Foulkes and group psychoanalysis

Chris Burford cburford at
Tue Jul 18 23:11:19 MDT 1995

Foulkes and Group Psychoanalysis

Thanks to Seamus, Kit, and Patrick for interest in my reference to
Foulkes, and apologies for the delay in compiling this.

S. H. Foulkes (originally Sigmund Fuchs) was part of the psychodynamic
Born in Germany, he trained in Vienna as a psychoanalyst, and returned to
Frankfurt, where he was appointed Director of the Clinic of the
Psychoanalytical Institute. Here his contemporaries included Eric
Fromm and Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. The influence of modern sociology on
psychoanalysis in Frankfurt was considerable. (see M. Jay, "The
Dialectical Imagination - a history of the Frankfurt School and
Institute of Social Research 1923-1950. London 1973) The Psycho-
analytical Institute was in the same building as the Sociological
Institute and joint seminars were held. The Sociological Institute
was headed by Hortheimer and the staff included Karl Mannheim and
Norbert Elias, who were in sympathy with psychoanalysis.

Coming to Exeter, England, as a refugee, during the war he started
seeing patients in groups. Unlike Bion, who persisted in analysing
the individual in the group, Foulkes's focus is uniquely on the social-
psychodynamics of a group. On the other hand his approach is not that
of the more overt ego psychological group approach of someone like
Yalom, who has more currency in North America.

Foulkes's approach is both social and psychodynamic. He wrote in 1957

"Field theory has made a major contribution to the study of group
dynamics and social fields which is of interest for a theoretical
framework of group analysis. Its concepts of the dynamic whole, of
figure and background, of the longingness, of tension and conflict,
of the time perpective, and the here-and-now of cohesive and
disruptive forces, of valences and of integrated and leaderless
groups, have been incorporated as part of the group analytic

In tapes dictated by him available from the "Institute of Group Analysis"
1, Daleham Gardens, London NW3 (which is also the address of the Group
Analytic Society, and a source for further information), he spoke
about how classical psychoanalysis keeps transference "aseptic" from
contact with family, relatives and friends and of

"my conviction that every single person is modelled and shaped deeply
by an interdependence with his network. I prefer to call this
'network' rather than 'family' because many times people who are not
family members are very important factors in such networks in which the
patient lives and on whom he depends actually and psychologically.
Even animals and inanimate objects can form a part of such a network."

"Such a group of reference is much more important than we were taught
to believe in classical psychoanalysis."

The therapeutic model includes large groups of twenty or more. I took
part in a large group of 400 in Heidelberg in 1993 at the first symposium
in which the Jewish diaspora returned as guests to German soil; the
language was English. But the therapeutic model which Foulkes concentrated
on refining, is a small group setting of 8-12 participants.

The model is intended to be one of free-floating discussion. Among the
favourable qualities of the conductor is the ability to listen and the
"capacity to be lost and bewildered rather than trying to control".
"The conductor makes the group, and all its members, the most active part
in the ongoing process, the most important agent of change." The
agenda is not imposed, but emerges, shifts and develops, a little like on
this list.

"Soon enough the group makes the important experience that selfish
interests and those of the group need not be antagonistic but go
together to a large extent.

"It is a question of the total re-orientation of the total relationship
of the individual to his community, or nation, or humanity as a whole.

"With some optimism we may assume this to be concurrent with the most
important need and objects of this period of human history."

At this point the tape ends.

The theoretical implications of Foulkess work have not been developed
much outside the gradually growing movement of group analysis. But
he posits a series of overlapping mobile matrices, fully compatible
with theories of intersubjectivity linking the individual
and society. Indeed in some formulations he suggest that the
individual should be seen as a nodal point in the relevant matrix or

Group analysis is logistically more laborious to set up than individual
therapy but the experience is strangely compelling in complex ways hard
to define. The transference interactions you go through are quite strong
and have the merit of being not just with an opaque therapist. The
overall effect is one of greater acceptance of one's complex interaction
with other people, and a poignant sense of democratic group cohesion,
even though the groups are not action orientated.

There are no quick fixes. There is, as Foulkes claimed, some optimism.

If anyone is in a position to cross post to the Frankfurt School
list and thinks these notes may be of interest, perhaps they could oblige.

Chris Burford, London      notes compiled 18.7.95.

cburford at


S.H. Foulkes, London publishers

Introduction to Group-Analytic Psychotherapy, 1948, Heinemann
Therapeutic Group Analysis 1964 Allen and Unwin
Group Psychotherapy: The Psychoanalytic Approach 1973, Penguin, with
   E.J. Anthony
Group Analytic Psychotherapy: Methods and Principles, 1975, Gordon & Breech

Also reprinted as Maresfield Reprints 1982/3/4/6 by Karnac Books, London

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