Hadar Bracha, M.A.
This paper is an outcome of a process of integrating two professional domains in which I trained, qualified and gained experience: Bioenergetic Analysis and Group Analysis.
It was very difficult to go through a process of two demanding trainings, more or less, simultaneously. For years I have asked myself why was I compelled to go through this ordeal?
Although the answer is not, yet, clear to me, I know that it had to do with my quest for the two subjects neglected by Psychoanalysis: society and the body.
It took some more years for me to begin to understand the connection between society and the body.
As the years go by, I find myself integrating the two theories and techniques in which I feel more and more proficient.
During the training of Bioenergetics, which was enriching, painful, and super interesting, I felt new horizons opening for me. At the same time, as we were trained in a group, I felt that our trainers do not have an open ear and eye for the intensity of group processes, which can be, on the one hand, contributing to growth, and on the other hand, inhibiting, or even destructive, when one is unaware of its existence and how to work with it.
What was more frustrating for me was the fact that I trained in the first group of training in the Israeli Society, and there was no larger community of Bioenergetic Analysis to turn to, when problems arose.
My training in Group Analysis was also pioneering, in a way, in Israel, and I was in the first training group. We were about 40 trainees in this program, we had 4 small groups in which we experienced the process of group psychotherapy, and also 4 supervision groups, composed differently from the small groups, and with different conductors, and at the end of the day, we had a large group in which all the members of the training and conductors participated. The large group is the space for dealing with issues of setting, ethics, unresolved conflicts within the context of the training, especially between members and conductors.
The setting of the training was similar to the Bioenergetic training in that respect of having trainers from abroad, with the intention to create our local institute, at the end of training. The large group was a perfect space for all the matters concerning this purpose. On the whole, the large group is meant to deal with issues belonging to the community.
Being in this kind of training, felt, for me, like breathing more freely, and having more space to grow up.
At the same time I missed very much the intimate environment that is created when dealing with the body, and as a result, with preverbal experiences.
Ever since I was certified in the two trainings, I have tried to enrich each domain with the ingredients of the other field.
I would like to say several sentences about group analysis and its theoretical basis.
The "father" of group analysis was S.H. Foulkes (Sigmund, Heinz), a German Jew, who was born in 1898, in Karlsruhe. He was a doctor, trained in psychiatry, and afterwards in psychoanalysis. During his postgraduate studies in medicine he spent two years with Kurt Goldstein, the head of the Frankfurt Neurological Institute.
The impact of these years on his professional thinking is reflected in his emphasis on the “Whole being earlier and more elementary than its parts”. From this perspective emerges one of the most important concepts in group analysis: The group as a whole. Another neurological influence on his theoretical formulations is the analogy of the individual person in his group to a nodal point in a network of neurons.
Foulkes was an analyst in the Frankfurt psychoanalytic Institute, where the professional atmosphere was alert to the importance of social and cultural factors in psychoanalytical practice and theory. The Institute was housed in the same building with the Sociological Research Institute of the University of Frankfurt. This created a dialogue with sociologists such as Karl Mannheim and Norbert Elias. Foulkes had close relations with Norbert Elias and was much influenced by him. He felt indebted to his contact with Elias for the insight that biological and socio-cultural factors were of equal importance for a true understanding of the human mind.
This influence is expressed in sentences like: "I believe that for historical, economical, cultural reasons, it appears to us that the individual is in himself a basic unit, biologically and otherwise, and we behave as if all psychology is individual psychology…. This has been reinforced by philosophers like Decartes… this concept of an individual is so rooted in our own upbringing, that there is an enormous resistance, organized institutional resistance… against viewing the group as a primary entity…The individual is preconditioned to the core by his community even before he is born, and imprinted vitally by the group which brings him up." (Foulkes, 1957, pp. 23).
Foulkes saw the relative isolation, alienation, of the individual as a real problem of our time. He also thought of a mental sickness as a disturbance of integration within the community at its very roots, a disturbance of communication.
"Group psychotherapy only brings back the problems where they belong. The community is represented in the treatment room."(1957, pp. 27)
Foulkes thought that belonging and participating in a group, being a respected and effective member of the group, being accepted, being able to share, belongs to the basic constructive experiences in human life. No health is conceivable without this.
Participating in a therapeutic group is a sort of restoration of disturbance of the individual in his communication with his community.
Foulkes left Germany in 1933 and moved to London. As the war broke out in 1939, and patients left London, he also moved to the countryside, and practiced psychoanalysis. He had often speculated how interesting it would be if his patients, lying on the couch one after the other, could be brought together to meet, react to and interact with each other. I believe it was a similar process to what went in Reich's mind, when he became aware of the importance of the body armor in the formation of character. Yet, there is quite a difference between Foulkes and Reich. Foulkes was not a passionate and rebellious person as Reich was, he never broke his relations with Freud and Psychoanalysis. He saw group analysis as a better setting for treating people than psychoanalysis. "Though making full use of psychoanalytic knowledge, Foulkes considered from the beginning that the group situation itself must be at the centre of method and theory, and he rejected the idea of psychoanalysis in groups." (Elizabeth Foulkes). I believe that this difference in personality left its impact on the atmosphere in the two fields. I find Bioenergetic Analysis more radical, extreme, and closed in, in fear of "bad external influences" than Group Analysis is. I think that the theme of this conference is a reflection of a change and a move outwards, which encouraged me to offer this workshop.
In 1942 Foulkes was posted to the Military Neurosis Centre and Psychiatric Training
Centre at Northfield. At the beginning Foulkes treated groups of soldiers on his own ward. Later, in the years 1943-45 he was one of the main agents in transforming the whole hospital into the first 'therapeutic community', where group methods were used throughout the hospital, at all levels. The experience gathered in the years of the war in Northfield was the nucleus from which the theory and practice of group analysis was later developed by Foulkes and several colleagues. This small group was the forerunner of the group analytic society.
Ever since, group analysis theory has been "concerned with network theory, the study of how each individual is part of, and inextricably linked with, his psycho-social network, and with the intrapsychic processes operating within the mental matrix of the group." (Elizabeth Foulkes)
I introduced here the concept of matrix, which is a basic concept in group analysis. 'The matrix is the hypothetical web of communication and relationship in a given group. It is the common shared ground which ultimately determines the meaning and significance of all events and upon which all communications and interpretations, verbal and non-verbal, rest. This concept links with that of communication." (Foulkes, 1964, pp. 292)
The two key concepts in group analysis – matrix and communication, have, in my mind, correlations with bioenergetic thinking.
I think that there is a very important quality of grounding (a bioenergetic key term) in the community, society at large and culture, which can be enhanced and stabilized in a therapeutic group. Foulkes himself (1948) refers to the quality of grounding when he says: "Good Group treatment, by developing a good group, makes both processes go hand in hand: the reinforcement of the communal grounding and the freer development of the individual differences. Like a tree – the firmer it takes root the freer it can display its individual characteristic beauty above ground." (Foulkes, 1948,pp. 30)
In a recent paper (to be published) I wrote for the journal of group analysis I suggested to add to the concept of the Matrix (which Foulkes called, the group mind) also the quality of the group body, and to think in terms of surrender to the matrix of the group as a parallel process of “surrender to the body”.
Foulkes and his colleagues dedicated a long-term workshop to the concept of Group Matrix. (It was later printed in the first issue of the journal of Group Analysis, 1968) Malcolm Pines, an important figure in Group Analysis, who participated in that workshop, says the following: "The concept (of group matrix) is a construct, yet it can be seen when in action, and can be seen only in action. The matrix can move, as with a cat's cradle of rubber bands. It can be seen in action under tension when it comes to the fore and is concentrated. When tension is eased, it is diluted and diffused. At times it can even be destroyed, as when too much tension breaks the bands of the cat's cradle." When I read it, I thought that Pines was talking, actually, about pulsation, about expansion and contraction of the energy of the group during the session.
Let's listen to what Foulkes says about communication: "The process of communication has impressed me more and more as basic for the understanding of group dynamics. Communication here obviously includes unconscious communications… like gestures and smells, and is not confined, merely, to such distinctions as 'verbal' and 'non-verbal' communications.( Foulkes, 1964,pp. 80)
The process of increasing the range of communication goes in two directions, both upwards and downwards. There is an increased understanding on the part of the group and its individual members for the more primitive, symbolic, unconscious meaning of communication. On the other hand, there is a process of translating the inarticulate and autistic expression by the symptom to the recognition of underlying conflict and problems which can be conveyed, shared and discussed in everyday language.
I see the task of the group conductor similar to that of the bioenergetic analyst – to work on the blocks which interfere with the free flow of communication in the group. In that respect we can speak of different levels of energy of the group. The more the blocks operate in the group, the more the atmosphere is either dull or false or low key, while a good group is a group in which the communication is vivid, every member participates, and there is a sense of free flow of energy.
Let me give you an example: I had a male patient, age 36-7 who was in bioenergetic therapy with me for about 6 years. His sexuality was quite blocked, and we succeeded to do some progress as we worked with the body. He, indeed, became more aware of his sexual needs, but in his marriage had not achieved cooperation from his wife to his needs. There came a time when he decided to quit therapy. Since he grew up in a kibutz, and I was aware of how he was blocked in this kind of community, I thought that he might gain from group therapy, and suggested to him to join my analytic group. He accepted the offer with no hesitation. In the first months, he was quite lifeless (as other group members described him), but gradually, he became more and more alive. This has happened after he told the group about the poor sexual relations he has with his wife, and his wish to leave her, while at the same time he cannot do it. From time to time he said how this disclosure made him feel real, because it was the only place where people knew the truth about his life.
There was a sessions in which he was especially vivid, full of life, contributing to other people, and commenting important insights about what was going on in the group. In that particular session he was the star of the group, although he was not the center of the issues discussed. At the end of the session, another woman (who is about his mother's age, but very different from her) asked him: "How is your sexual life, lately?" with a smile he answered: much better. All the other members were smiling with joy, because it was clear to everybody that being much more alive in the group must indicate a change in his sexual life.
Talking about sexuality, be it the centre of Bioenergetics, I want to say something about how group analysis deals with sexuality.
Until recently, there was a poor discussion of sexuality in the group analytic literature. The reason is multiple and has historical and dynamic reasons into which I won't go now. In 2006, a new book by Morris Nitsun, a well known group analyst, was published: "The Group as an Object of Desire: Exploring Sexuality in Group Psychotherapy."
This book is a pioneering project in group analysis, and when I read it I could think that he had had bioenergetic training some where in his past. (since I know him personally I know that he had no background in Bioenergetics). His important contribution, also to our field is in his understanding of sexuality both on the most intimate, private level, and at the same time, on the social and cultural level.
That is why, according to him, the group is the ultimate therapeutic space for dealing with sexual issues, because the group, being a representative of the wider society, can help the individual to bridge between his private true self (with sexual identity at the core of it) and his social, professional, usually, false, self.
In Nitsun's words: "Sexuality is at the interface of individual and social models of human behavior, highlighting the existence of the social in the individual and the individual in the social, and indicating the potential for a more clearly articulated sexual discourse in group psychotherapy. Desire in its passionate subjectivity and culture in its profound sweep both belong here, as contrasting but interlocking elements of the same totality." ( Nitsun, 2006,pp. 282)
The gap between the individual level of experience and the way society impinges upon it makes sexuality prone to shame as an inevitable part of it.
I would like, now, to give you an example of how I worked with a group, in a 3 days workshop of group psychotherapy, in an integrated approach which led to opening up deep levels of shame.
I will present a group of 12 participants, 6 men and 6 women, all of them group conductors, with whom I worked in a 3 days conference of group Psychotherapy.
Almost all the participants chose my group because of my interest in body-mind integration, and from the start there was a push-pull towards working with the body (exercises).
In the first session there was a high charge of sexual energy in the room, with much laughter, enthusiasm, and self projection (mostly in professional terms.) Yet, very deep feelings were expressed already from the start. Isack told the group that he was hoping to attain in this group a healing experience of a traumatic rejection from the Israeli Institute of Group Analysis, because in the beginning of the introductory course he had told the group a dream about incest (this was his understanding of the rejection).
Dafna, who is now divorced after being married for 30 years, talked about her fear to trust and to start a relationship with another man. I saw her difficulty in the group to take part in the "sexual game" of choosing and being chosen. I was also aware of the false ability of all the others to handle sexuality. There was a strong charge in the room, mainly because of the equal number of both genders, but it was expressed mainly in intellectual terms. This was obvious, especially, in one man, Gilad, who could not contain any emotional or sexual charge in his body, and he burst constantly into the group, challenging me with the difficulty of handling him within the group. Another man told him that he was spreading fire-works all over the room. I used it as a metaphor for an overcharge in the head. It was part of my working on the split between body and mind, expressed in sentences like: "Let's stop talking and turn to body work". I was looking for the right moment to bring also the body to the stage. My intention was to help the group with the over-charge of energy in the head, by diverting their attention to the legs and feet. When the right moment came, I asked the participants whether they are willing to take off their shoes and socks (some of them did not take off the socks) and put both their feet on the floor, close their eyes for a short moment and listen to their body sensations and breathing. When I asked them to open their eyes I suggested to look on 13 (including mine) variations of human feet.
We finished this short experiment by standing up, and looking around, which means – exposing and observing the whole body. After sitting down people were talking about different experiences of eye contact, fear of eye contact, and refrain from looking underneath the face level. The energy in the room was more contained, less hysterical.
In the morning of the second day Gilad told the group about a horrible headache that he had had in the night, something he suffers from very often (no wonder, because of the intense charge in his head).The group went on to a clear fight around a place in the group. Only one woman challenged me and said that I was too dominant.
The fight was mainly among the men, and was very intellectual.
Amos, the eldest among the men, shared with the group a dilemma he had at that time. He had been in a good relationship with a woman for 11 years, but desire had long ago faded away, and now he was having a relationship with a new woman, 20 years younger, which brought back desire to his life. In the previous day, when I looked at Amos's character I saw his held- back body, depleted of energy, with low voice, sad eyes, a body which radiates deep tiredness. This giving up of desire was a subject I began to reflect to the group yesterday, by talking with Amos.
Sara said to the group: "I am jealous of Gilad who draws all the attention of the group to himself. I want too, but I feel now that my heart is beating strongly (she mentioned it also yesterday). The group ignored her, and another man, Pini, went on with the competition with Gilad. I reflected to the group how the competition is expressed only in cognitive terms, and the voice of the heart is not heard.
The next session started with another woman, Ayala, who continued with the subject of how to survive in long term relationships and how to deal with desire to partners outside this relationships. As a matter of fact she talked about the marriage of her parents. I reflected that until now, they avoided talking about their parents, and reminded them how they did not join the only woman who "dared" to confront me. I also mentioned a slip-of-the-tongue of Gilad who turned to me, several times, not in my name but in the name of a woman he was attracted to.
I suggested thinking about a connection between Oedipal relations with their parents and the disappearance of desire from their marriages.(This subject was in the group from the beginning, with Isack's dream of incest).
My interventions enabled people to bring their relations with parents to the group, and how it affected their developing identities. The atmosphere in the room changed to more emotional, and at the end of the morning session there was a hug between two men, and one of them said "Now my heart is beating." This was a sign for me that the energy of the group was, then, more in the body level, and the time is right for a bioenergetic body exercise session.
I opened the afternoon session with exercises to open up blocks along the body.
This process opened a deep experience of rejection for Lily, who talked about her mother who had told her: "I see evil in your eyes". After working with her theme, several people accused me with pushing away the desire from the room by introducing the parents.
Gal, the youngest man in the group, who found it difficult to compete with the others, talked about feeling non-existing for others, not being observed. Gal was sitting with his two feet on the chair, and I asked him if he could put them on the floor. He said he could not because they were trembling. I told the group that in this afternoon session, shame entered the room, through Lily and Gal. Gal seemed stunned, but also touched and seen.
In the third day, in the morning, experiences of childhood entered the room.
Other stories of rejection and shame joined the matrix.
In the last session I planed to work on separation and closure, as I always do in short term groups in conferences. It was interesting to note, again, that after the subject of shame was brought to the surface, people were reluctant to leave it, and actually "waiting in line" to talk about their private shame experiences, until almost the last moment of the session. In the last moment, when we were about to finish, Gal said he wanted to say something he had never before said to anybody – he was over 30, and he had neverhad any relationship with a woman. (I hope he took it to another therapeutic group to work on this important issue).
Group Analysis and Bioenergetic Analysis have more in common and can contribute to each other more than is realized in both fields.
Foulkes shares the holistic view of the human individual. His known phrase: "Group analytic method and theory do away with pseudo problems such as biological versus cultural, somatogenic versus psychogenic, individual versus group…" (1957,pp. 27) is a good indication of this idea.
My point of view is that being in a group with other people who sit in a circle and look at each other challenges the character in a similar way that bioenergetic work does. The individual person will immediately react with his automatic survival mechanisms that were constructed in his early exchanges with his environment.
A good therapeutic group process will open up the blocks in the character not less than a good bioenergetic therapy, more so, when the body is not left out of the process.
Foulkes, S.H. (1948) Introduction to Group-Analytic Psychotherapy. London: Maresfield Reprints
Foulkes, S.H and Antony E.J (1957) Group sychotherapy: The Psychoanalytic Approach.
Foulkes, S.H. (1964) Therapeutic Group Analysis. London: Maresfield Reprints.
Foulkes,S.H. (1968) The Concept of Group Matrix. In Group Analysis, 1, pp. 31-36
Foulkes, Elizabeth.(1990) S.H.Foulkes – A Brief Memoir. In Selected Papers of S. H. Foulkes, Psychoanalysis and Group Analysis, 1990, pp.3-21
Nitsun, M. (2006). The Group as an Object of Desire: Exploring Sexuality in Group Psychotherapy. London and New York: Routledge