07-09-2016 at 23:06

Conductor using Winnicott.

Paul Benér
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As conductor of a slow open analytic group I find it helpful to think “winnicottia”. I propose that the work and process of the analytic group can be understood and conducted with the help of Winnicott.

As conductor of a slow open analytic group for more than six years now, I find it helpful to think “winnicottia”. In a thesis (Benér, 2013, IGA Copenhagen) I propose that the work and process of the analytic group can be understood and conducted with the help of Winnicott. Clinical examples of what I interpret as manifestations of potential space, true and false self, and the capacity to be alone, fear of breakdown and incommunicado are be presented there.

In group analytic theory there are references to Winnicott, conceptualizing phenomena in the life of a therapy group with Winnicott´s understanding of, for instance, potential space, transitional object and holding (James 1982, 2000. Nitsun (1989, 1996). The analytic therapeutic group is gathered to try to develop and change the object relations for the group and individuals through the process of communication in the matrix (Aagaard 1999, Dahlin 1979).  My interest has been focused on the relationship between the group, the individual self and also of thinking of the matrix as a form of potential space. T H Ogden’s (Ogden 1989, 1992, 1994) understanding of Winnicott concepts has been of great value.

In contrast to theoretical work in group analysis where the work of Winnicott is referred to, I try to investigate the clinical implications if Winnicott had been conductor, so to say. Here I would like to discuss Winnicott´s formulations of his understanding of phenomena, such as True and False Self, the capacity to be alone and fear of breakdown.

Capacity to be alone

Internalizing a good-enough care for the development of the self, means that one can be alone without feeling lonely and deserted. The capacity to be alone requires the experience of being alone in someone’s presence. This presupposes a good-enough parental presence, sense of security and potential space.  The lack of maturity in the beginning of our lives is compensated by ego-support, the presence of the other, the group and the conductor. In the beginning the member can feel the other members and the conductor’s presence as a preoccupation, and this represent good-enough environment in the group matrix. This can also be felt as frightening, due to intrusion or fear of self-disclosure. The group´s primary preoccupation as a holding environment is a representation of attachment and functions as holding, care of the group and its member’s security, and presentation of objects, i.e. other subjects, that is to say relationships and to relate to others, which is material for symbolic work in the matrix.  The conductor represents a parental function as “the first servant of the group”, following and engaging in the exchanges in the group. Members come in contact with the individual self and can develop the capacity to be alone in the presence of others through exchanges in matrix.

Fear of break-down

Refers to the fear in the group that the communication will cease and that the group dissolves.

The fear of break-down is understood as a fear, which has to do with a break-down that has already taken place. This break-down was not possible to experience, due to that the subject was not there yet to be able to experience it. When one becomes a subject later in the development of the self, the experience is that the break-down has not yet taken place, but only can be felt as something that might happen. This shows as panic-feelings, dependency needs and clinging behavior. Experiences of unsecure holding, traumatic separation, and insecure attachment come forth in the relationship with others and in group therapy. As conductor the thoughts and feelings, e.g. that the group might dissolve, member’s cancellations, fear of conflicts between members in the group, all are possible signs of the fear of break-down. This might call for need to work in the matrix with insecure attachment and holding experiences. 

True and False Self

The concept of False Self refers to the handling of experiences of failing attunement to our basic needs. To protect a sense of unity and consistency of the self, we are dependent of the other and we strive to attach and to secure attachment, otherwise we are flooded with uncontainable emotions and will fear breakdown and extinction. This deficit in the experience of a holding environment calls for adjustment and defense, a False Self, by which we present ourselves and tries to keep in touch with the other. We understand the False Self as a necessary way of protecting our genuine, spontaneous self, the True Self. The True Self is a concept for our spontaneity and capacity to creatively become what we potentially can be, according to our abilities and experiences. The True SΨelf can be seen as representing hope and relate to therapy goals.

Symptoms are a consequence of defense and anxiety as a response to unconscious feelings that we unconsciously perceive as threatening to attachment. Unconscious feelings like anger, joy, sadness, hate, curiosity and fear, although activating and creative, but unconsciously felt as threatening to the bond and relationship that we are so dependent of. The meeting with the other, holding and confirming our self, in relationships and in therapy, contains a potential in that we can become who we are. Our True Self can be lived. As a consequence of our dependence of the other early on in life, it can be presupposed that in group therapy, working and meeting with actual several others, there is a heightened potential for working with the False and True Self. “Ego-training in action” is referring to this also.

Working with aspects of the True and False Self in mind, would refer to working in group therapy with how and why the group in the matrix defends against communication, signs of anxiety and also experiences of moments of meeting, where the group becomes the group it can become potentially. As part of the group, the conductor - although not there for his/her own needs, compared to the other members - also has the need for a False Self, protecting his True Self. Countertransference is a help in identifying processes in the matrix that strengthens the need for a False Group Self and trying to work in the matrix that supports genuine affective moments of meetings, making it possible for the group to experience a True Group Self. The individual has an opportunity in group therapy to preserve, repair and develop the sense of self, within the matrix of communicating other selves.


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