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What Is the History Behind Support Groups?

Question by Kyle: What is the history behind support groups?
Support groups, group therapy whatever you want to call it, I’m curious as to how they began. I’m sure there were similar practices since recorded history but what about the formal group sessions that we think of today? Don’t just senda link I would like a detailed description.

Best answer:

Answer by Pandora
Formal support groups may appear to be a modern phenomenon, but they supplement traditional fraternal organizations such as Freemasonry in some respects, and may build on certain supportive functions carried out in families.

Since at least 1982, the Internet has provided a new and successful venue for support groups. Discussing on-line self-help support groups as the precursor to e-therapy, Martha Ainsworth notes that “the enduring success of these groups has firmly established the potential of computer-mediated communication to enable discussion of sensitive personal issues.”

The founders of group psychotherapy in the USA were Joseph H. Pratt, Trigant Burrow and Paul Schilder. All three of them were active and working at the East Coast in first half of the 20th century. After World War II group psychotherapy was further developed by Jacob L. Moreno, Samuel Slavson, Hyman Spotnitz, Irvin Yalom, and Lou Ormont. Yalom’s approach to group therapy has been very influential not only in the USA but across the world, through his classic text “The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy”. Moreno developed a specific and highly structured form of group therapy known as Psychodrama.

In the United Kingdom group psychotherapy initially developed independently, with pioneers S. H. Foulkes and Wilfred Bion using group therapy as an approach to treating combat fatigue in the Second World War. Foulkes and Bion were psychoanalysts and incorporated psychoanalysis into group therapy by recognising that transference can arise not only between group members and the therapist but also among group members. Furthermore the psychoanalytic concept of the unconscious was extended with a recognition of a group unconscious, in which the unconscious processes of group members could be acted out in the form of irrational processes in group sessions. Foulkes developed the model known as Group Analysis and the Institute of Group Analysis, while Bion was influential in the development of group therapy at the Tavistock Clinic. Bion has been criticised, for example by Yalom, for his technical approach which had an exclusive focus on analysis of whole-group processes to the exclusion of any exploration of individual group members’ issues. Despite this, his recognition of group defences in the “Basic Assumption Group”, has been highly influential.

Bion’s approach is comparable to Social Therapy, first developed in the United States in the late 1970s by Lois Holzman and Fred Newman, which is a group therapy in which practitioners relate to the group, not its individuals, as the fundamental unit of development. The task of the group is to “build the group” rather than focus on problem solving or “fixing” individuals.

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The Future of Individual Psychotherapy – In this video from Beck Institute’s recent CBT for Student and Faculty Workshop, Dr. Aaron Beck reacts to a quote by Dr. Alan Kazdin on the current status and future of individual, face-to-face psychotherapy. Dr. Beck discusses the effectiveness of certain alternative technologies that deliver CBT. He emphasizes that although alternative methods are often effective for many people, they may not be effective for everyone. Dr. Beck also cites practices in Great Britain that are designed to maximize resources within the psychotherapy/healthcare community by triaging patients and assigning the most severely disabled patients to therapists with the highest degree of expertise. Likewise, patients with mild to moderate symptoms are assigned to therapists with less training and often do equally as well. In terms of costs and outcomes, this is an effective direction in which many believe the field and healthcare are moving. For information on training in CBT, visit:


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