21-08-2014 at 22:13

GAD – introduction for Lisbon Symposium July 2014

Søren Aagaard
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GAD – introduction for Lisbon Symposium July 2014

 Søren Aagaard


The idea, and eventually the plan, of a Group Analytic Dictionary (GAD) started off accidentially: Robi (Friedman) had asked me to comment on an article and we got into some reflections and discussion on the terms intersubjective and transpersonal, their meanings and use in GA.

Let us look them up in a dictionary, I suggested. But GA has no dictionary! To my supprise. GA has existed for 60-70 years as a professional and scientific field. I asked in my network, among others Danish colleagues – is that right? Yes, it is - there is no general comprehensive dictionary in GA -  although various efforts has been done through out the years to make one.

So, let us make one! A bit easier said than done. And how to do it?

In an article in Context (Dec. 2012) I have described the first steps of the project and that text, more or less the same, is now on the blog.

What is most important to underline is that the approach adapted, the working model of the project if you like, is pragmatic and inclusive. May be I can say that it is group analytic in the sense that all participants´ contributions and ways of thinking about GA concepts and connected (bits of ) theories are welcome – all participants being interested and active GA colleagues.

The format of the workshop we have set up here will hopefully be an example and experience of shared participation. It is a model that we more or less intuitively have used in Danmark at a number of workshops and at a Nordic GA-conference 2013: we sit in a circle, a number of colleagues give short presentations of GA concepts  and then there is good time and space for shared reflections and discussion, that we all can take part in and possibly also gain and learn from, some might be stimulated to make a comment on the blog and the presenters have various feedbacks for further work. 

The purpose of GAD-project is – by way of shared and common working-processes among colleagues and institutes - to assemble, formulate, up-date and eventuelly also re-think/new-think aspects of GA -   that is how GA can and may be conceptualized by us in our period of time.

We wish that these processes can and shall lead to a product: so far I have said dictionary, dictionary in one form or the other, a kind of encyclopedia of GA, possibly a thesaurus. On paper and the net.

In our period of time – Horkheimer & Adorno (1969) by the re-issueing in 1969 of their book Dialektik der Aufklärung (Dialectics of Enlightenment) which first came out in 1947 talks of a ”theory that ascibes truth a core of time”, (p. 7, my translation). A core of truth in the time/period  in which the text was written, contrary to the idea of  unchangability in relation to (or against) historical movements. Horkheimar & Adorno acknowleged that many of their formulations from 1947 were not too congruent with the present (1969) reality. But at the same time they had been invited to re-issue, and  also they thought that many lines of thinking and perspectives in the book might still be pertinent.

GAD now, 2014: we must understand and write about GA both in respect of the first theoreticians and practitioners of GA and their texts, and in relation to the present, our time and societies, our clinical experiences, present GA theories and research. This is the task – and I think it is both challenging and meaningful - contributors to GAD face: to use their professional knowledge and capabilities, to read and think, re-think the chosen themes and concepts, and to formulate ourselves informatively and clearly.

And, I think what is most important: with a sense/feeling of freedom, of free thought.

If I may put it a bit ”high”: I have always thought of GA as a forum for the possiblity of free speach – free speach being partly synonymous with some freedom in thinking and feeling. Hopefully a sense of that freedom can be with us working with and writing GAD. It is an informative enterprise and, to quote Horkheimar & Adorno once more: ”freedom in society is inseparably combined with informative/illuminative thinking”, (p.11, my translation).    

In 1967 Laplanche & Pontalis published their Vocabulaire de la Psychoanalyse (Dictionary of Psychoanalysis). By and large it is a Freud-dictionary. The authors say in the preface that a review of loads of psychoanalytic litterature convinced them that most of the concepts in use were fundamentally Freudian – though, Klein in some measures being an exception. But, 1967, almost 30 years afrer Freud´s death, a number of important psychoanalytic theories and new concepts had developed. So in their  reading of psychoanalytic litterature Laplance & Pontalis seem to have been strictly conservative Freudians; others might or would have ended up with different categories and concepts. In that perspective Vocabulaire de la Psychoanalyse was/is a histotical document – of a very high quality.  

Alors, sans comparison – but still: how can and will we read, understand and re-formulate the texts of the founders and next generations of GA? Which new concepts have developed, what new theories have created new meanings to old concepts, which new and different clinical experiences have emerged, ect.

What is Group Analysis? That question coins what the whole GAD project is about. But surely, GA may be defined in one or two sentences: ”GA is a form of psychodynamic group therapy  where treatment of individual patients takes place in the group and is effected by the group , including the leader. The group of people gathered is therefore the actual treatment instrument, and it is the therapist´s task to involve the group in this proces”, (Lorentzen 2013, p. 3). I quote these lines both as an example of a recent formulation and as an effort in one or two sentences to describe GA as a whole, (that is what definitions aim at doing: to bound a whole field or area), since there is a professional need of ”knowing what we are talking about”. But also there is a more fundamental need of relating to and have some kind of relationship to ”the whole-ness of GA/GA as a whole”. Obviously this has much to do with professional identity, but as a writer about GA, say in the GAD project, it is difficult next to impossible to talk or write, say of one of the 5 subjects that are in this workshop, (GA and mind, matrix, group-as-a-whole, potential space, socialization; contributors coming from Denmark, Israel and Sweden)) without having some sort of conceptualization of ”what GA is”. Or I should say: ”what GA is for me, talking or writing of this specific subject”.       

You easily find descriptions more complicated of the scope of GA – that is: if it is excactly the same area described? In Group Analysis, the journal, GA is delineated as ”a form of psychotherapy (that) brings together concepts derived from psychoanalytic psychology, social psychology, group dynamics, sociology and anthropology”. And even more fields might be added, fx analytical psychology, systems theory, chaos theory, ect. - The scope of GA is immense; none of us, I dare say, can know of or ”cover” it all, even though the image of a classic polyhistor may come to mind.

So, GA is theoretically and conceptually pluralistic, both in its various actual practices and as a scientific field. There are many and many different parts. But still GA can, I think should, be seen as a  coherent field of theoretical knowledge and psychotherapeutic practices, some kind of a whole that we as professionals and right now as participants in this conference all take part in.

If think that one of the major dynamic dimensions in the GAD project will be the relationship between parts and wholeness in GA. 100 years ago Durkheim (1914) wrote an article on the dualism of human nature. He opened the text with some remarks on the relationship between sociology and psychology, society being the whole, the individual the parts. He was convinced that a great number of mental states are of social origin, and ”it is the whole that, in a large measure, produces the part; consequently, it is impossible to attempt to explain the whole without explaining the parts – without explaining, at least,  the part as a result of the whole”, (p. 325). In GA-terms: it is the group, the whole group analytic situation that to a large extent produces the mental states of the group members; neither the whole nor the parts can be explained without the other.

Generally, a project of this kind is quite overwhelming: so (how) many subjects, so (how) many  different approaches of GA in theory and practice, so (how) many interfaces, ect.? One major field in the GAD-project is the theoretical and conceptual relation between clinical practice and research, both in respect to terminology but also concerning outcome and results. This seems to me an obvious part and task of the GAD-project.     

To set out to produce a dictionary, in one form or the other, implies some kind of confidence in language: in the use and utility of language as such, and in the specific codes and categories within our field. That we can ”do something with our language” - describe and explain, but also, possibly and hopefully, that the verbal work with themes and subjects deepens or opens further understanding and insight..

Inger Christensen, a Danish poet, wrote a fabulous volume called ”it” (1969) where she touched upon many existential dilemmas and paradoxes – open-ended, of course.

About the relation between world and words she says in one place:

because the words stages the world

because the world anchors the words,    

(my translation)

We find ourselves in that cross field all the time, I think in special ways when we try to formulate ourselves professionally in script.

What do we have in mind to write, what is (not) desribed and what is (not) describable?

Inger Christensen again:

what is written is always something different

and what is descrribed something else yet

between these is what is not described

which, when it is desribed

open new undesribed areas

that is indescibable

(my translation)

Here we go!!  Whether we, and to what degree, succeed or not? In my opinion it would be a mistake not to try.

The GAD project is international. A number of colleagues have taken interest and we hope that involvement will grow and activity increase. We invite and welcome participation in all aspects of the project! Please USE THE BLOG:

 In Copenhagen we have formed a management-/workgroup around the project (Helle Østerbye Andersen, Lars Bo Jørgensen, Torben Voigt and Søren Aagaard). Our plans for the next period of time are to continue to make workshops - hopefully the idea in one form or the other will gain further ground in other places, there are now similar workshops in Israel. Further we intend to stimulate more contributions on the blog and intensify communication on it. Within the next ½ year we shall make some kind of evaluation of processes and material so far. And then, in collaboration with interested institutes and colleagues, we want to set up a conference/workshop on the project in the best suitable place, say in May or June next year.   


Aagaard, S. (2012) Project for a Group Analytic Dictionary  Context 58 p. 47-54

Christensen, I. (1969) ”det”  Gyldendal

Durkheim, E. (1914) The dualism of human nature and its social origin.  In: Essays on sociology &      

philosophy by Emile Durkheim et al.  Harper 1960

Group Analysis (journal): Aims and Scope

Horkheimer, M. & Adorno, Th.W. (1972) Oplysningens dialektik  Gyldendal

Laplanche, J. & Pontalis, J.-B. (1973) Das Vokabular der Psychoanalyse  Suhrkamp

Lorentzen, S. (2013) Group Analytic Psychotherapy  Routledge

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