Introduction: 99 Unconventional Interventions

The Parameters of a Secure Group Context

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The Parameters of a Secure Group Context

My basic assumption about the nature of feelings is that emotions are like energy; they can neither be created nor destroyed. They can only be transformed. There are three possible outlets for feelings:

1. They can be put into words

2. They can be put into action

3. They can be put into the body
The task of the group leader is to foster the first alternative. The second two lead to the disruption of interpersonal process which are destructive, self-destructive or both. My clinical and personal experience show that the stabilizing effect of putting feelings into words in a secure group therapy milieu.

First and foremost, it is the ethically and clinically sound group leader’s responsibility to create a safe environment where members feel free to say everything. In my opinion, the key to providing a safe environment is the maintenance of the frame of treatment where members are known to the leader and to each other only in their role as group members. In other words, there is no outside the group contact and the blurring of boundaries between therapy and not therapy does not occur. This is necessary for two reasons. One, it protects confidentiality. Second, it ensures the highest level of emotional intensity of group interactions. Outside contact tends to dilute the group’s power.

There are other components of a safe treatment environment as well. One is that there is no touching. If members can touch they can also hit. But verbal hugs are always allowed. Another element is, there is to be no name calling or character assassinations. These are always an abusive way of controlling an interaction by defining the other person and thereby defining reality. “You are a… (fill in the blank) is a verbal attack; it is also a direct challenge to the leader’s authority, who has defined the contract in group as: “say how you feel to the others in the room, and why you feel that way”. The reader will see this phrase repeated throughout the book. Name calling must not occur in a safe milieu. But despite the leader’s best efforts, members can be emotionally injured. One of my greatest concerns is that a member will be hurt by their group experience. It is impossible for the leader to always protect members from harm. No leader can ever be 100% certain that all members will abide by the contract, all of the time. The following case in point occurred in a group I ran many years ago.

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