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Tod H. Mikuriya, M.D.
Original Publication: International Transactional Analysis Association Bulletin, Volume 4, October 1965, Number 16
In some groups there appear to be certain modes and conventions of communication implicitly required of participants. A “Group Vocabulary” emerges consisting of words and phrases that, by their recurrence, have become clichés within the group. In addition, there is a behavior pattern of requesting a group consensus of feeling. The writer questions the efficacy of these group customs.
A few of the specialized words found in group therapy are as follows: Relate, Feedback, Feelings, Express, Manipulate, Communicate. One of the common features of the above in the context of the group is vagueness and quality of open-ended ness. These terms were probably used originally as an invitation to the therapies to come forth with material that would be useful to the therapist. As more than one or two therapists become involved with running the group and as the therapies become more exposed to group therapy, distortions tend to occur. For example:
FUNCTIONAL GLOSSARY WEBSTER’S SEVENTH
Relate: Get along with 1. To recount; narrate
Communicate 2. To connect or bring into
Interact with relation; to establish
“He relates well with the group.” To stand in some relation;
“You’re not relating.” To pertain.
“I was relating with…”
Feedback: Receiving information or 1. The return to the input of a part
Opinions on my behavior of the output of a machine,
From others or another. system, or process.
2. The partial reversion of the
“He received feedback that he…” effects of a process to its
source or to a preceding
Negative Feedback: Receiving infor- stage.
mation or opinions from
Others that my behavior was
disliked by others or another.
Feelings: Opinion(s) 5. Any emotional state; emotions;
as, a kindly feeling; also
“I think the group has some feelings…” 6. Formerly, opinion: now,
unreasoned opinion, sentiment.
Express(ing): Said, says, saying, tell, 2. To represent in words; to state;
told. Showed, shows, showing. to make known; to depict.
Communicating. 3. To delineate; to depict.
“He expressed that…” 4. To make known the opinions
“You’re not expressing yourself.” or feelings of.
Manipulate: To con or be conned 2. To treat or manage with the in-
One-up or be one down tellect.
Achieve ends by devious or 3. To control the action of, by
sneaky means. mangement; as to manipulate
“…manipulates the group…” a convection: also, to manage
“…He was manipulated by…” artfully or fraudently.
Communicate: Make oneself under-
stood. Relate. 1. To impart, or convey.
“You’re not communicating.” 2. To make known.
“…doesn’t seem to communicate
In order for a participant to function within the group he must quickly learn the specialized usages of those oft-used words and phrases. If he doesn’t, he either tends to become the recipient of group pressure to conform or his contributions go unrecognized (which, perhaps, is another form of group pressure). This tends to obstruct the perceptions of the therapists to material, which in fact may be quite significant. Another dividend of learning the vocabulary of the group is that the therapies very quickly learn how to use it for parrying inquiries on the part of the therapists.
It is even more confusing when the staff starts using these words on one another. These transactions can easily deteriorate into a morass of vagueness and noncommunication when both the patients and the staff make use of them, so that important issues and problems become completely “fogged in”.
The second point of this paper is concerned with a common group technique-the request for consensus of feelings (RCF). This takes the form of a question asked of the group: “I wonder if the group has any feelings about…” or “The group seems to have some feelings,” or “I wonder what the group thinks…” This, in itself, may be quite innocuous and may lead to some insight into a particular phenomenon before the group at the time. Often, however, during the response to RCF, the discussion becomes tangential. With in invoking of RCF it slides off into other areas, leaving the initial problem unsolved.
A hunger for latent content (depth orientation) may contribute to the confusion when coupled with the RCF approach. This may be especially destructive if the staff begins to attack one another by questioning motivations and making interpretations. Such sessions may not only fail to solve or recognize important problems, but may leave the staff members in a state of general uneasiness from having their psyches dissected and attacked by the group.
Therapies may exploit special usages to resist disclosure of material that may be significant, especially if the therapist insists on this conventional vocabulary. In effect, this may be teaching the therapist insists on this conventional vocabulary. In effect, this may be teaching the therapies new and better ways to play a wicked game of Psychiatry. The staff may become entangled in its own confusion by using open-ended terms on one another. Certain terminology meant to increase efficiency of communication may, in fact, actually be producing an opposite effect by setting up euphemisms that are used functionally as screens to insight. A request for consensus of feelings may also erect barriers to communication and insight into problems, since it often gives rise to tangential discussions. The use of interpretations or motive investigation adds to confusion in recognizing and solving problems as well as contribution to staff uneasiness.
Dr. Mikuriya is a second year resident in psychiatry
at the Oregon State Hospital.