Group Work

Facilitating group work with people who use services is seen as a legitimate mainstream role of a clinical psychologist. Such group work can obviously perpetuate problems, such as individualising people’s problems or imposing a limiting and repressive form of knowledge onto the people attending (see Terkelsen, 2009). However, groups also have the potential for oppressed individuals to share experiences, to hear alternative critical accounts of their experiences and to come together to create a sense of solidarity, which has the potential to lead to collective action. Although there are risks to psychologists initiating and supporting such groups, there are positive examples of psychologists encouraging people with experiences of using services to be more vocal and active within and beyond mental health services (Diamond, 1998; Diamond, Parkin, Morris, Bettinis, & Bettesworth, 2003; Houghton, Shaw, Hayward, & West, 2006).

The work of clinical psychologist Guy Holmes (2010) summarised in “Psychology in the Real World: Community-based groupwork” is a good example of using groups in a critical manner, where the boundaries of professionalism are broken down and radical content helps shape the group. Courses such as the one on “toxic mental environments” were specifically designed to support those attending not only to collectively analyse the people and environments they inhabit but to also encourage them to alter aspects of the environment they felt were unhealthy. Other groups directly challenged accepted expert accounts of human distress and help, such as ill?ness and medication, including the Nottingham Mind Medication Group (2013) and Leicester Living with Psychiatric Medication Group (2013). Each group opened up space for a range of views on psychiatric drugs, as well as the opportunity for group members to support each other in their interactions with services, to contest dominant practices imposed upon them, and social action in the form of a drug mug amnesty and redecoration to highlight the influence of drug companies on services. Each group had a thread that endorsed lived experience as an important form of knowledge, which could be usefully combined with a modest and questioning approach to professional knowledge.

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