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Date:
15-10-2014 at 11:30
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Melanie Klein's positions in the analytical group

author:
Peter Gottlieb
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With its fixed boundaries in time and space and its infinite room for thoughts and

emotions the analytical group may be understood as functioning on several levels, one

of which is the socalled projective level (Foulkes 1964, p 115). On this level the other

members unconsciously may be perceived as representations of one's inner objects,

including the concepts of the good and evil breast (Klein 1952), so that the analytical

work makes it possible to reach the primitive feelings belonging to the so-called

paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions (Klein 1946)

Text:

With its fixed boundaries in time and space and its infinite room for thoughts and

emotions the analytical group may be understood as functioning on several levels, one

of which is the socalled projective level (Foulkes 1964, p 115). On this level the other

members unconsciously may be perceived as representations of one's inner objects,

including the concepts of the good and evil breast (Klein 1952), so that the analytical

work makes it possible to reach the primitive feelings belonging to the so-called

paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions (Klein 1946)

The members of the group

In the new group member fantasies of either a totally good and or totally bad group can often

be identified and the absoluteness of these ideas may be compared to those of the good or bad

objects of the paranoid-schizoid position of the infant. Eventually, members may proceed to

the depressive position, in which there is mourning of the loss of the absoluteness of the good

part, but also relief of leaving behind the fear of annihilation by strong persecutors. Instead of

unconscious anxiety of one's own death concern for others may grow, making way for guilt

and fear of hurting.

By way of projective identification difficult parts of the member's self become accessible for

processes of breaking down into more digestionable units that are offered back for reintrojection,

just as the mother may help her infant to maturity.

In the early days of the group splitting may reveal itself by totally positive or negative

statements like "My father never said a kind word to me". Hopefully, in due time these same

feelings are expressed between the new member and some other(s) in the group. Now the

feelings may be analysed and thereby modified to e.g. "I guess my father did not have a very

easy life". Thus, black-and-white illusions may be lost, and probably mourned, but replaced

by more mature views. Inner part object parents may be exchanged with whole and complex

human, real parents.

Vignette: A was very prone to read the therapist as all negative and critical in his attitude towards her. It was only

after she told the group of how one particular remark from him had made her feel completely wrong that she - with

the help of the group, including the therapist who disclosed some of his countertransferential feelings and thoughts

- acknowledged her irrationality and became able to find the root of her feelings of worthlessness in early

childhood. After this incidence her self confidence continued to grow and 18 months later she went through a very

moving termination process.

The healthy outcome of therapy in a group can on the deep level of the Kleinian positions be

said to be to learn how to melt the good and the bad part objects in it together in a positive

frame, thereby learning that also the world outside - including its inhabitants - is a benign

mixture of good and bad, and that this even applies to the member him- or herself. For this to

happen it is necessary that the inevitable lacks of perfection in others are empathically

tolerated and those of oneself better integrated.

Whenever life gets tough, there is always a possibility of regression back to innocence - from

the more mature, realistisic and responsible, depressive position back to the more primitive or

psychotic, black-and-white, paranoid-schizoid position (Billow 2012). Thus, the moves

between the paranoid-schizoid and the depressive position can go both ways.

The-group-as-a-whole

In the same way as individuals move back and forward between the paranoid-schizoid and the

depressive positions, groups are according to Wilfred Bion (1961) always changing between

shared unrealistic fantasies - constellations of one of the three basic assumption groups - and

the rational, so called work group. It seems that without the fluctuation of recurring periods of

getting into a basic assumption group, ie to the paranoid-schizoid position, there is no passion

and therefore no energy at hand to propel the life of a group.

The therapist

For the therapist who is keeping the ideas of Melanie Klein in mind, it can be understood that

a group or a group member dominated by thinking and feeling belonging in the paranoidschizoid

position has therapeutic needs different from one who is closer to the depressive

position. This increases his or her possibility to conduct in the best interesst of the members of

the group.

Concerning the therapist, it has been suggested that his or her shame-feeling may stem from

too high expectations of the ego ideal (Weber & Gans 2010). And to keep their own grandiose

ego ideals intact, several maladaptive defence mechanisms may be used by therapists. The

wiser alternative, the authors write, "is to accept that the grandiose ideal is an illusion and

untenable; to grieve its loss; and to rebuild a more realistic professional ego ideal that accepts

the limits of our power, knowledge and love".

Also for the therapist, the working through from the paranoid-schizoid position towards the

more realistic depressive position is a never ending issue.

Conclusion

Thus, the theories of the positions of Melanie Klein can be used to increase the quality of the

life of the group.

References

Bion WR (1961) Experiences in groups. New York: Basic Books.

Billow RM (2012) "Bullying: The Gang Inside and Outside", Group Analysis 45(2): 189-202.

Foulkes SH (1964) Therapeutic Group Analysis. London. Reprinted Karnac, 1984.

Gans JS (2010) Difficult Topics in Group Psychotherapy - My Journey from Shame to

Courage. London: Karnac Books.

Klein M (1946) "Notes on schizoid mechanisms", International Journal of Psycho-analysis

27: 99-110.

Klein M (1952) "Some theoretical Conclusions Regarding the Emotional Life of the Infant",

in Developments in Psycho-Analysis, with Heimann, Isaacs and Riviere. London: Hogarth

Press.

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