The Large Group Re-Visited: The Herd, Primal Horde, Crowds and Masses (Book Review)
Author: Schneider, Stanley and Haim Weinberg
Publisher: London: Jessica Kingsley, 2004
Reviewed By: Macario Giraldo, Fall 2004, p. 67
This book has a remarkable diversity of authors from which the reader will have an opportunity to pick and choose. From the United States, Europe and the Middle East a number of ideas on both theory and application of what is called “the large group” is presented successively although at times, repetitively. There are internationally well known psychoanalytic writers such as Otto Kernberg, Malcom Pines, Patrick de Mare and others and those less known have sometimes unique and interesting ideas to contribute. The title “The large group” is somewhat deceptive. There are many kinds of large groups rather than the large group. Since almost if not all of the authors are group therapists the expression “the large group” conveys a reference to the now familiar large group meeting at local, national and international meetings of the various associations of group psychotherapy. In this respect I share Hopper’s warning in his article, “Obviously, the findings from the study of large groups as training events within organizational settings should be referred to other kinds of large groups with caution.”
Malcolm Pines of the Institute of Group Analysis in London gives a brief, scholarly presentation of the development of the large group from Bion, Rickman, Foulkes, and Patrick de Mare. He brings out the contributions of other pioneers such as Trigant Burrow in the U.S and Pichón Rivière of Argentina.
Kernberg and Hopper discuss the classical ideas of Melanie Klein as they apply to the large group phenomena. Kernberg extends his now familiar object relations concepts to expand on the modern phenomenon of terrorism and the prevalence of violence in society. Hopper adds a fourth asumption to Bion’s basic ones, what he calls Incohesion: aggregation/massification. This concept has certain similarities to Lacan’s register of the real. Hopper connects it with the dynamics of violence in individuals and large groups.
There are a number of articles of great interest for those working with inpatient groups, those of Robert M. Lipgar of Chicago, Joseph H. Berke, of the Arbours Crisis Centre in London, and Rolf Schmidts of Munich.
The large group as a means of training for work with organizations, to understand political process, to learn to contain and utilize regression are covered by Lamis Jarrar of Washington DC, Gerard Wilke of London, Joseph Shaked of Vienna, Austria, Joseph Triest of Tel Aviv and Thor Kristian Island of Oslo. Haim Weinberg of Israel ventures into the world of the internet and has some interesting conclusions about his work with a large group through the internet. Lamis Jarrar openness into her unconscious process as she writes and works as a conductor is refreshing and very pedagogical. The article by Wilke opens up a new direction in the understanding and utilization of the large group. The book ends with an epilogue by Patrick de Mare of London and Roberto Schollberger of Zurich where important philosophical ideas are used to project the future of group work and especially of what de Mare calls the median group. I believe de Mare’s ideas and developments will carry further the application of psychoanalytic ideas to the work with groups and organizations.
De Mare is clearly anchored in a rich psychoanalytic tradition yet he is not shy to venture out into unexplored applications with the median group. De Mare writes about and conceptualizes a kind of large group The Median Group. It is probably the most applicable and promising kind of “large group” I am still unclear about the therapeutic real benefits of other large groups. I have seen some that show promise, and when this happens is when they lead to building up community. It is not an easy enterprise, and the role of the leader/leaders is central. In these cases the creation of dialogue in the membership takes on a life of its own almost and it is a manifestation of the work done by competent leaders and the clear boundaries, task and purpose of the group.
Throughout the articles there is a dynamic of classical psychoanalytic theory application mixed with sociology, and organizational dynamics. There is an attempt to translate psychoanalytic theory into a broad social and even political realm. It is a very difficult enterprise. I was glad to notice that a few of the authors seem familiar with the work of the psychoanalyst Vamik Volkan of the center he has established at the University of Virginia. Volkan has a lot to say about “the large group’ because of his research and involvement with a number of the contemporary conflicts in Yugoslavia, the Middle East and other regions of the world.
The book is a very good reference for those interested in expanding the rich concepts of psychoanalysis to the work with community groups, hospitals, organizations and training activities.
Macario Giraldo is a psychologist in private practice in Washington, DC and director of the National Group Psychotherapy Institute at the Washington School of Psychiatry.
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