The learning group: dynamics, concepts and issues. a post-Foulkesian group-analytic ethnography of psychoanalytic psychotherapy training
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This is a study of the final semester of a clinical training course in psychoanalytic psychotherapy. This study explores the contribution of the classroom group to promoting the process of learning, in other words, its role as a learning group. The author took part in the group as a participant observer, but was also one of the two teaching staff responsible for the semester. Hence, the study is an exemplification of practice, from the inside outwards. Within the inter-disciplinary tradition of psychoanalytic anthropology, the study demonstrates the novel methodology of post-Foulkesian group-analytic ethnography. The study makes use of an understanding of the unconscious mind, one which emphasises associative processes. This perspective enables a focus on metonymy, a figure of speech where a concept or object is replaced by an associated concept or object. In the study, metonymy is used to facilitate both the elaboration of the methodology and methods of the study (by exploiting the associations between disciplines and processes that are contiguous), as well as the processes of analysis and interpretation of the data. Data was collected through participant observation (both at the time of the teaching and learning and in reflective consideration later), by audiotape recording the semester, and from analytic consideration of allied experiences. The study includes both a narrative account of the whole semester as well as analyses of a series of ‘sticky moments’, episodes that are dense with layered meanings. These sticky moments include: a difficult beginning; an eruption of emotion in an hiatus; the dramatic appearance of a powerful symbol; phenomena transferred to, enacted in and managed in an allied reflective space; and disconnection from reality at an ending. These are understood respectively as being, amongst other things, illustrations: of timelessness, and of containment, essential to the work of the group; of how an individual can come unconsciously through a form of symbolisation to be the focus of and conveyor of experience for the group; of condensation of an array of meanings into a single instance; of how displacement offers potential for resolution, and, finally, of how an absence of mutual contradiction can allow the unconscious to remain so, at a cost. From these accounts, a series of concepts, dynamics and issues are identified. These elements are then linked to form a group-analytically aware model in order to inform and to understand this type of teaching and learning. This model has twin foci, the content of the learning, and the context and process of that learning. The study aims to contribute in the following ways: to understanding of the processes of teaching and learning; to the development of research methodology for reflective practitioner research, particularly for use by clinicians but available to others; to clinical psychotherapy training; and to the promotion of professional development in related fields.