Petruska Clarkson, Group Imago and the Stages of Group Development
author wishes to thank Charlotte Sills for her editorial assistance.
This article emphasizes similarities between Berne's concept of group imago adjustment and the stages of group development asconceptualised by Tuckman (1965) and Lacoursiere (1980), highlighting the most relevant tasks of group leaders at different phasesof a group's maturation. Feedback from practitioners and trainees is used to identify useful group leader behaviours at differentstages. The article focuses on how developmental phenomena related to the group as a whole can be understood and used asadjunct to individual psychotherapy
the group, not as a substitute for it. Particular factors in the blending of individual andgroup psychotherapy are also discussed.
Group psychotherapy generally adheres to one of two models: One focuses on the group as a whole, represented by Foulkes(1951), and the other
emphasizes doing psychotherapy with individuals in the group. This latter model was popularised by Pearls in filmsthat show him doing Gestalt therapy with individuals in a group context. Another combination popular with therapists who blend group andindividual treatment is transactional analysis and some form of individual psychotherapy.TA offers a unique method of using a group to help individuals work through script issues. The analysis of transactions, games,and ego states usually conducted between the individual client and the psychotherapist, can be greatly aided, focused, and enhanced byutilizing material from relationships between group members as well as between group members and the therapist. Just as the individualexternalises his or her intrapsychic object relations in the client / psychotherapist dyad, each group member externalises intrapsychic objectrelations in the matrix of the group. Thus, material from here – and - now interactions with other group members can be interpreted,explained, and confronted psychotherapeutically. This was certainly the basis for Berne's (1964) most popularised work,
Games People Play.
Berne's (1963) concept of the developing stages of the group imago provides a framework for understanding both reenactments of early family life that occur within the group setting and subsequent corrective experiences and their potential for healing. This articlecompares Berne's concept of group imago adjustment with the stages of group development as conceptualised by Tuckman (1965) andLacoursiere (1980). It uses Berne's diagrams of group dynamics to explain the nature of the processes involved at different stages. Inaddition, it considers relevant tasks of group leaders at the different stages - be they trainers, organizational consultants, or group psychotherapists. Finally, the article explores constructive and destructive group leader behaviours at different stages based on extensivesurveys gleaned over more than a decade from hundreds of practitioners and trainees in the fields of group work, organizational consulting,and group psychotherapy.
The Group as a Whole
Human beings are born into groups, live in groups, and identify their sense of being through groups. Because the individual’s firstexposure to a group is in his or her family (or children's home), this becomes the matrix for his or her most enduring and profound injuriesor permissions. Some of the most important changes in human history (for good or ill) have come about through individuals combiningtheir forces in groups, whether the group is a lynch mob or a band of missionaries. A group provides a microcosm of human existence, withgreat potential for destruction as well as for healing. Thus the group is probably the most potent vehicle for individual and societal change.
The need for social contact and the hunger for time - structure might be called the preventive motives for group formation. One purpose of forming, joining and adjusting to groups is to prevent biologic, psychological and also moral deterioration. Few people areable to “recharge their own batteries”, lift themselves up by their own psychological bootstraps, and keep their own morals trimmed without outside assistance. (Berne, 1963, p. 217)
Therefore, as group leaders - whether psychotherapists, trainers, or managers - we deal with people who have already been shapedand affected by previous experiences. It is useful to understand this in relation to the process a group goes through as it forms and developsover time.Berne's primary contribution to group psychotherapy was his development of transactional analysis as a means of individualchange in a group. However, he was also interested in group process theory and the phenomenon of the group as a whole, which Foulkes(1951) and others had also studied. Berne stressed that the group had its own distinctive culture, including group etiquette, technicalculture, and group character. Since these categories for describing the group as a whole correspond to Parent, Adult, and Child aspects of the individual, the whole group or whole organization can diagramed as PAC (see Jongeward, 1973).The PAC configuration of the group as a whole represents more than the simple sum of the attributes of individual groupmembers. Different groups have different “personalities” which send different shared psychological messages to the therapist. The group becomes a unique and distinctive entity which endures over time, going through predictable stages of development or maturation. Groupsare more or less ill, healthy, energetic, thoughtful, worried, or guilty. For example, a guilt - ridden group of mothers may send their therapist a psychological - level message such as "be guilty like us" whenever she plans a holiday break, although at a social level their questions are concerned only with the dates and number of missed sessions.A group can be defined as a collection of individuals who interact with each other for an
common purpose. The word"apparently" is included because, although the group may agree at a social level about its task, at the psychological level there may beconflicting, confluent, or complementary ulterior - level agendas. The particular gestalt (whole) formed by combining the members' psychological - level messages forms the collective psychological group entity .The
(Berne, 1963, p. 327) of a group may be identified and consensually agreed upon. However, the collective private structure of the group is more complex and developmentallyliable. Bad management of critical periods in a group's life may affect its future functioning just as ineffective parenting affects anindividual's subsequent social and psychological development.