From the Couch to the Circle. Group-Analytic Psychotherapy in Practice
John R Schlapobersky
Book review by Simon McArdle, Senior Lecturer in Mental Health at University of Greenwich in London.
This text is variously described as a manual or a handbook, and quite rightly can be regarded as a practice guide and theoretical textbook also. By any description, however, it is seminal and deserves to become a classic contribution to the field of therapeutic group work. Speaking as an independent observer, I would have thought it must be for group analytic psychotherapy the missing definitive text for this school; extremely well written, highly accessible, continually engaging and profoundly informative and thought-provoking. By way of illustration, one could highlight, for instance, the treasure-store of clinical vignettes and accompanying commentaries, as one instance of the quality of this text. The author must be a classy clinician and is subtle and nuanced in his comments.
As described by the author, the book can be read in numerous ways. I suspect different readers will have a preferred order, and opt for their own ways of navigating the respective sections and chapters. That’s one way in which this book is sophisticated, and something of a work of art as well as a work of science. It is obviously a labour of love, too. A lifetime’s achievement, indeed. However read, I can guarantee, all readers will all have as enjoyable and fascinating a journey as I have had.
In terms of the basic organisation of the book, it is divided into three sections, with very different aims and objectives, all of which are achieved by this first class writer. The author addresses all practitioners of therapeutic group work in the first, foundation section. I will be drawing extensively from the great knowledge and learned insights of the author, in this section, in my teaching of therapeutic group work to final-year pre-registration Mental Health Nursing students. The second section presents a comprehensive picture of the author’s own school of group analytic psychotherapy. The author demonstrates why he is a renowned national and international leader in this speciality. The third and final section is devoted to the dynamics of therapeutic work, and aimed at clinicians using group analysis. In this respect, the author gives further support to practitioners like myself who would argue that all therapeutic services should have a service therapist who is IGA-trained. I certainly expect all Therapeutic Communities to have a community therapist and for that person to be IGA-trained. Is this a Community of Community Standard?
There is a crucial element to this book which must be recognised. This is a heavyweight theoretical contribution to the field of therapeutic group work. The author wears a level and degree of theoretical brilliance lightly. In Chapter 14, dealing with the representation of the projective domain, the author sets a very real task for future generations of students and practitioners’ of group analysis. I am sure this chapter will form the basis of much debate and many IGA-qualifying theory papers for years to come.
To conclude, this is a rich and varied work, an absolute joy to have read and a real privilege to be able to review. It stands with Yalom’s Group Psychotherapy classic. My favourite writer on psychotherapy is the great Murray Cox. John Schlapobersky stands in this company. Any teacher, practitioner or researcher in therapeutic group work should read this book. All Therapeutic Communities and university libraries should have a copy. I look forward to discussing this ground-breaking contribution with colleagues for the rest of my career.
Registered Mental Nurse