two elaborated, the nuclear idea has four dimensions. Sense maps on to the experiential, with links to the affective, symbolic, and metapsychological, that, arguably, rest on a sensory foundation. For sense experiences are powerful motivators, as in seeking contact, satisfying psychosomatic need, pursuing physical activities, and taking aesthetic pleasure. Sensory stimulation vitalises experience and the language with which we describe experience. The taste of Proust's famous madeleine unlocked the psychological and the metapsychological: a lifelong and complicated network of emotions, thoughts, memories, and associations.

 

Chapter Four - Processing Nuclear Ideas via Four Communicative Modes: On Hostage Taking

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Hostage taking is a pervasive phenomenon in human relations, in groups, and societies. It exists literally, figuratively, and psychologically, and is both a phenomenon in the mind and in the outside world. Historical texts, including religious writings such as the Old Testament and the Koran, and literary writers make numerous references to threats, blackmail, ransom, and kidnappings, reflecting that hostage-taking has been a relational pattern of interaction for thousands of years (Allen, 2006). Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share the Old Testament as a religious source and also share an image of God as a terrorising, hostage-taking, father figure. A “jealous God” (self-description) exacts obedience with litanies of threats and punishments—death of the firstborn (Exodus, 4:23; also 11:5), boils, tumours, incurable itches (Deuteronomy, 28:27), and retribution wrought on great-great-grandchildren (Exodus, 20:5).

Shakespeare presented illustrious emotional hostage takers: the temptress, Cleopatra (who first kidnapped herself to Caesar), the petulant Hamlet, a master guilt-inducer, and the envious Iago, captivating Othello with jealousy. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage (1915) dramatised the human vulnerability—perhaps a universal wish—to being taken emotional hostage by those we love. Bellicose threats, weapons of mass destruction, banks “too big to fail”, seizures of land and people—hostage taking remains in front page headlines.

 

Chapter Five - When the Group Refuses a Nuclear Idea: On Facebook

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When the group refuses a nuclear idea: on Facebook

A prime constituent energising and informing process joined my group without invitation and remains without my choice. An infiltrator revolutionised our culture and structure, affecting the content and direction of our discourse. Facebook had entered as “social fact” (Durkheim, 1982). No one had asked for my opinion or consent.

Durkheim held that our identities and behaviour as individuals, groups, and societies are best studied and explained by reference to forces outside of, and beyond, the individual. Exterior and more powerful than any person, the social fact exercises a degree of coercive social force. It informs and organises broad and diverse institutions and practice: legal, economic, religious, aesthetic (Edgar, 2002; Mauss, 1990), and, as I discovered, therapeutic. A social fact might alter or even revolutionise what is considered “true” and, also, how truth is pursued.

In Resistance, Rebellion, and Refusal: The 3 Rs, I described how many forms of interpersonal behaviours involved in group organisation and process might be conceptualised as a series of moves and countermoves to express, redirect, modify, or block the search for emotional truth. In revolution, assumptions regarding how such truth should be pursued are challenged, and so bring a group to a new phase. Revolution is, thus, both a mental attitude and a strategy of social action, modifying certain principles and modes of operation. The cultural change may be positive and negative, progressive but problematic, and with its own set of unforeseen consequences that need to be understood and attended to.

 

Chapter Six - Bipolar Thinking Leads to Polemic Ideas

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I now introduce the concept of the polemic idea, which functions in tension to creative thinking. To review briefly: the nuclear idea harnesses potentially explosive emotional material, but which is used for peaceful purposes that are rational and productive. Developing the nuclear idea necessarily stimulates thinking, an emotional experience associated with learning (Bion, 1962); its primary effect is not to propel or quell action. The nuclear idea eschews manipulative rhetoric. If consensus is established, dissension and abstention are encouraged and respected as representing possible and alternative versions of, or paths towards, emotional truth.

The polemic idea, in contrast, focuses on controlling emotional responses and has its goal to incite or inhibit the individual's and group's action. Whereas the nuclear idea emerges unbidden from interactions among the minds of the individuals comprising the group, the polemic idea emerges from a calculated mind-set of an individual or subgroup, with a particular purpose to sway other minds and group process. This type of leader (or member aspiring to leadership) might depend on bombast, hyperbole, as well as subtler oratory that, by narrowing and focusing feelings and thought, seeks to promote facile and immediate decision making. The polemicist wishes to bend the group to his or her will. Group communication is used to encourage conformity and quell dissension. A mob or crowd group culture may eventuate, guided by the charismatic one, who plays on vulnerabilities. The goal may be to establish one Truth, which the leader might sincerely believe, and wishes the assemblage to believe.

 

Chapter Seven - Inveiglement

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“Inveiglement” describes a mode of interpersonal influence, in which the individual or group becomes bound by mental parameters imposed by an other. The intended effect is to divert knowing, believing, thinking about, or acting on thoughts that exist mentally, or that could be generated. Inveiglement, thus, serves as companion to, and sponsor of, the polemic idea, which, in turn, contributes to the effectiveness of inveigling as a means of domination and control.

Chapter Four provided the clinical example of “hostage taking”, and illustrated how inveiglement works to take over the mentality of its targets. A departing member attempted to convince the group of her entitlement to attend post-session dinners. In thought, word, and deed, Miranda personified the bipolar thinker. I paraphrase the variants of the essential polemic idea: “You love me, so you should do what I propose.” “I am very hurt by any disagreement and need compliance.” “I explode violently when challenged to think about my ideas.” “Anyone who doesn't agree with me is a bad person.” “If you don't fulfil my wishes and wants, I fill you with dread.” Her convincing manner of self-presentation intruded into the minds of the group with such emotional force as to constrict freedom to think and behave independently, leading to acquiescence or reactive rebellion.

 

Chapter Eight - The Therapist's Psychology as Nuclear Idea

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“With what fear and avoidance does the analyst write about his own method of coming to conclusions, about his own thoughts and impressions! The devil himself could not frighten many analysts more than the use of the word ‘I’ does in reporting cases….

Analyst, analyze yourself”

(Reik, 1983, pp. 147–148)

A prevalent, if often submerged, nuclear idea concerns the influence of the therapist's psychology, the “me”, which the therapist, along with other group members, monitors with varying accuracy. To some extent, we have freed ourselves from the hegemony of classical psychoanalysis (Wallerstein, 1988), and its polemic formulations regarding the well-analysed therapist's alleged neutrality, objectivity, and emotional disengagement.36

The therapist's “irreducible irrational involvement” (Renik, 1993)—cannot be eliminated, and this is not even a desirable goal. For it is out of our full participation that we bring our own dissociated experience into relationships, potentiating key interactions related to the participants’ difficulties in living (Harry Stack Sullivan's phrase) that would not otherwise be discovered. While the therapist's conflicts, character structure, and misunderstandings lead to inevitable resistances, rebellions, and refusals in the group and its members, they also provide vehicles for learning and transmitting information.

 

Chapter Nine - The Group Beholds its Leader

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Chapter Eight stated two broad principles: (1) every intervention the group leader makes (including silence) is filtered through his or her subjectivity, of which the leader has limited and imperfect knowledge; (2) the members’ convergent and divergent nuclear ideas of who the leader is have an impact on everything that takes place in group, and, to some extent, determine group structure and process. A case example and an extended discussion described how the group identified a common point of reference—“me”. My psychology served as the experiential dimension (Chapter Two), an axis of self and group reflection, clarifying that which was central to the here-and-now of our group process. Additionally, the nuclear idea of the leader, revealed and developed, served as a bridge to the psychology of others, to building intrapsychic and interpersonal meaning.

When these core nuclear ideas of the leader and the group emerged, I found direction, and, despite the revelations of my vulnerabilities and limitations, enhanced confidence in my leadership. The group progressed in an orderly, understandable fashion, even before many of its determining influences were revealed.

 

Chapter Ten - The Invited Presenter: Outrage and Outrageousness

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Through years of training, my professional practice, and my own individual, group, and self-analysis, I have cultivated a mode of communication that I believe has served me well in public presentations and in clinical practice. Contra Salvador Dali (2007), who strove to live by his declaration that “The one thing the world will never have enough of is the outrageous” (entry for August 30, 1953), I never try to be outrageous, as a person or therapist, but sometimes, people see me that way, and appreciate, disapprove, or, on occasion, react with outrage.

As mentioned earlier in this volume, a group leader functions in the mode of diplomacy (see Chapter Four), exercising authority and power to establish and maintain an exploratory culture that values nuclear ideas. Patience—timing and tact—would seem to characterise therapeutic diplomacy, but also, humour, linguistic play, affective openness, challenge, and confrontation may further leadership goals. In my opinion, it is a matter of professional integrity to risk being perceived as outrageous, for the effective leader must challenge and break down the boundaries that obstruct, or even preclude, emotional learning. Without such leadership, a group—whether in formation or ongoing—is more likely to be marked with conventionality or stalemate, or submission to, or rebellion against, authority. As the eminent American judge, Learned Hand (1927), opined, our dangers, as it seems to me, are not from the outrageous but from the conforming.

 

Chapter Eleven - The Group Therapist is “That Guy”: Organising Speech

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In the development of new group, and as an element of any self-reflecting group, the leader employs and encourages the use of language to move process from its underlying basic assumptiveness to the symbolised and articulated emotional experience from which develops nuclear ideas. The therapist stirs up and restructures mental space, disrupting the members in their fantasy relationship to the group as an encompassing maternal object. Hence, the therapist asserts a “third”, or oedipal, vertex, expressed through initiating and inviting verbal intercourse. Equipped with a powerful organ of speech, he or she necessarily obtrudes, serving as a “phallus” (Lacan),48 whether or not sexualised explicitly in images and verbalisations of the group members.

The group situation

The training group—consisting of professionals from different disciples attached to a private hospital, along with non-affiliated individuals—had been working together for nearly two years in a series of two-day weekday formats, with a rotating local staff and the occasional consultant. For this series of lectures, experiential groups, and supervisory workshops, seventeen individuals—twelve women and five men—were in attendance. Although I did not know it at the workshop's initiation, a subset had just returned from a European group conference where they had attended small, median, and large groups.

 

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