“Group-Analysis: Taking the Non-Problem Seriously”*

Caroline Garland wrote* in Group Analysis of 1.4.1982:

“…The proponents of General Systems Theory speak of Ps, or

“the point of a system at which the maximum number of functions essential to its existence converge, and which, if modified, effects the maximum change with a minimal expense of energy.”

As group-analysts, we really have no choice other than to accept the individual who presents himself to us as the focal or nodal point of the pathological system in which the functions essential to his existence converge. He is the only point of leverage within his own system that is available to us.

If we now move fron theory to practice we can attempt to trace the natural history of an individual’s involvement with a group a little further. A patient comes to a therapist with a problem of an intractable nature: he is stuck, with an unhappy marriage, a failure to progress in his work, a terror of enclosed spaces,whatever it might be. He says in effect to the therapist: I can’t solve my problem; help me. The therapist replies: Join this group; it may help.

What does this actually involve? The new member expects to present his problem to the group at large, and to have the benefit of not one, but a number of sources of advice, encouragement and support. Indeed he is obliged to talk about his problem, however reluctant he may be at first, because this is his entree, his right to a place in the group. If he says nothing, he will eventually be asked, ’Why are you here?’, and for the group’s attention to be engaged sympathetically, the answer must consist at least in part of the presentation of the problem. It is a necessary part of the initiation process that there is a confessional stage, in which credentials are presented. It serves several short-lived functions: principally, it is that the new entrant presents himself as a supplicant, not as a challenger.

Next, depending on the stage of development and maturity of the existing group, there is a period in which the individual’s presenting problem (which I will now call the Problem) is accepted by the group, who indicate their acceptance by expressions of synpathy, advice and a certain amount of comparing and contrasting with their own Problems. However, after a while, mysteriously the presenting Problem is dropped. There is a limit to the amount of time the group is prepared to give it, and perhaps the new member senses that ’just going on talking about it’ isn’t making any difference. Sometimes both these feelings are expressed quite explicitly. At any rate, it is seen to take a back seat in favour of something that is clearly not the Problem, not what the individual patient believed he joined a group to involve himself with – it is dropped in favour of the passionate discussion of and involvement with the shifting roles, relationships and behavioural communications that make up the system of the group itself. Our individual with a Problem, therefore, representing the nodal point of the system within which his pathology or Problem exists, comes to find himself increasingly concerned with what is not his problem – or the Non-Problem.

This is the foundation stone upon which change in the individual is constructed…”

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