Therapeutic community and who we are

Humans are naturally group like creatures. It is natural for them to form into groups. It is natural for them to form into groups and discuss things including the problems they are having both practical and psychological.

Indeed it is argued by Farhad Dalal that the social or group is the most primal aspect of human psychology. Traditional psychology has tended to maintain that humans develop the individual first and then the social second. Traditional psychology of the infant and young child focuses on how that individual develops. Freud talks of the development of the superego, ego and id and of course Eric Berne talks of the Child, Adult and Parent ego state development. Piaget talks of the young child’s cognitive development, Eric Erickson talks of child development by mastering certain tasks or resolving basic questions about self, Kohlberg with moral development and so forth.

Farhad Dalal proposes this is misguided. Instead of the individual developing first it is the social that develops first. The new born infant and young child can only understand itself in a social context, that is, as part of mother and father. Indeed a child has no understanding of itself as an individual. It can only understand self as being part of a group. It can only understand self as being part of another (mother). Its entire world and comprehension of reality is as being part of a group or the social context of itself. It cannot comprehend or understand itself as an individual. That only happens much later.

The point being made, is that group is the most natural state of being for a person. It is how we began to define our very existence. Mother and self were one. There was no “I” there was only “we”. In a group of course it is all about “we”. Even more so, most children grow up in a family of some kind. A child’s intial understanding of reality and itself is first as a part of mother and then as a part of the most primal of all groups, the family.

A therapy group that forms over a number of days can then be seen to become a form of a therapeutic community. The therapy group stops being an arena where I, the individual can go to understand my problems and change my thinking, feeling and behaving. Instead it becomes a therapeutic community where the individual can again begin to experience itself in that same very primal way that it did from its very first day of life. Its most natural state is to be part of a group and a therapeutic community allows people to do this.

Of course being part of a group is fraught with all sorts of difficulties. It immediately imposes on the individual a whole series psychological tasks. The individual in the group has to deal with a number of questions immediately confronting him or her.

Belonging versus alienation
Inclusion versus feeling excluded
Feeling powerful or powerless
Feeling as important or less important than others

However even more profound is the position one takes in the group. Their most ‘fav’ role, which we all have:

Am I a leader or am I led
Am I the high achiever of the group
Am I the joker in the group
Am I the sick one in the group that others look after
If I can’t be the good one then I will be the bad one
Am I the practical problem solver of the group
Do I look after others

and so on endlessly.

We all know these to the core of who we are because we all had our ‘fav’ position from day one. It provides us with the context of who we are and it is the natural position of who we were from day one. A therapeutic community will raise all these questions in the mind of the individual which then affords the opportunity to question them if one so chooses and the opportunity to do it different.

A therapeutic community becomes a reflection of the primal family in which we all existed from day one. This is especially so the more one encourages the experience of Free Child in that therapeutic community. This directly encourages the individual to see itself as part of the primal family unit in the therapeutic community.

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2 Responses to “Therapeutic community and who we are”

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  1. Evan says:

    I really doubt a young child ‘understands itself’ as anything an adult would recognise.

    I’m sure we responded intensely to our mothers and other stuff when we were young.

    I think Farhad is very confused being s/he is trying to understand young people with adult people’s categories.

    • Tony White says:

      Hi Evan, I may not have too clear. Conventional psychology usually sees the individual psychological development of the person is first and then comes the social development. This sees it the other way around, which has significant implications. The infant only understands itself as a part of the union with mother so the social is very much first. And that implies a psychology where one can only understand self as part of a union with another. Interesting view point

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