Articles

Theodora Skali
 
 
 

1 MSc, PhD, Psychologist, Psychotherapist, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece, School of Philosophy, Faculty of Philosophy, Pedagogy and Psychology, Department of Psychology,  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
 
  

  Abstract

  The clinical material presented in this article is about the sessions of a Large Group that took place within a one-year postgraduate program on group dynamics carried out in 2012-2013. The study of this material is associated with the effect of the individual’s intrapsychic organization on his relationships, and with interaction between individualsas a field of study per se. Every Large Group is a field in which the intrapsychic, the intersubjective and the social level coexist on a larger scale, and where participantsinteract with the notions of constant conflict and reconciliation. Large Group is a self exploration field that forces the participants to delve into personal aspects which may remain unseen during individual psychotherapeutic work.

  Key Words: Large Group, interaction process, coexistence ofintrapsychic, by subjective and social

 

 

  Preface

   The clinical material of this article comes from a one-year post-training program on group dynamics I attended as a trainee in 2012-2013. The program, which lasted seven “three-day” periods, was attended by psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other professionals with working experience in psychiatric fields. It was structured in theoretical (lectures, theoretical presentations, sessions of theoretical process)and empirical parts (group supervision sessions, small and large group sessions).

  Amongst some extremely interesting group phenomena within this training field I would like to focus on the section of Large Group sessions, which in our case was more like a Median Group.

  My attention was drawn to the transition from the influence of the individual's intrapsychic organization to the relations the individual establishes, and to interaction between the participants asa separate field of study. The Large Group forms a field in which individuals interact and relate as object-subject, inner-outer realities, conscious-unconscious processes. In Large Group sessions exist “in vivo” and “right here and now” a field in which the intrapsychic, the intersubjective and the social element coexist with the individuals’ interaction, on a large scale, with the notion of continuous conflict and reconciliation. It is namely a field of self-exploration under these circumstances, that may help someone understand or/and be aware of other sides of his personal development, that may not have been apparent in an individual psychotherapeutic process.

  My first attendance of a large group was in 2008 in the United States, during the annual meeting of the American Group Psychotherapy Association (AGPA) and I am still participating in it seven years later. The size of the Large Group I have experienced the last seven years in AGPA and IAGP concerns Large Groups of over 150 people. This article’s clinical material concerns a Large Group of about 50 people, whichrather makes it a middle group.

    During these last seven years, my thoughts on Large Groups —influenced perhaps by the financial, social and political crisis that we are going through here in Greece— have focused on the concept of the Large Group as a field of social representation and as a field of display of the social unconscious. This training program was even more interesting to me for two reasons: The first reason had to do with my awareness that none of the participants had experience of participating in a Large Group process. The second reason had to do with my interest in Large Groups as a field of social conflicts and dialogue, especially knowing that most of my colleagues/participants worked within psychiatric fields and faced losing their jobs (a lot of psychiatric centers were under threat of closing due to the current financial crisis in Greece and the lack of funding). 

 

 

No man is an island
John Donne

  Introduction

  Aspects of a group process

  When we consider “everything to be a personal affair”, the only thing we can be aware of (if any), is “ourselves”. In this case everything is our concern; it is like watching those babushka dolls and seeing in each doll only yourself or one side of yourself. But when we observe these dolls of different sizes, we will notice that they constitute a series of internally connected systems in which each part includes and is included, just like “a hierarchy of isomorphic systems”.

  We constitute closed psychicsystems, with closed borders as regards the communication between ourselves and the outer world, unless the outer world matches what we already know. Many anxieties result from the fact that we regard ourselves “as the center of the world” (Agazarian, 2009).

  Nevertheless, “no man is an island”. If we consider ourselves not only as a subject, but also as a member of a system, we may become aware of many and different aspects of the world and may –perhaps- realize that we influence  the world and the world influences us. Therefore, we don't only exist as subjects, as intrapsychic organizations, but also as part of a small group, which forms part of a larger one, etc.

  The question posed in each Large Group is how differences can become a source of strength instead of conflict; how all information can be organized by the subject so that any differences lead the subject to become a member of a group/system and not resort to flight, which happens in many ways: attacking differences, attempting to take others on one's side, viewing them as a threat, trying to “get rid” of them, etc.

  Furthermore, and as per R. Kaes (2007), who introduced the term “group psychic apparatus”, the psychic group is not merely formed by different parts of oneself, activated by group process; it unconsciously preexists and it is on this basis that the psychic apparatus is organized, like a group imprint. This is how Kaes sees the relation between the subject and the group and their mutual relation.

  Thus in each and every group process, the group becomes a place of mediation and interaction by means of the group psychic apparatus, where a group association process and a large number of transference and counter-transference phenomena are at work. The meeting point of each member’s associations, dreams, thoughts and wishes of is the task of such a group process, where every member is a “voice” of the group and constitutes part of the group at all times in its lifetime; we might say that the unconscious here is understood by the unconscious representations, and in fact interactively (Navrides, 2011).

  Furthermore, recognizing and understanding the social unconscious, in the sense of the social nature of the mind (Bateson, 1979), which treats the mind not as a relatively stable inner structure but as fluid, constantly shifting responses to social influences, adds one more level to group communication. Modern views speak about the social structure of the mind, in the sense of constant evolution and change within ongoing social interactions. According to Bakhtin, no mind can remain totally independent of other subjects. on the debate is about the mind as a relational mind and not only as a unique brain, meaning that it is defined by the mind limits of the persons with whom a subject relates and is affected by changes in its social, cultural and communication networks. Hopper & Weinberg (2011) introduced the term “culture unconscious”, in order to underline the significance of internalizing values, rules and other significant elements that are interpreted as culture in a society at a particular historical moment and within a specific financial, historical, political and ideological context.

 

The Large Group experience

  The Large Group, as part of the program's structure from the outset, triggered many, intense and contradictory sentiments at all levels — intrapsychic, intersubjective and social. The question of the identity of the large group was posed from the beginning: Who/What are we? What is this group? What's its purpose? How do we define/determine ourselves in such a group? Who are the facilitators? Do we know them? Are they “friends” or “enemies”? Do they lay down the rules or not? Do we want them to be involved or not?

  Then we proceeded to questions about our existence in the large group: “What do we say and what we don't”?, “What do we keep within our small group, what within the large group and what just for ourselves as individuals”?, “How do we part from the small group in order to become members of the Large Group”?, “How do we re-connect with one another using other ways”?, “What do we need’?, “What does this group mean in relation to the whole training program in its entirety”?, “Who are the facilitators of the Large Group”?, Do we know them or not?, Do we want them—and what role do we want them to play”?

  Then the question of preference was posed: “Do we prefer the facilitators of our small groups to those of the Large Group?”; “Do we prefer our small groups to the Large Group?”

  It was as if, once in the Large Group, we appreciated the small group's stability and safety, our small “family”.

  Anxious and pressing questions, especially during the two first three-day periods, and equally quick and anxious answers, for all their superficial humor, in order to explain and avoid the issues rather than going too deeply into exploring them.

Amidst all this, laughter, when it came, was a great relief. The explanations brought us back to the subject, to the individual, to our personal system, and obviously to our psychic safety, at the group level as well; many were those who played that role in the Large Group, putting the group at ease in an aggressive manner or by way of explanation or … (Agazarian, 2004).

  Tracing and exploring the sentiments behind each question —which could introduce us to what we didn’t know in relation to ourselves (intrapsychic process) or as members of a large group— was extremely difficult for us to do and we tended to avoid and/or stop it through various defense mechanisms.

  Our anxiety about “vanishing” and not being “seen” within the group made us hasten back to similar ideas and concepts, assuming a role as members of the Large Group without stopping to relate to the one who had spoken before us, leaving him with an “empty”, “threatened” feeling, etc. The inevitable result:  threats and aggressiveness, not only in terms of content but also in terms of the great loneliness and “invisibility” an individual experiences between: “Me as a person” and “Me as a member of this group” and “Me as the voice of the group”. It is no accident that some who had remained silent finally spoke, they described their relief for having spoken, although this seemed frightening before.

  All the above can also point to the group as an intersubjective field, where the group is an instrument of transformation of its members’ psychic reality; at the same time, each member’s psychism contributes to the establishment and functioning of the psychic reality of the group.

  To this I also associate the dreams that often appeared in the Large Group of the two first three-day periods, where the dream field was connected to the somatic, the intrapsychic and the intersubjective field and seemed to concern the Large Group as a whole —a "case of dream polyphony» (R. Kaes)— while at the same time concerning the subject’s personal area.

  Nevertheless, I often observed that the dreams arrived at moments of long awkward silences, and the Large Group had an “object”, a dream to deal with, in order to speak and justify its presence; a sense of relief and serenity ensued as we reflected on the dream. I was thinking that perhaps it is not an accident that the voice “Anna”, who mentioned two such dreams, stated how much stressed she felt with the large group, and her verbal message was accompanied by intense physical symptoms (blushing, sweating, voice quivering, etc.)

  And finally, on another level of psychic reality, there was also the case of “person Y”, literally and also on a level of group dynamic, as a carrier of a function or of a symptom, as stated in the systematic approach: “Person Y”, as representative of his own story and, at the same time, as representative of what was happening that particular moment in the Large Group (there were many similar moments like this one during the two penultimate two-day periods in the Large Group).  My reading of “person Y” made me consider the function that he has been assigned, beyond his personal story, through the process of group bonding, with regard to diversity, to the acceptance and synthesis of all those different participants involved, trainers and trainees alike; they all came from different vocational fields, almost “hostile” to each other in some cases, from different theoretical fields and – if I look back at the case of the newly-established psychotherapist association – from different routes and with different motives. All these difficult emotions that remained unprocessed in the background, found in “person Y” the means to emerge and be verbalized — albeit prematurely, as the group had not yet arrived at a mature evolution phase. I was often reminded of the different meaning of the “scapegoat” introduced by Agazarian (2004), according to which the scapegoat is a “pathfinder”, prematurely introducing a change, a major difference for which the group system is not ready yet.

 Finally, there was also the following peculiarity: The coordinators of the small groups also took part in the Large Group.  What was their role in the Large Group?

  Were they simply equal members of the Large Group? How did we address them—using formal or informal language? What was the meaning of what they said? Did they speak as group leaders, as organizers of the program or as our coordinators-parents of our small groups”? Did they behave as those “who are judging” us? As persons with the same anxieties as all of us or not? As persons in positions of authority in our professional contexts, on whom we were dependent?

    We had difficulties in addressing them directly, disagreeing or clashing with them, conversing with them on equal terms; and what about the leaders of the Large Group, whom we didn't meet in any other activity? Did the lack of familiarity with the two coordinators of the Large Group make things easier or not?

  According to F. Dalal (1998), the most essential component of the social unconscious is the internalization of social authority, the way our thoughts, emotions as well as our mutual communications are organized by it; the way the social unconscious differentiates from the cultural unconscious, considering that the cultural one includes the normalities, the habits and the ways of viewing a particular civilization, so deeply imprinted as to become unconscious. Dalal defines civilization as something that concerns a complete restructuring of personality and psychic economy in the process of historical change

  Nevertheless, for all the difficult aspects of the Large Group there was this new experience —even ifit did notalways succeed— of socializing in an absurd and impersonal way(we didn't even / know or remember the names of many of the participants). There were often voices who expressed their surprise and awe for all the good feelings within this chaos. One of the leaders of the large group often stressed this aspect of the Large Group as a “Democracy” or what Pat de Mare calls a “KINONIA”, a kind of “togetherness and amity that brings serendipity of resources…”, ”Communication” as it is understood in the Greek Orthodox Church” (Agazarian, 2013).

  At such moments I thought that this may be the Large Group’s greatest contribution to society: it forms a context within which you can put hostile thoughts and feelings (aggression, hate, rage, etc.) in a frame of dialogue— or at least you can try to do so, which is very close to an “KINONIA” interaction.

 

  Myself in the large group

 “I want to be myself in order to keep walking”

  My initial motive for participating in this psychoanalytic educational training program and particularly in the Large Group, since I am fully qualified as a systemic psychotherapist, can be described, in the words of D. Winnicott (2003), “as a place “from” and “towards”, without these two being determining factors. The “in-between” position gives you the opportunity and the space to be available for anything that happens, for creativity behavior”.

  Yet despite all this, as soon as the Large Group began I found myself organizing all my defenses, as per S. H. Foulkes, as “…the group which you are participating in and in this group you are going to take over your usual role and function thorough your connection to the others”. The very first thing I found myself organizing was my critical-logical self. I felt as if I was participating in a trade union meeting: all the others seemed to feel unappreciated, they complained about the program, the circumstances, the changes, etc. When I tried to get involved and say something different I felt that there was no space for anything different, I felt restrained by a “politically correct psychoanalytic message”, as if the psychoanalytic point of view was the only truth. 

   My first thought was flight: “I made a mistake! I have to leave this program. What bad professionals they are! They only know one truth, theirs!”, etc.”  Next I was rationalizing: “Why don’t they abandon the program if they don’t like it? Why did they apply for it? Sometimes I thought like a mother, in a protective way: “It is good for them, they have to see it” and sometimes I felt that the group was hidden behind the pleasure of a psychoanalytic dialect.  Then I found myself getting angry with them, as the words got more important than the experience we were getting. I sat there and I watched the group choosing to avoid the experience instead of exploring the experience “here and now”. My feelings moved from anger to compassion, to contempt, etc.

  Yet at the end of each large-group session, when we left the room and went outside, our brief exchanges (short, ironic, aggressive comments or bitter jokes) and the way we run away (we didn’t even look at each other), made me feel that the participants left the group with difficult feelings, feelings which hadn’t been expressed in the “here and now” experience of the Large Group, such as anger, rage, insecurity, lack of self confidence, just like mine. That observation was very helpful to me, making me switch from my personal system to “me as a member of the group” system and observe my and the others’ behavior in the context of the Large Group meaning.

  During Large Group sessions I was frequently asked —since I was very –active— things like: “What are you talking about?” in an aggressive manner and then there were answers about me also which felt like the speaker’s projection on me. I felt very lonely. I felt constantly misunderstood, like a “Chinese” among “Europeans”. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t listen to me, why they didn’t stop to explore what I was saying “here and now”, what was the meaning for themselves, which part of themselves was moved, etc., instead of giving explanations about me. Almost in every session I had to deal with such things: “You are intellectualizing again”, “I can’t understand you”, or“You are such a nice person, so polite”, etc.

   I often felt despair as an individual in the group, and as a member of the group as a whole, in the way that we seemed to be like pre-kindergartens and had to go a long way to find out how to communicate like human beings, meaning giving space each other, sharing thoughts and feelings without criticism, building a sense of belonging, providing acceptance or fitting in. As I thought all this under the terms of “democracy” and “kinonia”, sometimes I despaired about people ever managing to overcome themselves and be synchronized towards the same goal; at other times I felt compassion for those who suffered, who were too much afraid of everything, who were unable to let themselves to experience “here and now”, to trust themselves and the group/society. I never found myself fully synchronized with the Group. 

   I was greatly surprised by the conflict about time boundaries that suddenly occurred at the end of the first Large Group between a leader of a small group, who was also a member in the Large Group, and one of the leaders of the Large Group: The leader of the Large Group interrupted that member, as she was talking, by saying “end of session” (actually, we were out of time). She insisted on finishing what she had to say, but the leader of the Large Group left the room. That was a conflict which jogged a lot of feelings in everyone. I and the others were overwhelmed by so many feelings that the echo of that incident followed all sessions of the Large Group as well as at least the first two sessions of my small group (the one who argued with the leader of the Large Group was the leader of my small group). I thought of the whole incident under the terms of “psychic bonds”, and “unconscious alliance”. I was thinking that on the level of unconscious alliances and unconscious bonds a lot of things had happened: repressions, denials, dichotomies and/or rejections. Then, I realized that the moment the incident happened I felt inside me a feeling of an —until then unconscious— alliance as a member of a small group, which suggested obedience and loyalty to my small group leader, but at the same time I didn’t want it. I soon realized that it wasn’t only my feeling – it was something that had to do with everyone’s same feelings in the room, and I saw this incident as an excuse for discussing the presence of the small group leaders (their presence in the Large Group had to do with “leader” or with “member” issues? And were we to confront them as equal members or as seniors who had to be cajoled? Furthermore, I was thinking about how hierarchical systems in society often become authoritative, and how the individual in them gets crushed. 

 An important moment of insight was when I tried to say about member Y, whom the large group had put in the middle, "I think “Y” is a “voice” of us",. The following reactions towards me was about like "You always look on the bright side…”, “you are good at white washing...", and as I was trying to decide between attack (fight) or withdrawal (flight), one of the small group leaders who was sitting next to me said something similar to what I had said. This made me feel understood by at least  one other member,  and also brought me back into the “here and now” process of the Large Group. Thus I was able to follow him in his own thoughts and feelings (he talked about the internal psychic difficulties that make people behave in such a way, putting someone in the spot). I still remember the feeling of synchronization I felt. And while it could result in what Bion calls a “boxed pairing”, this is not what happened. The moment was enough for me to feel that the two of us coexisted in the Large Group and this synchronization made me follow his thought feel closer to the Large Group as a whole. My free association had to do with Winnicott’s (2003) “[creating] two where one had been one", but also with the theoretical concepts of Agazarian (AGPA, Boston, 2014) about "join-separation-individuation - to the group", meaning "connect to the previous speaker getting a  synchronization feeling, separate from him/abandon him, stay in yourself and offer your own  to the group”.

     Another moment of insight was when I stated that with their permissiveness the coordinators of the large group create a space of containment for each of us; starting this from feeling, I addressed another member who had spoken much earlier and had expressed feelings of ambiguity and uncertainty which prevented her from speaking: I said how much I had coordinated with her emotionally, but I did not dare to side with her openly because of my own ambiguity and uncertainty. Then one of the large group coordinators said something in response to what I said which gave me again the same feeling of synchronization. After connecting with me, he continued his train of thought, which actually went in a completely different direction from mine. I felt again this synchronization, I felt accompanied, and at the same time that “mommy has other children as well and/or thoughts other than my own and I'm fine with it, I got my share and I can stay in the relationship despite the differences, because I feel connected and understood (“pampered”).

Last but not least, I also remember how perfectly synchronized I felt when the Large Group turned against one of the organizers of the program, because "this educational program does not lead to a Master’s degree, as it had been implied”, etc. At first I didn’t identify with the attack because I have never understood it like this. The only thing that had been said from the beginning was the future prospect of the training program evolving into a postgraduate curriculum. It never crossed my mind that a psycheducational training program of this level could be considered equivalent to a formal postgraduate program nor did I need it to be. Yet aside from the content I felt "hatred as the frustration of love", as Pat De Mare says (Agazarian, 2013), and I felt perfectly synchronized with the frustration, and the disappointment experienced by many, and this brought me closer to the group. I felt as the mother whose baby is desperate and is crying; the mother feels the baby’s despair and comforts it, but at the same time she can be herself, without identify with the baby’s despair (Winnicot, 2003).

  After this incident the Large Group did not refer again to these issues of frustration and disappointment. Only during the last session one of the leaders of the Large Group commented on a difficult moment of the group, where much anger had been expressed on another subject, “I wonder what your expectations were from this program?”  At that time I considered this comment irrelevant. Now, as I think about it, I wonder what happened to all that anger and frustration that had been expressed by people with professional difficulties, especially in terms of power relations in the workplace, by professionals under the threat of losing their job due to the financial crisis, whereas a postgraduate degree would enhance their status and secure their position.

 

 Group development phases

    Developmental psychologist Bruce Tuckman was the first to use the terms ”forming, storming, norming, and performing“, in his 1965 article ”Developmental Sequence in Small Groups”, to describe the course of most groups as they grow and produce work. Later he added a fifth stage which he called ”adjourning“, also known as ”mourning“.

 

   Forming

  At this stage, most members show a positive and polite attitude. Some exhibit anxious behavior in relation to the work of the group, as if they haven’t fully understood its purpose. Other members are merely excited about the process which starts. The group leader has a key role at this stage, since the members’ roles and responsibilities are not clear. This stage is quite long, as members begin to work together and try to get to know one another.

 

   Storming

 Then the group moves from getting acquainted and determining the objectives to the phase where members try to see whether the limits installed during the first phase can be violated. Groups often fail at this stage, which is usually the starting point of a conflict among members with different working styles. People have different ways of working for many different reasons, but if these different working styles create unforeseen problems the members may become frustrated. Otherwise this phase may progress, and when members challenge the leader on power issues, for example, or compete for a position, as the roles are getting clarified, or if the Large Group leader has not fully clarified the way of group working, members may be overwhelmed by stress due to workload or feel uncomfortable with the ambiguous leadership. At this point, some members usually question the purpose of the team and may refuse to participate in the work. They may be anxious, as they don’t feel like part of the process in close relationship with the other members.

 

    Norming

  The group gradually progresses to the next stage, that of regularity. This happens when members begin to resolve their differences, appreciate the strengths of other members and feel respect for the "authority" of the leader. From now on the members know how to connect with each other, how to seek help and how to provide constructive feedback. Members get to develop stronger commitment in relation to the purpose of the group and seem to make progress in that direction. Often there is a prolonged overlap between the first two stages as new "work /tasks" emerge and the group may regress to the previous stage (storming stage).

 

  Performing

  The team reaches this stage after some hard work which has led towards the achievement of the group’s purpose. The structure and process that have been "installed" by the leader help in this direction. At this stage membership seems to be easy, and members who participate or not participate will not disrupt the performance.

 

  Adjourning

  Many groups gradually arrive at this stage. For example, task forces are only established for a limited period of time. Even long-standing teams may be disbanded due to restructuring in an organization. The members of a team who liked the routine or had developed relationships with other members might find difficulties at this stage, especially if their future appears uncertain.

 

   Development phases of a Large Group

  Very little has been written about the development phases of a large group, its purpose and the dynamics that emerge in it. In an attempt to "follow up" and capture in writing what I experienced I will point out the following:

  The goal of any group, let alone a Large Group, is for all members to survive, develop and transform. When the differences among the participants are too large, because of the destabilization experience is too high, the participants as individuals and/or as members of the group close their boundaries in order to survive from the intense threaten they feel. But differences are necessary for the development of systems. So it is vital for a group to develop a way of interaction so that members remain open enough to take in all the information and still closed enough in order to process this information and continue to be rebuilt and transformed.

 

  

 

 

Following the literature on the development phases of a group, I have to observe the following:

 Forming: It was obvious from the outset that the participants in the Large Group were not familiar with this type of interaction. Everything seemed to be ambiguous to participants (the purpose of the Large Group, the leaders’ role, their role in there, etc.) and this ambiguity was expressed all the time. As I walked into the first session of the Large Group a little late, I found the participants presenting themselves by stating their name, professional status and working context. This was followed by silence. Feelings of awkwardness and anxiety prevailed,as the group leaders had said little about the objectives, the roles and the procedures of the Large Group. Then a heated discussion began around the venue of the Large Group —the amphitheater of the Medical School of the University of Athens— with talk about old roles and college life, since many of us had beenmedical studentsin the past; in the meantime, there were those whowanted explanations, expressed in comprehension, etc.

  The initial guidance given by the head of the Large Group, “You can say what you want", did not help at all. Internal censorship and censorship by the group, unintended and non-admitted, obstructed our communication and dialogue; and then there was intense stress caused by the presence of the Other in an unconscious, repressed, unknown and unfamiliar way. Otherness in everyday life, when not rejected, is dealt with through denial or the hasty appropriation of the other, or is treated with the jointly constructed self-illusion that "we know each other" or that "we have been met”. Each member, in order to become familiar to the Other, becomes “another” against itself andvice versa. This caused a great anguish of annihilation to participants in the Large Group.

Storming: At this stage,competition prevails. Everything is under negotiation—alliances, divisions, conflicts, … The Large Group became a chaotic place, very threatening and confrontational, almost a nightmare for anyone unable to contain and explore this kind of experience. We were angry with the trainers in charge of the program who "can do educational programs amidst a crisis" with one of the leaders of the Large Group whom "we did not like", with the organizational changes  that "nobody cares" for, with the words of others—”Idon’t understand what you meant”,etc. Everyone was trying to make his presence felt and balance his cognitive map. There were also many members who never spoke, and some who did not show up again until the end of all Large Group sessions. This phase lasted a long time, and we fell in tune with the general atmosphere of confusion around us (strikes, sit-ins, political rallies, etc.). There was a sense of uncertainty, rivalry and anger. And the way we dealt with it was to seek refuge in gossip (“the news is that the programhas failed and is going to stop" or“the leaders of the program have fought each other”, etc.). The members sought to leave the "here and now" in every way, as the uncertainty was unbearable.

 Norming: I feltthat the participants gradually understood their roles, that the group as a whole felt they had goals and looked forward to them, procedures consolidated, etc. I thought that somehow the group kept readjusting itself with each meeting as well as overall, although it often regressed in the face of new data, new processes. I remember a member who had kept asking “What are we doing here, in the Large Group?”, “Will it be helpful in our work or not?” etc., saying at a moment of insight "I realize now that one goal here is to see how I comport myself in a Large Group". This resonated inme, put me in the “heart” of the Large Group and reminded me of what De Mare calls the «socializing process of impersonal friendship» (Agazarian, 2013).

 

  Performing:Implementation of group goals or Regression(Bion’s basic assumptions: dependency-fight/flight-pairing)

  I do not knowhow far we went into this stage. I do not think the group managed to evolve into a performing group. There were of course some glimpses in this direction.  The venue did not facilitatethe process due to its structure (it was a universityauditorium), nor did the long intervals between sessions. It was obvious that while some members of the group, despite all that, could take part in the process and stay connected tothe "here and now", for others was very difficult.  At the end of Large Group sessions, another member strongly disputed the usefulness of epistemology in psychoanalysis, wondering if "analysts are better people? “Their life is better than that of other people?” Ιheard this as Bion’s basic assumption of “Fight –Flight”, and perhaps we could have worked on it if the this group had lasted longer.

 

In conclusion

  Overall, as I reflect upon this experience, I think of various psychotherapeutic concepts as they have developed in various epistemological areas. The participants in the Large Group often expressed their certainty about their interpretations. I am thinking of Agazarian’s ideas about therapist’s interpretations. She says that "bad" (premature, soft, unsubstantiated, etc.) interpretations interrupt the process by dissociatingpeoplefrom the "here and now". She insists that interpretation is merely the expression of one's opinion about the other’s saying and that if, as the therapist makes an interpretation, the other looks at him/her like “a surprised baby”, then the therapist has done a meaningful interpretation. Otherwise the therapist simply expresses his/her opinion and there is always the risk of the other person following this opinion and not assuming his own responsibility in the "here and now" and in the present interaction (Agazarian & Byram, 2009).

   I alsoreflected upon discourse as a structure, and upon speech as a process. De Mare emphasizes the idea that while words is what we use to structure the world, our hope is in speech because it is aboutrelations.  He argues that the challenge is to move from talk to speech and from there to "socialization and citizenship”.

  Another relevant psychotherapeutic field is that of the Open Dialogue Theory (Seikkula et. al., 2006), which poses the following reflection: "How to help a person with the specialist’s vocabulary and not with his”. You are an expert as long as the other accepts you as such. What if the other tells you “I don’t want you as an expert”. Does he have the right to do so? Is psychotherapy something which grows only between and not from one to another, only within an authoritarian relationship, under the species of a “politically correct” epistemological hierarchy”?

   Of course, I observed myself being affected and influencedwithin the process of the Large Group: Fromtheother as alien, different and threatening to the here and now with the other, for all its differences.Many of myinitial questions were answered, as they took shape from meeting to meeting and as the process entered in the "space between" participants and/or between participants and leaders.  From the perspective of a “bad leader” we moved to the perspective of full recognition and acceptance of him in the “here and now”. May be it was an attempt of us not to leave the Large Group or, perhaps, it was an idealization so as to deal with difficult feelings. Also, it could be a condition of acceptance of our differences. 

 

 Finally, above and beyond all these, my big gain was the experience of all these tribulations, feelings and behaviors and the corresponding questions as part of a continuous process that is still with me.

 

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