Review of Torino workshop of April, 20 1996 on:


by Marco Longo

It has been a pleasant and rich one day conference, where confrontation between professionals of this area - at last leaving behind personal itineraries' different meanders within different schools - strove, once in a while, more to a fertile encounter than to a sterile clash between models.
On the other hand, as "groupists" we know it well: stiff arrays and the use of too different languages - a sort of institutionalised and armed dialects, even if they are Bion's or Foulkes' ones - can't do but divide, only the search for a common language can foster a serene flourishing of an active confrontation on contents, rather than on points of view and models.
And it is in this "group spirit" that we asked ourselves: does a clearly recognisable Italian direction exist about group psychoanalysis? How does it fit in European direction? And in world-wide debate?
Some of the contents, summed up in a masterly manner by Gian Marco Pauletta d'Anna (congress organiser) seem to be by now - beyond the different terminology used to define them - points at which Italian researchers clearly converge:

- group as a common, overpersonal field, with a group thinking easily recognisable if the analyst uses a specific holistic "mental attitude", without loosing sight of individual members, but underlining group-as-a-whole interactions and themes.

- relation itself between "relationship" and "groupness", allowing us to state that group is the result of relationship between individuals, whatever the number of participants is: in any case if there's a relationship, there's a group; even in a two-persons relationship we can find group thinking elements;

- a perspective in which analytic group is not seen as antithetical or alternative to psychoanalysis, but as something connecting itself - through the "therapeutic relationship" - with the constitution of an "analytic field", where transformations are searched for and take place.

- a certain way of describing and clinically facing the processes leading to Group illusion; a specific attention towards primitive elements founding relationship and group, with a particular accent on the equation illusion = hope and thus on the analysis of patients' conscious and unconscius expectations towards therapy;

- relationship between group and individual (commuting, interaction g <-> i), between environment and person, culture and thought, as well as group and individual part of the mind, with all the consequences at an ethical level, but even more on a clinical and more specifically therapeutic level: within the continuum between group and individual, it is group that makes the mind possible.

About these themes, a serene and deep confrontation took place between the authors/actors bystanding, all stressing the presence and the importance of a strong boost to find common formulations, after we walked all this long way together, even if on parallel paths, we have a common history; and every group is also an "historical community", finding its basis in the gradual configuration of a "common language", within a shared space and time situation to belong to, doesn't it?

According to Corrado Pontalti, nowadays as "groupists" we are faced with a new and harder task: not only model constructing, but also bravely coping - by reorganising together our thinking and joining our forces - with contradictions and psychopathology that are inherent in modern society, in the age of apparent triumph of technology and of manifest individual and social uneasiness. This task urges us to inquiry and use more "group thinking" itself, than mere theory and practice fo group psychotherapy.

Jimmy Lo Verso underlined again group's historical-political quality, further recognising as group thinking is not an aprioristic datum, but something that - if there's enough tolerance within members' interactions - "takes shape" and organises itself during the time they lived together; then group gradually becomes a place where not only thinking exists, but above all a critical function of thinking exists, a greatly transformative one, on which it is possible to found both episthemology and clinic.

Besides Silvia Corbella, presenting Claudio Neri's book with great participation, clearly stressed historical aspects of group's and single members' psychodynamic events parallely developing. She stated the importance of underlining how all groups - and thus all analytic groups - ends by taking shape as historical community, where it's possible to go along and construct together a new history, giving hope a real foundation through the capacity of crossing creatively one's own destiny with others', rather than to go on - side by side - each on his/her own itinerary, in search of a solution to personal history.

According to Claudio Neri we have to "trust in group"; it does not mean a selective outlook on positive aspects, neither - as often occurs within psychoanalytical debate - stigmatizing negative ones only. Group is no doubt exponentially multiplier of thinking, in good and in evil; but if we menage to distinguish and to activate at their best the positive values inherent to groupness, if we manage to distinguish group thinking and its creative potentiality from catastrophic and deleterious tendency to stiff standardization, then it's possible to use group in a clinical way, starting just from those transformational features that are inherent in group field itself.

Franco Fasolo resumed the examination of group's therapeutic or pathogenic qualities, even in respect of individual mind physiology, stressing the importance of the whole "primary network", thus not only of family, in fostering personality development or inducing psychic or physical disorders; group is thus the basis for every mentalisation or somatisation of the subject living within. Going on the metaphor of fluids dynamic, Fasolo pointed as in group not only time runs more or less slowly like a river, but it flows in different ways, more or less densely or vortically according to weather conditions.

Maurizio Gasseau preferred to use the space metaphor of labyrinth, defining group as a space for self-representation, that is stressed by psychodrama technique and takes place in a mobile, variable labyrinth, where the problem of discovering together where the true (path) or the false one is, is continuously posed. In this process it is fundamental not only the possibility to see things from a different point of view, due to the co-presence of a number of subjects-actors, but above all a real exchange of matrix elements, as a result of the deeply involving encounter between participants.

Also interventions from Ugo Corino, Nadia Benedetto, Parthenope Bion Talamo were interesting, deepening in different times and ways the analysis of clinical and therapeutic experience's quality that can take place in group, as well as the knowing journey the members, including analyst, embark on, starting from a common question: what are we going to do? which answers shall we find? which theoretical and technical prejudice or preconception shall we use or abandon?

Concluding the meeting, Neri once more enlightened that, in order to talk about an Italian specific direction in group analysis, there's a need to find out better and better a common thinking and put it on the foreground. Obviously not only saying over and over again, self-affirmatively: "That's my way in group", but more and more opening ourselves to dialogue and confrontation with others. In fact, everyone absorbs and sediments more or less stiffly in him/herself, from his/her environment and personal experience, more than he/she perhaps is willing to admit: only an active confrontation, in a continuous interaction with others, can keep alive and unsaturated mind's creative and transformational level; "change" has not only to do with understanding interpretative or not interpretative messages from others, but much more with the possibility of keeping high the capacity of perceiving others' mental qualities.