Is there Transference in Group Analysis? Who are the transference objects?
Humans transfer their past experiences with parents and other ‘whole objects’ from early life and perhaps as late as adolescence to the here and now of the group. This transfer includes emotions and patterns of relationship which are only partly conscious and are directed towards the group-as-a-whole and individual group members, including the conductor.
Since 1905, the term ‘transference’ was conceptualized by Sigmund Freud as “a new edition, reproduction of emotions and fantasies with a characteristic substitution of another person by the therapist”. According to Freud, transference has two fundamental criteria: 1. the repetition of the past and 2. the distortion of reality. In earlier papers of Freud, transference appears mostly as an obstacle for therapy and only since 1911 as a basic concept of therapeutic work. The “royal path” of dream-interpretation was mostly replaced by interpretive processing of the ‘transference neurosis’.
Countertransference was defined by Freud in 1910 as the “influence of the patient on the unconscious emotions of the therapist”. Only Paula Heimann succeeded the breakthrough in 1950 by interpreting counter-transference as an enactment of the analysand in a way which gave evidence of his world.
Foulkes changed his mind about the existence of transference in the group and about the work with the concept of transference. After having argued against the possibility of the formation of the transference neurosis in group Psychotherapy, in 1957 (Foulkes and Anthony) and in 1964 Foulkes changed his mind.
He thought that individual transference neuroses could be recognized, analysed and worked through in the group analytic situation. But Foulkes thought that oedipal reactions and transference neuroses are less obvious and less concentrated on the therapist in the group than in the individual psychoanalytic situation.
Yet they are often clear enough…in three significant areas. These are:
the area of the immediate treatment situation (or transference in the wider sense);
• the immediate current life situation (in married people, often the partner; in younger patients, their parents and their fiancée, etc.) in short, the ramifications and reverberations in the current life network, and;
• the reminiscences and recollections elicited by the treatment process which allows us a dynamic recognition of the patient’s childhood constellation and reaction (personal/individual group matrix) (p.245)
“as to transference to other members of the group, these can be of particular interest. Other patients react, of course, as themselves, not as “trained transference screens and receptors…” (p. 245). By these last words Foulkes meant educated psychotherapists.
In Group Analytic Psychotherapy (1975), he warned against the potential regression caused by the Kleinian tendency to place transferential interpretations at the centre of the analytical process.
Foulkes and Anthony (made some basic points about transference and countertransference processes in groups.
The first point is that transference processes are one of the four ‘levels of communication’ in groups; the other three levels of communication were said to be the ‘real’ or ‘personal’, the ‘projective’ (and the ‘introjective’: Hopper (2009), and the ‘primordial’.
• The second basic point that Foulkes and his colleagues made about transference processes was that from the point of view of each patient in the group, transference to the Conductor differs from transferences to other patients in the group. It also differs from the transference to the group as-a-whole, to various sub-groups and to relationships within the group, or various aspects of the context of the group, etc. Thus there is a small t, showing transference to other then the conductor, which is symbolized by a capital T. Similarly, countertransference by the conductor differs from countertransferences by any one or more members of the group.
• Hopper (2005) adds a third aspect, which is transference and countertransference to general, historical and group-as-a-whole issues, which he called “microcosmos” (Slater,1966). The group’s ‘collective’ transference to objects who are held in common by the group, such as the conductor, the dynamic matrix of the group, various sub-groups, etc. The group microcosms are not merely a matter of so-called ‘parallel processes’, which reproduce unconscious relation patterns in the group. The group microcosmos means, for example, that its existence is connected to the foundation matrix. This includes language, social stratification, the norms of gender roles, etc, and also implies transgenerational processes (Le Roy, 1994). These processes are connected to the collective and social unconscious.
Neri (1998) quotes Bejerano (1972, p.17) who specifies four transference objects:
The therapist (who functions as a father image at archaic levels, as the infantile Super-ego or Ego Ideal;
• The group which functions as a mother-image (Oedipal level) but even more as an archaic mother (the horde);
• The others (lateral transference) as a fraternal image;
• The external world, as a place for the projection of individual destructiveness or productiveness. (In Neri, 1998, p. 20)
When “transposing” the group-analytic participant is not imagining the analyst to be his father, or unconsciously forcing him to be his father, but perceiving the analyst to be like his father in the domestic setting. This similarity is then transposed onto the clinical setting. In a sense, it is the setting or context that has been transferred from the past to the present or from another place to the present clinical place. For example, the group becomes one’s family of origin or even of pro-creation, or becomes a school classroom, sometimes in a fairly concrete way. There is a big difference between perceiving the analyst as ‘being his father’, at one extreme, or ‘like his father’, at the opposite extreme. Transposition seems to more reality oriented, and used as an intervention to rather conscious thinking.
Countertransference is responsive rather than primary, although this is always a matter for negotiation. On the Other side, most of the time Transference is primary, and it is not only in the awareness of the group analyst, but it appears also in the awareness of others in the group. Foulkes (1964) described the transference and the transferences in clinical group analysis as being manifest in what he called a ‘continuously re-integrating network’, which he later called the ‘dynamic matrix’ of the group.
Our personal opinion is that the classic terms of transference and counter-transference are fundamentally incompatible with the group-analytic understanding. They need to get a completely new connotation, or even better, should not be used any more. The term ‘matrix’ , as defined by Foulkes, includes three dimensions with the foundation matrix, the dynamic matrix and the personal matrix: a timeless-universal one, a present-spatial one and a biographical-personal one. If we realize that all individuals who are connected in the dynamic matrix, in the Here-and Now, have got a personal matrix, and that at any time all these individuals are interconnected in the dynamic matrix, we are moving in a three-dimensional sphere of attachment.
We consider the use of terms like transference and countertransference as a step back into the times of one-person psychology, before group analysis, when the social environment was looked at mainly from the point of view of its object function. We prefer to talk about the re-activation of formative relation experiences of all the group members in the group process, included the one of the group conductor.
Vivienne Cohen, who was a participant in Foulkes’ first group-analytic group in London, told me once about the one interpretation she remembered: she had thrown her keys at a woman who made her angry. Foulkes responded: “At whom did you really throw your keys. Here we can see the T, the intervention which marks the group participant as a transferred past relationship in the family into the group. And probably the intervention could be understood as an avoidance of T and an enactment of Foulkes countertransference to the violent situation in the group.
Bejerano, A. (1972) Resistance et transfert dans les groups. In: D.Anzieu, A.Bejerano, R. Kaes, A. Missenard and J.B.Pontalis (eds.) Le Travail Psychoanalytique dans les Groupes. Paris:Dunod.
De Mare, P. (1972) Large Group Psychotherapy. A suggested approach. Group Analysis 5: 106-108.
Foulkes, S.H. and Anthony, E.J. (1957). Group Psychotherapy: The Psychoanalytic Approach. London: Karnac, 1984.
Foulkes, S.H. (1964). Therapeutic Group Analysis. London: Allen & Unwin. Reprinted in 1984, London: Karnac.
Foulkes, S.H. (1972) Oedipus conflict and regression. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 22. 3-15. In: Foulkes, E.(ed.) 1990: Selected Papers of S.H.Foulkes, Karnac.pp.235-248.
Foulkes, S.H. (1975). Group Analytic Psychotherapy: Methods and Principles. London: Interface, Gordon & Breach. Reprinted in 1986, London: Karnac.
Hopper, E. (2005). ‘Countertransference in the context of the fourth basic assumption in the unconscious life of groups.’ International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 55, 1, 87
Hopper, E. (2006) ‘Theoretical and Conceptual Notes Concerning Transference and Countertransference Processes in Groups and by Groups, and the Social Unconscious: Part I.’ Group Analysis, 39, 4, 549-559, December
Neri, C. (1998) Group. Jessica Kingsley.
Slater, P. (1966). Microcosm: Structural, Psychological and Religious Evolution in Groups. New York: John Wiley and Sons.