07-09-2016 at 22:19

Median Group

Shulamit Geller
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The concept "Median Group" written by Shulamit Geller, Tel Aviv, Israel. 

She follows the concept as it was outlined by Patrick de Mare and the development of the concept up till nowadays. 


The Median Group


"The Greek horror of alienation and exile (which impelled Socrates to choose death) was only equaled by their failure to grasp the significance of inter-group or inter-state relationships which resulted in the final destruction of their civilization" (de Maré, 1975, p.147)

Influenced by Kurt Lewin’s Field theory as well as Marxism, Gestalt psychology, and communication theory, de Maré believed that it is neither the individual nor the group, neither the part nor whole which is primary, but it is the interstice of intercommunication, interaction and interrelation which play the primary role (de Maré, 1972, p.38-39).

Joining the Second Northfield Experiment, de Maré acknowledged the shift of focus which had occurred in group analysis (Foulkes, 1948) from the individual to society, thus highlighting the importance of context and the sphere of inquiry to include the individual in relation to society. What Foulkes did not complete, de Maré asserted, was the placement of all small groups in direct contact with each other so that their mutual influence and the relationship they bore to their evolving culture could be explored (de Maré, 1985). Problems arise, commented de Maré, not only at the interpersonal level, but at the intergroup level, a fact which affects the network of small groups within society and results in social disruption and individual instability.

 Definition of concept

The median group is a term coined by de Maré in the 1990s (1985; de Maré et. al., 1991) to differentiate, or rather to bridge the dichotomy between the small family-sized, tribal groups, and the large hunter-gatherer-type groups. The avowed purpose of the median group is to encourage members to learn to talk to each other, to learn to dialogue so as to humanize society, and to transform frustration and outrage into the positive energy required to think (de Maré, 1990b). Thus, the median group as socio-therapy is a tool that fosters the societal and community life of the citizen, familiarizing its members with democratic principles, while serving as a platform to practice democracy in action.

Following Foulkes & Anthony's (1957) conceptualization of the group's dimensions, de Maré built the median group philosophy of therapy as a framework based on these three components: structure, process, and content (de Maré, 1972). Later he would add the fourth component, the Metastructure (de Maré, 1990b; de Maré et al., 1991).

a. The Structure of the Median Group refers to the components of the group that relate to place, timing, size, and the type of group.

The size of the median group is a crucial structural feature that distinguishes it from small and large group analytic groups. It is intermediate in size and will typically include between twenty to forty members – large enough to represent society, and small enough to allow participant to express themselves within a reasonable time, i.e. an hour and a half (de Maré, et al., 1991). The encounter is less of an instinctual interaction and more of a learning situation.

Members of the median group attend meetings once or twice a week, seated in a single circle facing each other (in contrast to other larger groups where chairs might be haphazardly placed), 'with no declared agenda, no goals no tasks, or directives'. As the groups are not considered communities, nor are their members interdependent in any external sense, contact outside the group is minimal and should be discussed if it occurs (de Maré, 1990b).  

While the relations between members in a small analytic group reflect family dynamics, the median group introduces the surrounding socio-cultural domain of the citizen, creating a space where the links between society and personal experience, including intrapsychic experience, can be consciously thought about. From the pool of individual reactions, subcultures form and interact with one another causing constantly evolving, unique micro-cultures to develop within the group. These may then be used as springboards from which to view and explore other cultures including the surrounding macro-cultures (de Maré, 1990b).

The setting of the median group is an opportunity for members to become reinstated in the world in which they live rather than wish for a world which does not exist (Maxwell, 2000). 

The convenor – the conductor's role in the median group is rather that of a convenor, who initiates and fosters the process of a free-floating dialogue which involves the entire group, not for the sake of simply talking ('talk for the talk's sake'), but talk as an exchange, on the level (non-hierarchically).

A nondirective style of leadership is employed by the convenor, who may participate personally as a member of the group. Still, this role is not permissive, as the convenor is expected to be capable of assuming leadership and ensuring that the structure is safe (De Mare, 1990b).   

The convenor inspires and empowers individuals to give expression to their thoughts, valuing the contribution of each person (de Maré, 1985), encouraging different members to take on leadership roles and pointing out instances of communication blocking (e.g. subcultures), since these often constitute impediments to interpreting the nature of social and cultural pressures (De Mare, 1990b).  

         Therapeutic factors like mirroring and resonance, along with ego training in action become prominent, while the importance of transference phenomena is reduced. Instead, de Maré suggested the concept of transposition, which refers to the context, the cultural situations, the climates and value systems that are brought to the fore against the multi-personal network at task. Through the operation of transposition, total situations get transferred and are made available to be experienced within the group (de Maré et al., 1991).

The “human mirrors” in the median group offer multiple perspectives which allow one to observe the different facets of human development with their full array of conflicts and the various attempts to solve them. Therefore it becomes more accurate to speak of the conductor’s personal and multiple mirroring aspects which help him understand the mental processes of individuals and the dynamics of the group, rather than place emphasis on his countertransference (Pisani et al., 2006).

b. Process in the Median Group is the dynamic communication taking place within the group at the intrapsychic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal levels, as well as the communication  between groups.

The frustrating context of the median group arising from the clash between sub and socio cultures (especially in the initial stages when communication network is rudimentary), tends to draw from the participants’ intense feelings of hatred, which either promote panic anxiety and fragmentation (i.e. running away) or the need to find expression (de Maré, 1990b). Hate, which in Greek means grief, constitutes psychic energy, and is not considered a primary drive or instinct, but an anti-drive or anti-instinct. de Maré considers it “like hunger a psychological absence” (1985, p.87).  While the instincts lead to physical energy which motivates behavior, the anti-instinct of hate, once expressed, generates a form of mental energy which is neither, by nature, creative nor destructive, but neutral, and has the potential to propel the group toward organization, thinking and communicating – and ultimately to the realization of dialogue (de Maré et al., 1991). From the group's point of view, hate is an achievement, as the humanising of hate provides the drive toward the restructuring of the group by the group itself, rather than being dependent on the convenor.

Dialogue, "the Supreme art" (Palto), rooted in the Greek 'dia' which means 'through' or 'across', constitutes the transformative process that converts what does not make sense (e.g. hate) into understanding and meaning. It consists of speaking across and moving out of one's own center among many people, while stimulating both thinking and emoting (de Maré et al., 1991).

Learning to dialogue is a difficult process for the group, similar to the task of acquiring a new language (de Maré et al., 1991). Dialogue provides a transitional space suitable for dealing with psychoneuroses as well as psychological trauma. The emerging dialogue helps the group to explore social issues, and allows people from different hierarchical systems to speak freely to one another, resulting in a greater exchange of information, ideas and understanding. This duet between oneself and the outside world allows unconscious or partially-repressed material to become more manifest equipping the individual with the necessary tools toknow himself better: passing from the mindless and unthinking to the mindful and meaningful (Maxwell, 2000).

c. Content of the Median Group refers to the meaning – as perceived by the members – that develops from the process. Out of dialogue emerges a third principle –neither reality nor pleasure, but of meaning, thus linking personal values (e.g oedipal) to their equivalent in the social structure (de Maré, 1990b). It is about understanding oneself not merely as an organism, but as a member of a community (de Maré et al., 1991). Throughout, the group dialogue sub-cultures are transformed into a new microculture, suggesting many possible meanings, and providing a diversity of viewpoints from which the individuals’ attitudes, thoughts, ideals and assumptions can be viewed.

Since the task of the group is to learn how to create a new culture of meaning, all members are invited to 'enter into life', i.e. to share the desire for relatedness, to talk, to communicate, to symbolize rather that to reify, and to transform hate and fratricide into Koinonia of fellowship (de Maré, 1990a).

Koinonia is what the Greeks termed 'a capacity to rise to ‘One-ness’’, to achieve impersonal fellowship, sharing, participation, communion, and company (cum panis: those who eat the same bread). Koinonia emerges over time once dialogue and the egalitarian and democratic way of relating it implies have been established. Koinonia provides the conditions in which a bridge between minds can be created (de Maré & Schollberger, 2008) and identity may arise. 

d. Metastructure in the Median Group is an aspect of content, which concerns varied meanings of cultural context pertaining to the group. Corresponding to the `superstructure` of structuralism, it is essentially cultural, and concerns the varied meanings which the larger group's context holds for the individual, whose cultural structure can be made manifest only through dialogue. Culture, therefore, emerges at the interface between individual and social context, and is the outcome of the dialectic between them (de Maré, 1990b).

The act of thinking in the group provides a setting to understand the different transformations in which cultural patterns emerge from various micro-cultures (e.g oedipal) on one hand, while depicting the unconscious and unquestioned aspects of the macro-culture (e.g. class distinction, racism, economic status, gender), and exploring it, on the other. In this manner, while the small group handles the group matrix –  thus enabling one to learn how to express feelings – the median group, involving 'grouping of minds', enables one to learn how to express thought (de Maré, 1990b). Consciousness therefore emerges from the meeting and sharing of minds that takes place in the median group through outsight: an outward expansion of social awareness and thoughtfulness, as distinct from insight (which refers to the inwardly-oriented expansion of awareness (de Maré et al., 1991)).

If successfully transformed, the cultural metastucture constitutes the powerful tie binding people together in groups. Should it be lost, the group will descend into mob violence expressed as hate within the group, or into chaos reflected as panic (de Maré et al., 1991, p.31).

Application of Median Groups

Median groups have flourished in diverse settings such as psychiatric hospital during war (Andersson, 2000), outpatient clinics (Pisani, 2000), prisons (Parsons, 2013), parishes (Maxwell, 2000), and post-traumatic interracial communities (Vice & Gildenhuys, 2016). Moreover, these groups have become an integral and viable component of therapy training programs (Godby, 2015), of group therapy training in graduate studies (Geller & Shadach, 2015) and of group analysis programs (Pisani et al., 2006). Shorter-term median groups have become regular features of conferences and workshops for psychotherapists and counselors (Behr & Hearst, 2005; Lenn, 2009).

Descriptive use  

A yearly group therapy seminar for graduate psychology students from the clinical, rehabilitational, and medical programs presented the principals of group therapy as a supplement to the students' identities as psychologists and group therapists. At the conclusion of each experiential session – either as participants or as conductors in a small group – all twenty four students convened in the form of a median group for a supervised discussion (Geller & Shadach, 2015). The supervised discussion's structure was to conceptualize and theoretically frame the students’ primary task in the previous part of the session.

In one of these supervision sessions, the student-conductors shared with the group the conflict they had experienced between the need to respond to the group's expectations that they retain their original roles as members of the group, and the need to shift into the role of conductor. The supervised discussion's process provided the student-conductors with an opportunity to view themselves through other's eyes, to receive feedback about the way in which they were perceived as conductors, and to maintain an ongoing interaction on this subject. In this manner all participants were invited to investigate the extent to which forces external to the individual, such as social status, hierarchy, and gender, were meaningful to the process. Since this session took place after the Memorial Day for Israel's Fallen Soldiers, the special stress placed on the Israeli metastructure created a more mature dialogue within the group regarding the risks of becoming a group conductor. In this way, the supervised discussion enabled the participants to bridge insight with outsight, as well as to create new meanings related to both professional and personal identities (De Mare et al., 1991).


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            Training and supervision. Group Analysis, 39, 4, 537-548.

Vice, H. & Gildenhuys, A. (2016). Reshaping Social Identity: A Qualitative Report on Experiences in an Interracial Median Group. Group Analysis, 1-23.

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