Aporias of group analysis

• Just as "therapy" and "counselling" is ascribed a pre-given importance within the modern, "therapeutic culture of the self" (Rose, 1990), so too, group analysis as confessional-supportive arena, assumes that talking openly about oneself is inherently good. It partakes of, whilst adding a particular dialect to, relatively recent, historically speaking, psychological language. Clearly there is a self-familiarizing effect of such language and, as with all therapies, a potentially "seductive territory of truth" (Rose & Miller, 1992, p. 188). What then about those who do not find this so, those for whom words do not come easily, or those for whom words between people does not increase trust?

• In its communicative optimism, group analysis assumes that mirroring and free exchange ultimately help, even though there are many who find it hard to learn in this way and for whom the mirror of group, so to speak, fails; they cannot recognise themselves in its operation or discover points of alleged commonality.

• Group analysis lays claims to the value of "acceptance", but there are many for whom groups alienate or even reject.

• Based as it is on free, group association, what about those unconvinced by the seemingly uncontrolled, lateral unfolding of communication, those for whom what we might see as a "surplus of narrative" sounds like a babble or baffling noise?

• The principle of pluralism appears consonant with the ethic of group analysis, in so far as both are based on the need for, and practice of, active dialogue, authentic exchange, and co-existence. What then when there is a serious conflict of competing values or the appearance of values that threaten our own, cherished ones? Group analysis and VBP are confident of their standing when it comes to "positive differences", but might struggle in relation to values that are contrary to what we identify with. What are the limits to our tolerance and supposed liberality in such circumstances?

• Better self-governance and autonomy seem inherently good values, in a liberal-value world, but there will always be some who lean towards conservative positions and who desire the role of structured authority in their lives. The liberal social imaginary might "oblige us to be free", but not all are ready, willing, or able to assume the complex responsibility and associated anxiety that accompanies this, or, certainly, not in all contexts of life. Equally, ideals related to living committed, fulfilled, and generative lives have a liberal appeal, but are often at considerable odds with the preferences and possibilities of many.


The modern world seems to demand and cultivate more variegated reflexivity than was the case for previous generations; we experience "greater indeterminacy" with its corresponding freedom "to decide our movements and identity" (Laclau, 1990, p. 68). Group analysis is quite different from many popular, lifestyle psychological approaches but is but one amongst a whole field of competing professional therapies and reflexive approaches, and one based on its own ethic of communication and corresponding assumptions about "what helps". It, too, cultivates, either as aim, or side-product, particular values of living.

Group analysis has been explored in terms of how it enables, in small steps, the extension of "democracy" into subjectivity and the heartlands of self-governance. In the final section, however, some of these claims were turned in on themselves. It was argued that group analysis has also to be seen as part of the very "techniques", as it were, of modern self- and grouphood. In this regard, it is not neutral, but immersed in all those forms of modern "power-knowledge" that are integral to how we regard the "good life".

Group analysis cannot be considered separately from "community" and social matrix; it has been argued, through four examples, that group analysis offers space within which modern dilemmas can be worked upon, by helping people with the different pressures they face. This is by no means easy, as new forms of anxiety replace older forms. Whilst group analysis has no therapeutic monopoly in a post-monopoly world, it can assist people with some of the navigation of complexity that is required. If Erikson (1950) was right that "the patient of today suffers most under the problem of what he should believe in and who he should—or, indeed, might—be or become" (p. 242), then group analysis offers a resource within which individuals can acquire a more substantial view of themselves. With longer lives, proliferating "identities", and more role possibilities, it seems clear that there are more borders, thresholds, and crossroads to negotiate than ever before.

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