Foulkes regarded exchange as an important therapeutic factor that was specific to his model of group analysis. He wrote:
Explanations and information, for which there is a great demand and surprising interest, are of course not peculiar to the group situation, but in one respect there is a significant difference: that is the element of exchange. This not only makes the discussion more lively and full, but alters the emotional situation, just as children accept many things from each other which they would oppose if they came from their parents. The factors we have singled out are:
1. The group situation fosters social integration and relieves isolation
2. Mirror reaction
3. Activation of the collective unconscious condenser phenomena
( Foulkes, 1964, p. 34)
What is meant by explanations and information? Christine Thornton (2004) writes:
“Foulkes speaks of the exchange of ‘information. If, following Bateson, information is ‘news of difference’ Foulkes’ view of the importance of exchange becomes comprehensible and is greatly enriched” (p.309).
The differing problems of group members allowed an exchange of perspectives from which all gain. Understanding ‘information’ as ‘news of difference’, we can find thus see exchange at all four levels of group interaction. (Thornton, p. 309) “at its most basic, the thing that is being communicated is information. Not information in the passive sense of description, but information in a more active sense of precipitating change.” (Dalal, 1998, p 223).
According to Foulkes, the perceived level of exchange is unimportant, since every day may stand for the most profound of encounters,
“depth is always there, it is always possible to get hold of it on the surface, it is there all through, visible and tangible. It depends who is looking, who is listening, one need not jump from what is going on to what is behind it” (Foulkes, 1990, p.280).
Relationships within the family are the earliest through which information is encountered, in group analysis, the encounter with others’ new information gives an alternative to what was originally transmitted within the birth family, exchange is the medium of the experience of difference. Explanation, like information, in Bateson’s sense, may stand for an experience of another sense of seeing (Thornton 2004, p.310).
Zinkin (1994) also tries to interpret Foulkes’, saying:
“psychoanalysts might first consider the case of sexual information or explanations in the form of phantasy –based theories of sexual intercourse and birth. This will readily account for the liveliness, the great interest, and the alteration of emotional tone. But of course, children do excitedly exchange all sorts of other information in a way that is different from the way they talk to adults, and this includes the playground and perhaps embraces the whole area of learning which comes through children playing together –the serious aspect of play. And children accept one another’s explanations in serious discussion of matters other than sex, including death. I imagine that Foulkes had all this in mind. If he had been thinking specifically of sexual phantasies he would probably have said so. To make sense of the passage, then, I take it that Foulkes is comparing group patients with children in that they communicate in special ways because of their equal status…. it is not that one child gives something to another but that this is done reciprocally” (Zinkin 1994, p.30-3).
One can think, as Foulkes did, of explanations and information on various matters being exchanged, but again is this really the currency? Or rather surely it can not be the only currency. It is obviously not primarily an educational group. Is it interpretations, insight moving experiences, perceptions, intuitions, phantasies. Or memories? (Zinkin 1994, p. 35)
The unspoken exchange is an important part of the therapeutic process, as some patients experience chronic difficulty in ‘putting it into words’ (Rogers ,1987 in Thornton 2004, p. 311). The concept of exchange can give us a language for patients’ unspoken use of the group and the therapist for healing. Zinkin (Zinkin and Haynes, 1998, p.218) notes: “the best moments of a group are when people respond to the speech of the other, even when no words are uttered. There are innumerable examples of this in the life of a group, weeks later something said previously may be mentioned together with the thoughts it has provoked”.
In the dyadic interaction, reciprocal patterning is largely non-verbal. Padal (1985, p. 275) notes that:
“Exchange in that first relationship is of far more than milk and bodily contacts there is the acknowledgement of feelings and of mutuality in feeling, and there is reciprocal observation.”
Exchange is of value in itself to both adult and infant, independent of any content (Trevarthen, 1977, p 238). Trevarthen (1977, p.254) remarks that you cannot talk about anything to babies – the communication is only about the relationship, “however rich and satisfying in itself, communication with an infant under six months ….is preoccupied with intersubjectivity itself”. This sheds light on those patients for whom our beautifully turned interpretations are relevant only in their expression, and what it conveys of our intentions towards them. The content, at this stage, is not at all the point we might as well talk ‘baby talk’ (Thornton, 2004, p.312).
“Attunement between mother and baby, taking the form of each imitating the other, is the condition for exchange as stern and others have shown just as the instruments of an orchestra have to be in tune before they can begin their exchange with one another” (Stern 1985 apud Zinkin, 1994 p. 29).
In an interesting parallel to Foulkes’ understanding of the group, Vyigotzky (1962, in Thornton 2004) drew attention to the relation of thought and word – “not a thing but a process” (p. 314), and noted the changes thought undergoes as it turns into speech. “It does not merely find expression in speech, it finds in it, reality and form” (p. 314). The development of a language for what has never before been able to be shared can sometimes be seen in group exchanges. As feeling states are recognized and put into words, the shareable inner universe expands. (p. 315)
One such opposed or complementary pair is the relationship of exchange with mirroring. The key to combining these concepts is that mirroring implies sameness between members and exchange implies difference. People are helped both by identifying with others and by recognizing their differences. Exchange is only worthwhile between people if each has something which the other lacks. (Zinkin, 1994 p.29)
Foulkes says: "I can only exchange something with you if there is some degree of sameness some matching between what I give you and what you give me. The transformational potential of a group experience depends on optimum balance of mirroring (recognition of sameness) and exchange (recognition of difference) at the deepest levels of the psyche, the greater tolerance of difference shifting the balance as the group matures. The cumulative ‘specificity’ and interlocking’ of these processes produce resonances at unconscious levels." (Foulkes, 1990)
One can begin seeing the group as one which values sharing more than private property. Taking explanation as the currency, the exchange of explanations can be seen to lead to a shared explanation form which everyone gains, everyone knows more than they did before. Explanation is easy to acknowledge is not to be held as private property. It is not usually something to hold on to and be afraid of parting with. It is often considered that everyone in the group will benefit if the members are helped to disclose, to make public what they are holding onto rather than to think that, because it is their private property, it must be kept private and nobody else is entitled to it. If the group goes well, these ideas change. It is realized that nothing is lost by making the private, public and that what is disclosed remains private property, but of the group rather than as the sole possession of the individual. Perhaps it is this commonality of property that led Foulkes to choose exchange as a therapeutic factor specific to the group. (Zinkin, 1994)
Zinkin is talking of exchanges that are not voluntary because they are not conscious. Exploitation and unfair exchanges take place when the degree of voluntariness and awareness of what is happening is not the same for both parties. At times people exploit one another without either of them being aware of it.
Level three is characterized by projective identification which, in turn, involves splitting. Could this be seen as a primitive form of exchange? There are two senses in which this could be so, even though not originally described as such by Melanie Klein. One is that what is projected is lost to the projector but if the lost part of the self is felt to be ‘bad’, there may be a gain for the projector. He or she has lost part of the self but feels better-off without it. The recipient loses their previous sense of self and has (unwillingly) exchanged it for the bad bit put into them. The other, more systemic, way is the frequently seen case of mutual projective identifications, as is commonly described in marriages. These exchanges are deeply unconscious……………… These exchanges seem to be of such a different kind from that in Foulkes’ example (which seem to belong more to level one, the current level) that they can hardly be called a therapeutic factor in the same breath. To see the exchange as therapeutic, it is more productive to consider that even if both partners do take their projections back, both gain in the process by acquiring something which did not exist previously except in another person. Each has gained in no longer being split off from what only the other seemed to have possessed.
Level four is the primordial level. At this level exchanges are a long way from the civilized, polite rules of level one but take on the nature of sacrifice. Scapegoating would be only one example. Nevertheless, however primitive and barbarous such processes may appear, it is still important to regard them as at least potentially therapeutic factors. Maybe at this level when a patient leaves to be replaced by another, in a sense, it is necessary for the leaving one to be destroyed to make way for the new one, even though the group at a higher level may be doing the opposite. For example, in level one, the group may wish the departing member well and welcome the new one. Using this framework one would no longer talk easily about what is defensively being avoided. It becomes possible to see each level as a defence against the other three. (Zinkin, 1994, p. 41-42)
Identity is formed in each individual by the internalization of innumerable interactions and identifications with others, modifying and clarifying the sense of self.
“a child develops into a human being only by becoming part of a group. For example by learning a language that was there before him. Or by acquiring a civilisation canon of instinct and affect control. This is not only indispensable for communal life with others, but also for living with oneself, for developing into a human individual and for survival”. (Elias, 1992, in Thornton, 2004, p. 316)
“Identity is not fixed, but a phenomenon that is embedded in a network of social interactions and relations” (Dalal, 1998, in Thornton, p. 317) exchange (the encounter with difference) is the central mechanism of this process.
Dalal, F. (1998) Taking the group seriously. London: Jessica Kingsley
Foulkes, E. (ed.) (1990) Selected Papers of S.H. Foulkes. London: Karnac.
Foulkes, S.H. (1964) Therapeutic Group Analysis. London: Allen and Unwin. Reprinted London: Karnac Books, 1984.
Padal, J. (1985) ‘Ego in Current Thinking ‘, International Review of Psychoanalysis 12: 273-283
Trevarthen, C (1977) ‘Descriptive Analysis of infant Communicative Behavior’, in H.R. Scaffer (ed.), Studies in Mother-infant Interaction. New York and London: Academic Press.
Thornton, C. (2004) Borrowing My Self: An Exploration of Exchange as a Group-Specific Therapeutic Factor Group Analysis. 37(2):305–320.
Zinkin, L. (1994) ‘Exchange as a Therapeutic Factor in Group Analisis’ in D. Brown and L. Zinkin (eds) The Psyche and the Social World. London: Routledge.
Zinkin, L and Haynes, J. (1998) Dialogue in the Analytic Setting: Selected Papers of Louis Zinkin on Jung and on Group Analysis. London: Jessica Kingsley.