Applied History of Psychology/Group Therapy - principles, theory, and key figures

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Irving Yalom: Irving Yalom 1951 -

Home: New York City. School: Interpersonal, with a psychoanalytical background - although he uses a "Here and Now Focus." Yalom may claim himself to be an existentialist as his therapy deals with "existential factors", but he does not take a phenomenonlogical approach to therapy. He was educated at Stanford University, and was strongly influenced by psychodynamic and phonomenological thinking, as well as by other mental-health professionals, such as social workers. He has been extremely influential in the practice of group psychotherapies, and has published numerous books, including "The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy" (1996) and xistential Psychology". Yalom has also written a book on Nietzsche


Influences on Yalom: Yalom was most notably influenced by Harry Stack Sullivan who believed that pathology derives from interpersonal perceptual problems. In dealing with these problems, Yalom, unlike Sullivan, sought to work them out in a group setting, with a "Here and Now Focus". In this focus, the therapist facilitates interaction in the group, with issues taking place in the group. Members are discouraged from talking about their past issues or events occurring outside the group. When one member of the group expresses some interactional problem, they are asked to find someone within the present group who is similar to a person they would deal with in their regular lives. Conflicts and other issues are worked out, in vivo.

During this interaction, Yalom asks clients to observe themselves in the interaction. What he is attempting to create here is what he calls a Self Reflective Loop. While observing what they do "here and now", what they are feeling, saying and doing, they may learn how they really act outside the group.

In Yalom's view, the group is a microcosm of other social groups, such as families, and even society itself. In order to reinforce the effects of the group, Yalom feels that therapy should become the most important event in a client's life (i.e., temporarily, for the duration of therapy).

In Yalom's group therapies, newness and experimentation during therapeutic interactions are emphasized. Members collect feedback as they try out new behaviors.

Yalom has outlined the processes underlying his group therapies, calling them the curative factors in group therapy. These are outlined below - The Curative Factors in Groups Therapy

  1. Instillation of Hope: Establishing a sense among group members that change and resolution are possible.
  2. Universality: The sense that group members experience similar pain and struggles.
  3. Imparting of information: Group members share information about recovery, strategies, resources, and behaviours (i.e., what to do).
  4. Altruism: The very nature of the therapy, in which group members help each other (while getting help) is reciprocal. This reciprocity gives way to feelings of altruism - which in itself has the capacity to make one feel better.
  5. The corrective recapitulation of the primary family group: The group environment mimics the primary family, and the group member can therefore experience what it is like to be in a more supportive environment (if his/her family experiences were negative).
  6. Development of socializing techniques: Therapy is a place to be with others, to listen, and to talk to others. Therefore, Yalom views that very act ov socializing to be therapeutic.
  7. Imitative behavior: Therapy is a place where you can try behaviors that others have found successful. This process relates to the process of altruism mentioned above, in that group members can experiment in vivo with the advice they learn from others.
  8. Interpersonal learning: The process of learning how to adopt and take on other perspectives - other than one's own.
  9. Group cohesiveness: Being a part of a group instills a sense of belonging, which a priori includes a sense of being important to each other.
  10. Catharsis: Therapy should be a place to vent and explore feelings and get relief from them.

In Yalom's view, two processes work together to produce change: Group Cohesiveness and Catharsis. Cohesiveness is what causes members to cathect to the group - i.e. it is what makes their feedback emotionally motivating - and thus a force of change. When a member cathects to the group, s/he is motivated to change behaviors that are unacceptable to the group. When the group matters to the individual, the individual becomes more like the group, and thus changes. Therefore, the group must become important to all the group's members if cohesiveness is to be established.