Group Psychotherapy Column
Utilizing Media as Poetry, Music, Imagery, and Symbolic Objects in Group Therapy
By John Breeskin, PhD, ABPP
I tend to think with all five senses when I consider the group process, and this involves such media as poetry, music, and imagery. The objects I will refer to (photographed below) are provided early in the group history and are kept available for symbolic use during our sessions.
These artifacts are introduced during group sessions in coordination with where the group is developmentally during any given time. For example, Stone soup will be introduced rather quickly in the group timeline; the Sticks are used to illustrate the strength of the intentional family in contrast to a single individual as a model for the group to use in the creation of the group family. The can opener and the spirit wand are always kept on hand and are used appropriately over the life of the group. The Spittoon is present from the start and the climbing rope is used during termination. The introduction of these objects is explained as a method to move beyond words to concrete symbols and the hope is that these artifacts will become talisman- like objects that mark our journey together. Typically the group grasps the point very quickly and feels free to use the objects throughout the life of the group.
Here are the descriptions of the items:
1. Spittoon. This spittoon sits in the center of our group and negative transference and counter transference is deposited into it on a moment to moment basis. This is usually pointed out by the therapists, but not necessarily.
2. Stone soup. This comes from the old Romania folk tale of the old lady who went to her cupboard to prepare lunch and found only two stones, a story which is no doubt familiar to most readers. This symbol is presented early in the group history and returns as a metaphor over and over again.
3. Mexican wooden spirit bat (Battake). This spirit bat comes in three sizes, depending on the size of the spirit whose attention needs to be sought. Any person in the group who wants to claim time for him or herself takes the bat and while he or she holds it, the floor is theirs. This is used at appropriate times throughout the group history.
4. Can opener. When a person feels like he or she needs to open a can of worms, either for him/herself or for another group member they pick up the can opener and hold it aloft.
5. Tongue depressor sticks. These are presented in the following manner: The single tongue depressor can be broken easily, but the stacked sticks, each with the name of a group member written on it, cannot easily be broken. This is a metaphor for group strength.
6. Climbing rope. The rope is used at the end of the group as a termination exercise. (Thank you, Virginia Satir.) The loop is tied around the therapist's wrist, it is passed to each group member who loops it around his or her wrist and then, at the termination, the loops are taken off.
7. Box of Kleenex. The box of Kleenex seems innocuous in and of itself, but it is not. If a person in an altered state of consciousness is weeping, a decision must be made as to whether the offering of Kleenex would be an intrusion or not. Often the best strategy is to simply make sure the box is within reach.
These artifacts become an important part of the group process and add to the smoothness of group functioning.
It would be nice to know if other professionals have similar objects that they use. I would be delighted to hear about them.