By Karen Carnabucci, licensed clinical social worker, practitioner of psychodrama, sociometry and group psychotherapy, and author of Integrating Psychodrama and Systemic Constellation Work.

Both psychodrama and systemic constellation work happen in groups – which brings new emphasis to the function and value of groups.

So much of today’s psychotherapy happens in individual sessions that we can easily forget about the magnificence of groups and their enormous possibilities of healing. We like that the new constellation work reminds us of the value of groups, along with psychodrama, which has championed groups for decades.

Let’s look at the status of groups today and how psychodrama and constellation work look at groups:

Most recently today’s groups are often volunteer support vehicles for people fighting addiction, like 12-step programs, or supports for the more chronically mentally ill and their families. There are an endless amount of voluntary groups for a host of people facing particular mental or physical problems and illnesses – people who need others they can identify with and exchange with, and get support from.

There are still professional talk group therapies, but they are difficult to find and often viewed as socialization or re-socialization mechanisms to supplement individual psychotherapy. They are generally designed for people needing help with social skills, to get feedback from others on how they come across, as well as training in effective reciprocal exchanges. These groups also are seen as adjuncts to individual psychotherapy. Talk group work is certainly not considered the meat and potatoes of professional therapy help. The decisive move toward making an internal change and achieve self-betterment is still seen as primarily to be accomplished in individual psychotherapy

In contrast with talk therapy groups, experiential group psychotherapy is seen as the gold standard of experiential work, with individual therapy the supplement. Here is the most potential for therapeutic change, and where the difference can be experienced first hand, in contrast with individual therapy.

It is always the “experience” that makes the difference for a experiential therapist, and that experience comes best in the context of group, the cradle of a client’s history, the place where his or her socialization began.

J.L. Moreno, the originator of psychodrama, and Bert Hellinger, the originator of systemic constellation work, extol that the possibilities for therapeutic change are their greatest in experiential group psychotherapy. Although both methods have now been adapted to individuals, couples and families, it is still best to understand the exploration of clients’ issues and process in terms of the original group work before adaptations to other settings.

Whatever the applications, they are still seen as most potent in the group context with great effectiveness for their members However, there is one the major difference between group experiences. Historically, psychodrama has been seen as a group therapy and as a living laboratory for human relationships. Its group process springs out of dynamics among participants and the common relationship connections that we call sociometry. Each session’s focus usually explores one person’s situation, as one after another emerges from the group as the “protagonist,” the one who best reflects the central concern for the group at any given time. The protagonist, then, does his or her work not on their own behalf but as a result of the dynamics of the group.

Constellation work is not based on what is happening with the group’s members. Rather, the group is the arena for participants to present individual issues, with bonding among participants as secondary. Connection is not based on identification with others’ experiences or reciprocal sharing but rather on, assisting others and being assisted by others in the search for answers. We might even say that systemic constellation work is not really a group therapy but rather a therapeutic group experience.

Participants in a systemic constellation group often feel a warm bond with each other, but the bond is based on collaboration with the mutual task at hand. The goal is not really improved relationships with significant others in one’s life or even others within the group. The goal is to help each other figure out what lies beneath the dynamics of each one’s family system, in each person’s intergenerational history, exploring what may have gone wrong, when, and then in learning how to go about healing it.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

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