Study group consultancy: Elements of the task


This collection of brief essays is intended to promote reflection on the task of consulting to a study group or self-analytic group met in the context of a Tavistock group relations conference.  The style of the essays is more reflective than descriptive or prescriptive; thus, neither are all elements of the task mentioned nor are the elements named apportioned uniform focus.  Some vital facets of the task receive only parenthetical inclusion.  This nonexhaustive approach, together with the sparsity of practical examples, is meant to stimulate the reader's imaginative consideration and application of the material.  A passive, nonparticipatory reading of this book is likely to be disappointing.

Readers’ passive or active experiential familiarity with the consultant role is presumed, as is their acquaintance with the language of the helping professions.  Because the task of consulting shares limited similarity of function and purpose with individual psychoanalysis and group psychotherapy, I have borrowed without demur from the extensive published corpus of these therapeutic disciplines.  Whenever it seemed instructive for present purposes to do so, I have converted the words psychoanalyst, psychotherapist, therapist, trainer, and leader to the term consultant and in similar fashion I have substituted the term group members for the word patients.  All this without implying or asserting that the correspondence between the terms is exact or even valid.  This practice is not meant to signify the technical equivalence of these expressions.

For clarity and convenience, I have employed the following vocabular conventions:

a)  Study group members are referred to as group members or simply members.

b)  Conference participants or participants refer to all the persons assembled in a group relations conference or in a study group, members and staff or members and consultant respectively.

c)  All group relations conferences are called conferences, regardless of their duration or their residential or nonresidential character.

d)  In treating the consultant's tasks of attending to, delving into, and making conscious covert content or processes, I have used the word unconscious to include both preconscious and unconscious systems.  Even when, as is most often the case, only preconscious processes are being cited, the term unconscious is used.

e)  The locutions intervention and interpretation are not interchangeable, although the distinguishing marks of each are not perfectly clear.  Interventions subsume interpretations, which have a verbal form and attempt to make sense of the situation to which they are responses.  Interventions may be verbal or nonverbal and, like interjections, may have untold purposes.  Consultations refer more to the origin than to the purpose of comments and comprehend both interventions and interpretations.

Because group relations work does not enjoy an abundant, conspicuous, or regularly updated published literature, the origins of ideas are not always assignable.  Where it has been feasible to credit persons with their ideas and phraseology, I have done so.  The unfavorable reality in this field of thinking is that much inspired and admirable toil is carried out orally, in conference staff meetings, in scientific meetings, and in private.  The confederacy of men and women devoted to the study of group and organizational processes through the Tavistock model and point of view about experience is the apodictic author of most accepted reasoning and methodology.  Thus, not all the substance of this book is either new or original.

A fee of one hundred dollars was levied by International Universities Press, Inc., for permission to reprint a total of 20 lines of text from pages 100, 172, 240, and 241 of:  Balint, M.  (1957).  The doctor, his patient and the illness.  Madison, CT: International Universities Press, Inc.  Reprinted by purchased permission.

I am grateful to those generous publishers who, without recompense or gain for themselves, graciously allowed me to reproduce material for which they hold the copyright.  Specifically, I thank

Brunner/Mazel, Inc., New York, New York, for permission to reprint passages from page 120 of:  Fried, K. W.  (1977).  Some effects of the leader's abstinent role on group experience.  Group, 1, 118-131.  Copyright 1977 by Brunner/Mazel, Inc.  Reprinted by permission.

Guilford Press, New York, New York, for permission to reprint passages from pages 277 and 288 of  "Social systems training for psychiatric residents" by R. Almond and B. M. Astrachan, in Psychiatry, 32, 277-291. Copyright 1969 by Guilford Press.  Reprinted by permission.

Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, New York, for permission to reprint passages from pages 196 and 197 of "The vital pleasures" by G. S. Klein, in Psychoanalysis and contemporary science (Vol. 1)  (pp.181-205) by R. R. Holt and E. Peterfreund  (Eds.).  Copyright 1972 by Macmillan Publishing Company.  Reprinted by permission.

Charles C Thomas, Publisher, Springfield, Illinois, for permission to reprint passages from pages 110, 111, and 128 of "Boundary relations and organizational diagnosis" by C. P. Alderfer, in Humanizing organizational behavior (pp. 109-133) by H. Meltzer and F. R. Wickert (Eds.).  Copyright 1976 by Charles C Thomas, Publisher.  Reprinted by permission.

University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, for permission to reprint passages from page 77 of "The roots of social knowledge" by C. H. Cooley, in The American Journal of Sociology, 32, 59-79.  Copyright 1926 by the University of Chicago Press.  Reprinted by permission.

John Wiley and Sons, Ltd., Chichester, England, for permission to reprint passages from "Learning and the group experience" by B. Palmer, in Exploring individual and organizational boundaries: A Tavistock open systems approach (pp. 169-192) by W. G. Lawrence (Ed.).  Copyright 1979 by John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.  Reprinted by permission.

Notes on the character of this book and its language

Chapter One

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