Study group consultancy: Elements of the task

In keeping with the conference task of providing opportunities to study authority and the personal, interpersonal, and intergroup predicaments encountered in its exercise, the intricate relationship and boundary between the group and the consultant must be keenly monitored.  In order to clarify this relation, group members must be helped to spell out the integrants of the consultant's role behavior that are most troubling or bewildering.  The group must not be held back by a refractory consultant from moving apace to scrutinize exactly those areas in which the consultant finds it painful, forbidden, or impossible to exercise concordant role behavior without chagrin.  Obviously, this exploration plunges the consultant into the anxiety and the hatred of learning by experience.

Positive and negative facets of the group's relation to the consultant are inevitably united; members' exoteric responses to the consultant role are mixtures of rational and irrational lines of thought.  Investigation of the deep preoccupations surrounding the relationship with authority tests the finesse of the consultant, who must remain observant and receptive while simultaneously engaged in actively productive functioning. The ability to maintain and champion a neutral, objective outlook while voluntarily enmeshed in upsetting, emotional circumstances comes under scrutiny.  Promoting a thorough examination of the shared and exceptional responses to authority weakens impediments to a realistic view of the consultant as responsible, resolutely dedicated to the task, accessible when functionally justified, and freed from the sadistic and oppressive proclivities frequently imputed to authority figures.

Assigned to uphold the work function, the consultant, no less than acknowledging and temporarily containing group members' unwelcome emotions, attempts to put their attitudes and behaviors into perspective.  One perspective on the group's relationship to authority is conspicuous in the degree to which relations among group members are stark reflections or derivatives of relations with the consultant.  Group members may ape, mock, scorn, or outwardly ignore the consultant's deportment and then proceed to treat each other after similar or identical protocol.  The lineaments of the nexus between group members also function as a barometer of shifting political dimensions of relations to authority: for example, early drawing of sentient lines by age grouping, by gender, or by race may waver or diverge more rationally as relations between consultant and group members mature.

In whatever context, the consultant traces the effects that the exercise of personal authority has on the primary task of learning, recognizing that the experiences of the profoundly disturbing, profoundly primitive constellation of attitudes toward and expectations of authority figures prepare the substratum for the discovery and stable exercise of group members' own authority.  The consultant's task is to countenance the group's self-regulated enunciation of the canons governing the difficult exercise of authority to take up leadership for appropriate reasons and subsidiarily to relinquish it at the appropriate time with aplomb and without feeling disfranchised.

When the fantasies and realities stirred up by the matter of authority have been ascertained and analyzed, independence from debilitating projections is likely.  As a result, group members begin to feel less destitute and more capable of giving and receiving satisfaction, especially from one another.  They begin to take stock of their own authority.

The consultant must verify that there is little or no covert reciprocity between personal needs, wishes, or behaviors and the group's projections. Conscientious application of proper role behavior minimizes such congruence. Any  mutuality in unconscious dealings attenuates group members' ability and willingness to reinstate their projections. A proneness to idealize the consultant's role, behavior, and person can beset all participants in the study group.  The best antidote to idealization, which interferes with uncorrupted analysis of self and others, is the influx of relevant reality. The intromission of evidence implicating consultants major fallibility (e.g., interventional errors, lacunas in omniscience) and more venial defects (e.g., linguistic failings, administrative impotence) combats the participants' penchant for theocracy.

Verbal interventions are part of a background of inner monologue geared to immanent accommodation of theoretical and practical knowledge.  The lucidity and superior validity of interventions made subsequent to quiet musing are not the only criteria of their immediate adequacy, however.  Mistaking the masquerade of shadow for substance is only a front-line pitfall.

Partly to guard the integrity and effect of interventions and partly to reflect awareness of the collaborative spirit of the task, the consultant must bear in mind the conditions of dialogue.  Without ongoing assessment of members' receptivity to intervention, the consultant's accessibility to communications from the group and composition of clear communications to the group are little more than chimerical aspirations.  The consultant must correctly assess the degree and the properties of members' receptivity.  The objective is not to say merely what members want or do not want to hear, whenever they are or are not disposed to listen, but to solicit a fair hearing for the consultations. The requisite concentration on the multiple factors critical to the formulation of an intervention can contravene recall of the consequence of members' oscillating receptivity to interventions, especially laborious ones.

Considerable learning depends on joint industry, both among members and between the consultant and the members.  So long as mindfulness of the desirability of an eventually collaborative ambiance guides interpretive efforts, a utilitarian measure of basic assumption pairing behavior (Bion, 1961) can ensue.  The task is to conceive and attempt to represent, principally through the detail and nuance of unwavering role performance, the essence of the interaction from which movement toward a mature capacity for unhindered contemplation and definition of reality can emerge.

"From moment to moment, the [consultant]... must jointly consider the long-range requirements of the task and the systemic conditions necessary for achieving it as well as the shifting needs and tolerances of...[the group members]" (Newton, 1973, p. 500).  The consultant's footing on the boundary between staff and group members imposes the need for a Janus-like vista.  Such a vista supplements recognition of the group's present state of development with remembrance of its past, its history, and with forethought about avenues for future progress.

In order to consummate this aspect of the task, the consultant leans upon the essentially animal or instinctual propensities shared by all participants.  Similarly, recall of prior experiences that group members have not shared and review of current experiences that they do not share are pertinent and instructive.  The consultant

attempts to define his own boundaries carefully and to maintain his separateness from the members.  He can, however, only function effectively if he is in the group sufficiently to share in the common feelings and attitudes. Being separate enough to observe the group, himself, and his feelings, he can investigate his impact on the group.  (Astrachan & Redlich, 1969, p. 488)
The intention must be to preserve enough distance from the group's moves to be able to interpret them, but not so much as to be unable to partake of their emotional momentum.

Chapter Nine

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