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Experiential Groups

Background to groups

• Man is a social animal.

• When Man settled in large groups in one area, cultures and civilisations


• In the animal kingdom, it is natural for a pecking order to exist.

• Despite our advances in science and technology, we cannot escape these primitive needs, which are highlighted in our day-to-day conflicts

When it comes to matters of the mind, it is important to acknowledge that the mind is not confined to oneself (like the body). It cannot be fully defined and it is constantly influenced by the small group we belong to, and the large group we live within. Groups have the power to heal, but if not properly channelled, they can also be destructive.

Some early therapeutic groups

Greek civilisation : healing temples, dialogue groups (Plato)

18th century : Anton Mesmer 'Animal Magnetism'

1907 : JH Pratt, physician dealing with tuberculosis patients in USA

1913 : Freud, 'Totem and Taboo', psychoanalytic processes in anthropology and social groups 

1920 : JL Moreno, USA, first use of the term 'group therapy'

1921 : Freud, 'Group psychology and the analysis of the ego', the relationship of groups to their leaders (church and army)

Post 1920s : A Adler, psychiatric day hospitals and therapeutic clubs

1939 : P Schilder, "Some of the patients could not have been treated individually with classical analysis. They reacted only in the group 

Post WW2 in the USA

1943 : SR Slavson, educationalist and self-taught psychoanalyst, founder of the American Group Psychotherapy Association

1946 : work of Carl Menninger, Chief of Army Psychiatry

1946 : JL Moreno, 'Psychodrama'

Post WW2 in the UK

1945: Bion, Rickman, Foulkes and Main, the Northfield Experiment in Northfield Military Hospital

1946: W Bion and H Ezriel, Tavistock Institute, applied psychoanalysis in groups

1946: T Main, Medical Director, Cassel Hospital, psychosocial nursing

1949: M Jones, the Henderson Hospital, 'the therapeutic community'

1952: SH Foulkes and ET Anthony, Group Analytic Society

1961: M Balint 'balint groups' (GPs/patients)

1971: Institute of Group Analysis

1990s: P de Mare, Median Group Section, Group Analytic Society

Median Groups

Groups have a tendency to create or recreate family experience, which can lead to participants acting out unresolved issues from childhood and sibling rivalry (pre-Oedipal and Oedipal issues), leading to dependency, fight/flight, pairing, splitting and projections. Psychotherapeutic organisations have also fallen foul of these processes. By emphasising the importance of dialogue, and confronting unconscious, ambivalent factors, Median Groups aim to resolve these conflicts in a healthy and more productive way, not only for the individual but also for society.

With Dr Pat de Mare

Late 1990s, London GAS

Types of groups

Closed e.g. training cohort, intensive psychotherapy group

Slow-open e.g. psychotherapy group (less intensive), Median group

Open e.g. Alcoholic Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, AlAnon

Curative processes

SUPPORTIVE e.g. Self-help groups, social clubs

ANALYTICAL e.g. Freudian and Neo-Freudian principles, dealing with intra-psychic conflicts

EXISTENTIAL e.g. Yalom, dealing with problems of the here and now

DIALACTICAL e.g. P de Maré, from hate, through dialogue, to culture in the large group

  Therapeutic processes in groups

Yalom (1985)



Corrective recapitulation (of family group)

Imitative behaviour


Interpersonal learning


Existential factors

Some examples of destructive groups

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Old Malden, Surrey, KT3 6RP

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