“Each individual – itself an artificial though plausible abstraction – is basically and centrally determined, inevitably, by the world in which he lives, by the community, the group, of which he forms a part.” Foulkes, S.H. (1948, p 10, Introduction to Group Analytic Psychotherapy, Karnac)
The above quote is from Sigmund Foulkes who was the founder of Group Analysis, a widely disseminated group psychotherapy approach used in this country and internationally. It might seem an extreme position to suggest that the individual is not real, but an ‘abstraction’. So, what does this mean?
Partly, it means we are all part of a complex network of human relationships. Our identities are formed in and through these relationships. Even when we are alone, we are relating to others in our minds.
More radically, it means that our context (i.e. culture, society, networks, relationships) creates us. This process involves our earliest experiences of our social world which we internalise unconsciously from birth through our key relationships and groups. This continues throughout our lives as we are always relating in and to our networks, existing as they are, outside and inside us.
So, the groups that you will have lived in, and continue to live in, will be inseparable to who you are.
On a broad level your ‘group’ will include your community, your country, your ethnic and cultural group – past and present. But on a more personal level your groups include: your original family (including wider family and past generations); current family relationships; friendships – child and adult, past and present; past and current romantic and sexual relationships; other relationships and networks in schools, colleges, communities, neighbourhoods, clubs, societies; workplace; support or therapy groups. The list could go on.
Everyone you relate to in your groups are connected to and shaped by their own networks and bring those into that relationship. Thinking about ourselves as a nodal* point in these complex networks it’s possible to see just how connected we all are and that the idea that we can possibly be understood as an individual alone is, as Foulkes also said, like thinking about ‘a fish out of water’ (ibid p 14)
Often the difficulties that bring someone into psychotherapy originate with a breakdown or disturbance within their relationship/s in their early group or groups. Group analysis is so effective because it understands the central role of groups in who we are and who we can become. When someone joins a therapy group they become part of a new network which they will also help shape and be shaped by. Group therapy reconnects people with their world of relationships and helps restore a fundamental sense of themselves and their groups.
*denoting a point in a network or diagram at which lines or pathways intersect or branch.