Introduction: 99 Unconventional Interventions

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Introduction: 99 Unconventional Interventions

We begin this journey with two separate but related quotes. The great 20th century philosopher, Bruce Springsteen, said it best:” Ain’t no difference what nobody says, ain’t nobody like to be alone”. I never believe anyone that says they don’t want or need anyone else in their lives.

Dr. Louis Ormont, founder of the modern school of group psychotherapy said: “Those who are successful in group are successful in life”. Members usually come to group therapy because they are dissatisfied with their relationships, personal, professional or both. Under the best circumstances, they are looking for help since they have realized that they can’t do it on their own.

Human beings are social animals. We are one of the most dependent of species. From the moment of birth until death do us part, we need each other. At the same time, as Erik Erikson has noted, in order to function as an effective adult, there is a phase of life when we need to spend time on our own-- living alone, learning how to take care of ourselves, emotionally, financially and physically as a prelude to living in tandem with a significant other.

However, at the end of the day, our three bedrock needs for emotional survival:

1.To be loved

2. To be accepted and

3.To be understood can only be met in the context of our relationships.

Never mind the nonsense the tech industry tells us; computers and robots will never replace our need for TLC from other sensate beings. This is both the good news and the bad news.

The famous psychologist, Harry Stack Sullivan, said that relationships can harm us but they also heal us. Indeed, there are very few people in this world that have grown up without any unresolved issues of emotional intimacy from childhood. Despite the fact that most people want to have fulfilling and mutually satisfying relationships, people unconsciously undermine themselves and their significant others in these very same relationships. In part, this is due to our underlying anxiety about the thing we seek.

Ormont (1974) has identified four basic fears that interfere with the establishment of healthy interpersonal relationships:

1. The fear of engulfment, such as the group isolate who doesn’t not participate in group interactions for fear lest he be contaminated by the emotions of others.

2. The fear of vulnerability, such as the young man in group who speaks very little about the emotionally intimate details of his life for fear that the others will find him wanting and unworthy of their love and attention.

3. The fear of loss of impulse control, such as the repressed woman in group who fears that even talking about sex will propel her into action.

4. The fear of abandonment, such as the man who keeps himself aloof in group because he knows that to have someone is to lose someone.

Group therapy can help to resolve these fears.

When a prospective new patient calls for a consultation it’s usually because they are in emotional pain; they may be feeling anxiety, depression or a combination of the two. These people want relief from their suffering and they want individual attention for it. Most are not looking for group therapy; in fact, they may be averse to the idea. They can’t see how group would be helpful to them. This is often because they assume that group therapy is like their first group experience, the family of their childhood, and who wants to repeat that?

Meeting a prospective new patient, at the screening interview, the first question that I ask is, “How can I help you?” If any part of the answer has to do with relationship issues, during that interview I inform them that,” Group therapy can help with that.” My reply is more than a manipulative sales pitch. I genuinely believe that the path to happiness in the life is through relationships.

One function of group, among several, is that it holds up a mirror to members that don’t see how they come across in relationships. Many people have no idea how others see them; they are often at a loss to understand why people leave them and they are alone; this is despite their conscious desire for emotionally intimate relationships.

But there’s more to the healing power of group than to the confrontations that can occur when holding up a mirror to members’ behavior and more to the healing power of group than to the effectiveness of leaders’ interventions. As Gans notes: “Who knows what really heals? I would add to the list: vicarious empowerment, re-owning projections, having one’s suffering witnessed and validated; the provision of a holding environment and the basic kindness of others” (Gans, 2016, p.159). This last healing power is most striking to me and I’ll have more to say about it later. For the moment, let’s look at the case of the person that doesn’t see how they come across.

For example, at one screening interview, a middle-aged fellow bitterly complained about his failed marriages. He catalogued the faults and weaknesses of both his wives. In his view, he had made mistakes in his choices. It never occurred to him that perhaps his expectations of women were unrealistic. He saw himself as a victim of these impossible women, in his words--“controlling and bossy bitches”. To my mind, he was unaware of his part in the failed marriages. There was a pattern to why he chose them. He blamed his first divorce on his wife because he gave her too much responsibility to run his business. He blamed the second divorce on his wife’s wanting him to spend too much time at home with her and their daughter. His ‘mistakes’ were choices he made unconsciously on purpose.

Mr. X was repeating an interpersonal dynamic that began in his childhood. His Freudian slips gave him away. My hypothesis seemed to be confirmed when each time he referred to one of his wives, he initially referred to each one, in turn, as his mother. Since I didn’t know him at all, I bit my tongue and didn’t say what I was thinking,” You married your mother--twice”. What I did say, after listening to the ‘spin’ of his life, was, “You know, both of your wives have at least one thing in common.” He asked, “What’s that?” My reply was, “You!” He didn’t get it.

Since none of his marriages were arranged, nor shot gun, he had a choice in which he picked. I suspected he needed women but didn’t particularly respect women. He didn’t agree. In his mind, it was all them. But no one is more than 50% responsible for a failed relationship. This fellow was a prime candidate for group because he didn’t see how he came across in relationships. However, he was much too defensive to look at his own character flaws and take the time, money and commitment to understand the emotions that underlie his decisions. If he would have allowed it, group could have helped him with that. Rather, when I said,” Group can help with your relationship problems”, he responded, “I’m not interested in group therapy.” I asked, “Why not?” He said:” Because I’m not interested in other people’s problems.” I said, “That’s precisely the problem!”

I will take my pitch for group therapy a step further and make a controversial claim: -- a patient’s therapy experience is not complete until they have spent some time in group treatment. A well-mixed, secure frame group can greatly help to resolve emotional intimacy issues. However, as I noted earlier, more often than not, the interviewee initially resists the idea. They might say, “Why would I need group psychotherapy? Aren’t good friends and family enough?” I respond: “Good questions. There are at least two reasons why friends and family cannot replace group therapy.” Good friends and family complement group therapy they don’t replace it. For one thing, good friends and relatives aren’t usually objective. They have their own biases and opinions about what is best for us. Group members in a secure group environment, are in a better position to see our needs and foibles more clearly.

Second, and to my mind more importantly, social relationships are not designed to absorb the full impact of a life partner’s feelings. There are some powerful ‘dark’ feelings that are better left unsaid in close, intense personal relationships. They are better said the safe context of a secure group. To share every thought and feeling with a loved one can be hurtful and damaging to the relationship, in group therapy it’s different. At the same time, our closest friends and relatives are there to provide TLC when we need it while group members are there for us only weekly at a specific time and place. The restrictions prohibiting outside contact and physical contact in the group plus the contract ensure that there will be no real-life consequences to group interactions and that group is a safe place where members’ words can’t come back to haunt them in their personal nor professional relationships. The following section explains what I mean by this.

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