Or, What Has Group Therapy Ever Done For Us?
In Monty Python’s Life of Bryan there is a scene where the rebel leader asks, “What have the Romans ever done for us?”
The expected answer is, “Nothing!” inspiring and justifying the ensuing acts of violence. Instead, after several responses, the leader is forced to specify:
All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
So we may ask,
Apart from vitality and belonging, catharsis, support, constructive criticism, better relationships, better boundary-setting and increased emotional range, what has Group Therapy ever done for us?
Today’s answer is the title of this post: making the intra-psychic interpersonal.
What does that mean?
We all have worlds inside our minds that we are only dimly aware of. Our psyche comprises shadow parts that we don’t want to acknowledge–parts of our personalities that we abhor and condemn in others. We carry our family of origin inside us, parental complexes and deeply ingrained dynamics about being in a group. We have our cultural, social, and biological ideas about gender and gender roles. We have our connection to all of humanity and ultimately all of life in the Collective Unconscious. In any given moment, we are host to primitive fantasies, urges and impulses that flicker at the edge of awareness, emanating from any of these worlds.
This is the intra-psychic. To make it interpersonal, we invite members in group therapy to project these contents onto other members. They’re probably already doing this, as we project our inner worlds onto others constantly. But we invite them to do so more consciously, to actively explore how members of groups are representing voices and attitudes that they’re barely aware of.
“Who in the group is most similar in this moment to the rage you feel toward the co-worker you got into an argument with?”
“Who in the group is most similar in this moment to that vicious inner critic?”
“How is the group in this moment reminding you of your anxiety?”
And so on.
Why is this useful?
When contents remain intrapsychic, they are more amorphous and ephemeral, much harder to actually look at and address. They more easily overwhelm us, prompting feelings of alienation and shame. Making the quirks and constrictions of our inner landscape manifest in group space allows us to observe them more clearly. With the help of the group we can see and confront the demons that plague us. We’re no longer alone in carrying the psychic burden of these archaic patterns and urges. We’re also less isolated, more known to the group. We become stronger, more capable of tolerating that particular awful truth about ourselves that we’d previously wanted to deny.
This is what growth is all about. It is also one of the many gifts of Group Therapy.