The horizontal in group analysis

The psychoanalytic process might be called a vertical analysis. It goes from surface to depth, from present to past, thinking in terms of hierarchical layers and levels inside the patient's mind. By contrast, group-analysis might be termed a horizontal analysis ... (Foulkes & Anthony, 1957, p. 42)

Foulkes used the notion of horizontal perspective to characterise group analysis, involving analysis of individuals as constituted by the matrix, that is, within a network of relations and cultural inheritance, contrasted with the psychoanalytic perspective, which operated on an archaeological or vertical plane (see Chapter One). Foulkes sought to bring the planes together—the horizontal and vertical—and in so doing displaced any absolute division between the interpersonal and the intrapsychic. He believed that it is through progressive expansion of communication that the different experiential worlds of patients within a group are clarified. If horizon is landscape, then horizontal understanding involves a kind of survey; we might call this a wide, "horizontal seeing", to adopt Barthold's (2010) suggestive phrase. True to Foulkes' therapeutic pragmatism, horizontal seeing is not a God's eye view or a commanding viewpoint, but is forever located within particular moments of seeing, acts of intervention, located within the context of ongoing clinical dialogue. Hence, whilst theory allows a necessary degree of separation and distance, our acts and expressions of understanding do not arise sui generis, because we operate within the context of pre-involvements and the horizons of specific traditions of training, convention, and so on; "The conductor, like the author, does not occupy an Archimedean point outside of the group from which to make pronouncements" (Zinkin, 1996, p. 351).

Several group analytic concepts seem compatible with the idea of horizon. Foulkes (1975a) deployed the image of the "figure and ground" relationship from Gestalt psychology. This visual, spatial metaphor illustrates how a certain position or practice acts as "ground"—a silent, background horizon—within which particular objects are experienced, but that if the former comes into direct awareness, then this becomes "figure". Group analysis, with its emphasis on a plurality of perspectives, can be conceptualised in terms of an ever-changing figure-ground constellation; Foulkes referred to "configurational analysis". The idea of horizon both describes the kind of enclosure that each group member brings with him into the group, but, as group, it also describes the resultant totality of enclosures, though these are not necessarily homogenous. Groups might start with narrow, fearful horizons; groups with "no horizon", in colloquial terms, do not see far enough and cannot accommodate change. Thus, we justly worry when the horizons in any given group are narrow, repetitious, and when there is a lack of fluidity between figure and ground. On the other hand, "to have a horizon" means, in Gadamer's (1995) words: "... not being limited to what is nearby but being able to see beyond it" (p. 302). To continue Gadamer's point, ideally, then, "A horizon is not a rigid boundary but something that moves with one and invites one to advance further" (1995, p. 245) and in this respect groups are a rich presence of contrasting and competing perspectives, perspectives which broaden through successive communicative activity, layer upon layer.

We can, I suggest, align Foulkes' emphasis on group powers of communication, free exchange, and resonance with Gadamer's concepts of conversation, dialogue, and dialectic.[1] Gadamer's vision of conversation, influenced as it is by Socratean/Platonic values, holds that understanding between people is dependent on a dialectics of dialogue and the fusion of horizons; each of these steps is unpredictable, given that we "fall" into conversations that lead us to new places, and given the relatively "I-less" quality of language. Gadamer observes, "something comes into being that had not existed before and that exists from now on . Something emerges that is contained in neither of the partners alone" (Gadamer, 1991, p. 462). In other words, we need others to see what we cannot see, as the possibility of new horizons emerges through dialogue, in a dialectic accompanied by inherent separations, mis- and non-understandings. A fusion of horizons is not a superficial agreement.

A related feature of Gadamer's model is the importance of the engaged trust and play (Spiel, play, originally meant dance in German) which carry participants along. Unfortunately, although Foulkes used rich metaphors, such as resonance, he did not clearly emphasise the type of serious play which occurs in analytic groups, which may account for the descriptive flatness in the clinical material which he cites; on the other hand, how therapists write and how they conduct groups are different matters. The play which Gadamer tried to capture, is the sheer buoyancy of dialogue, both patterned and unpredictable, the infinite play of background and foreground, one horizon and another and another, and the interplay of the strange and the familiar; in his words, the "true locus of hermeneutics is this in-between" (1995, p. 295).

  • [1] Several group analysts (Pines, 1996a; Zinkin, 1996) have developed the concept of dialogue and it is to Bakhtin that they have referred, rather than Gadamer. Bakhtin postulated a "surplus of seeing", in which each person occupies a unique perspective. In Chapter Eight I develop the complementary idea of groups as "surplus of narrative". Brown (1986) makes the point that neither the word "dialogue" nor "conversation" appear in Foulkes' writings.

    Thornton's (2004) illuminating paper opens up the potential in Foulkes' poorly elaborated idea of "exchange". She writes: "The individual in the group takes in from the others in the group (including the conductor) different ways of being, seeing and acting which broaden the range available to her/him in the real world. Not that we always see this happening; it is partly or wholly unconscious. In the complex and fluid dynamic of group interactions, it can be hard at times to know what belongs to whom ..." (p. 310). This, and her related imagery of "borrowing my self", bears resemblance to my use of Gadamer's philosophy.

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