Wilfred Ruprecht Bion, Experiences in Groups, 1961

1. "The term 'group therapy' can have two meanings. It can refer to the treatment of a number of individuals assembled for special therapeutic sessions, or it can refer to a planned endeavour to develop in a group the forces that lead to smoothly running co-operative activity." 11

2. "The therapy of groups is likely to turn on the acquisition of knowledge and experience of the factors which make for a good group spirit." 11

3. ". . . I was put in charge of the training wing of a military psychiatric hospital." 11

4. "In the face of the urgent need for action I sought, and found, a working hypothesis. It was, that the discipline required depends on two main factors: (i) the presence of the enemy, who provided a common danger and/a common aim; and (ii) the presence of an officer who, being experienced, knows some of his own failings, respects the integrity of his men, and is not afraid of either their goodwill or their hostility." 12/13

5. "A psychiatrist who knows this will at least be spared the hideous blunder of thinking that patients are potential cannon-fodder, to be returned as such to their units. He will realize that it is his task to produce self-respecting men socially adjusted to the community and therefore willing to accept its responsibilities whether in peace or war. Only thus will he be free from deep feelings of guilt that effectually stultify any efforts he may otherwise make towards treatment." 13

6. "There was no difficulty about detecting a common danger; neurotic extravagances of one sort and another perpetually endanger the work of the psychiatrist or of any institution set up to further treatment of neurotic disorders. The common danger in the training wing was the existence of neurosis as a disability of the community. I was now back at my starting-point--the need, in the treatment of a group, for displaying neurosis as a problem of the group. But thanks to my excursion into the problem of discipline, I had come back with two additions. Neurosis needs to be displayed as/a danger to the group; and its display must somehow be made the common aim of the group.

"But how was the group to be persuaded to tackle neurotic disability as a communal problem?

"The neurotic patient does not always want treatment, and when at last his distress drives him to it he does not want it wholeheartedly. This reluctance has been recognized in the discussion of resistance and allied phenomena; but the existence of comparable phenomena in societies has not been recognized.

"Society has not yet been driven to seek treatment of its psychological disorders by psychological means because it has not achieved sufficient insight to appreciate the nature of its distress. The organization of the training wing had to be such that the growth of insight should at least not be hindered. Better still if it could be designed to throw into prominence the way in which neurotic behaviour adds to the difficulties of the community, destroying happiness and efficiency. If communal distress were to become demonstrable as a neurotic by-product, then neurosis itself would be seen to be worthy of communal study and attack. And a step would have been taken on the way to overcoming resistance in the society." 13/14

7. Indexes: a) progress of the individual b) direction of the individual (goals, capabilities)

8. "At the same time the organization could be used to further the main aim of the training wing--the education and training of the community in the problems of interpersonal relationships. If it could approximate to this theoretical construct it would enable the members of the training wing to stand (as it were) outside the framework and look with detachment and growing understanding upon the problems of its working." 15

9. "Every man must be a member of one or more groups--the groups designed to study handicrafts, Army correspondence courses, carpentry, map-reading, sand-tabling, etc.
"Any man could form a fresh group if he wanted to do so, either because no group existed for his particular activity or because, for some reason or other, he was not able to join an existing similar group." 16

10. "It was also announced that a parade would be held every day at 12:10 p.m. for making announcements and conducting other business of the training wing. Unknown to the patients, it was intended that this meeting, strictly limited to 30 minutes, should provide an occasion for the men to step outside their framework and look upon its working with the detachment of spectators. In short, it was intended to be the first step towards the elaboration of therapeutic seminars." 16

11. "I was therefore able to communicate to this meeting an interesting fact observed by myself and others who had gone round with me. Namely, that, although there were many groups and almost entire freedom to each man to follow the bent of his own inclinations, provided he could make a practical proposal, yet very little was happening." 17

12. "This announcement left the audience looking as if they felt they were being 'got at'. I turned the discussion over at that point as a matter of communal responsibility and not/something that concerned myself, as an officer, alone.

"With surprising rapidity the training wing became self-critical." 17/18

13. The patients complained that only about 20 percent were involved. Retort: this is true in any community and how can it be addressed in this community? They wanted the 80 percent punished in some way. Reply: why should your neurosis be treated in a way different from others? The problem may not be fully elucidated and the complainants were attempting to rush in with a cure before the disease had been diagnosed. 19

14. "It is worth remarking at this point that my determination not to attempt solution of any problem until its borders had become clearly defined helped to produce, after a vivid and healthy impatience, a real belief that the unit was meant to tackle its job with scientific seriousness." 19

15. ". . . Despite the changing population, the wing had an unmistakable esprit de corps. . ." 21

16. "There was a subtle but unmistakable sense that the officers and men alike were engaged on a worth-while and important task, even though the men had not yet grasped quite fully the nature of the task on which they were engaged. The atmosphere was not unlike that seen in a unit of an army under the command of a general in whom they have confidence, even though they cannot know his plans." 21

17. "The whole concept of the 'occupation' of the training wing as a study of, and a training in, the management of interpersonal relationships within a group seemed to be amply/justified as a therapeutic approach." 21/2

18. "Finally, attention may be drawn again to the fact that society, like the individual, may not want to deal with its distresses by psychological means until driven to do so by a realization that some at least of these distresses are psychological in origin. The community represented by the training wing had to learn this fact before the full force of its energy could be released in self-cure." 22

19. "The neurotic is commonly regarded as being self-centred and averse from co-operative endeavour; but perhaps this is because he is seldom put in an environment in which every member is on the same footing as regards interpersonal relationships." 25

20. ". . . It seemed to show that it is possible for a clinician to turn attention to the structure of a group and to the forces operating in that structure without losing touch with his patients and, further, that anxiety may be raised either inside or outside the group if this approach is made." 25

21. "We are now in a better position to define the 'good group spirit' that has been our aim.

"It is as hard to define as is the concept of good health in an individual; but some of its qualities appear to be associated with:

"(a) A common purpose, whether that be overcoming an enemy or defending and fostering an ideal or a creative construction in the field of social relationships or in physical amenities.

"(b) Common recognition by members of the group of the 'boundaries' of the group and their position and function in relation to those of larger units or groups.

"(c) The capacity to absorb new members, and to lose/members without fear of losing group individuality--i.e. 'group character' must be flexible.

"(d) Freedom from internal sub-groups having rigid (i.e. exclusive) boundaries. If a sub-group is present it must not be centred on any of its members nor on itself--treating other members of the main group as if they did not belong within the main group barrier--and the value of the sub-group to the function of the main group must be generally recognized.

"(e) Each individual member is valued for his contribution to the group and has free movement within it, his freedom of locomotion being limited only by the generally accepted conditions devised and imposed by the group.

"(f) The group must have the capacity to face discontent within the group and must have means to cope with discontent.

"(g) The minimum size of the group is three. Two members have personal relationships; with three or more there is a change of quality (interpersonal relationship)." 25/6

22. "Early in 1948 the Professional Committee of the Tavistock Clinic asked me to take therapeutic groups, employing my own technique. Now, I had no means of knowing what the Committee meant by this, but it was evident that in their view I had 'taken' therapeutic groups before. I had, it was true, had experience of trying to persuade groups composed of patients to make the study of their tensions a group task, and I assumed the Committee meant that they were willing that I should do this again. It was disconcerting to find that the Committee seemed to believe that patients could be cured in such groups as these. It made me think at the outset that their expectations of what happened in groups of which I was a member were very different from mine. Indeed, the only cure of which I could speak with certainty was related to a comparatively minor symptom of my own--a belief that groups might take kindly to my efforts. However, I agreed; so, in due course, I would find myself sitting in a room with eight or nine other people--sometimes more, sometimes less--sometimes patients, sometimes not. When the members of the group were not patients, I often found myself in a peculiar quandary. I will describe what happens. At the appointed time members of the group begin to arrive; individuals engage each other in conversation for a short time, and then, when a certain number has collected, a silence falls on the group. After a while desultory conversation breaks out again, and then another silence falls. It becomes clear to me that I am, in some sense, the focus of attention in the group. Furthermore, I am aware of feeling uneasily that I am expected to do something. At this point I confide my anxieties to the group, remarking that, however mistaken my attitude might be, I feel just this.

I soon find that my confidence is not very well received. Indeed, there is some indignation that I should express such feelings without seeming to appreciate that the group is entitled to expect something from me. I do not dispute this, but content myself with pointing out that clearly the group cannot be getting from me what they feel they are entitled to expect. I wonder what these expectations are, and what has aroused them.

The friendliness of the group, though sorely tested, enables them to give me some information. Most members have been told that I would 'take' the group; some say that I have a reputation for knowing a lot about groups; some feel that I ought to explain what we are going to do; some thought it was to be a kind of seminar, or perhaps a lecture. When I draw attention to the fact that these ideas seem to me to be based on hearsay, there seems to be a feeling that I am attempting to deny my eminence as a 'taker' of groups. I feel, and say, that it is evident that the group had certain good expectations and beliefs about myself, and are sadly disappointed to find they are not true. The group is persuaded that the expectations are true, and that my behaviour is provocatively and deliberately disappointing--as much as to say, I could behave differently if I wanted to, and am only behaving like this out of spite. I point out that it is hard for the group to admit that this could be my way of taking groups, or even that I should be allowed to take them in such a way.

At this point the conversation seems to me to indicate that the group has changed its purpose.

While waiting for the group to settle on its new course, it may be useful if I try to offer the reader some explanation of behaviour which may, by this time, puzzle him as much as it does the group. I would not, of course, dream of doing this in a group, but the reader is in a different position from that of the man or woman who has much more evidence to go upon than the written word. Several questions may have occurred to the reader. He may think that my attitude to the group is artificially naive, and certainly egotistical. Why should a group be bothered by having to discuss irrelevant matters such as the personality, history, career, and so forth, of one individual? I cannot hope to give any kind of full answer to such questions, but will say provisionally that I do not consider that I forced the group to discuss myself, though I do agree that the group was forced to do so. However irrelevant it may appear to be to the purpose of the meeting, the preoccupation with my personality certainly seemed to me to obtrude itself, unwelcome though that might be to the group or to myself. I was simply stating what I thought was happening. Of course, it may be argued that I provoked this situation, and it has to be admitted that this is quite possible, although I do not think so. But even supposing my observations are correct, it may be wondered what useful purpose is served in making them. Here I can only say I do not know if any useful purpose is served in making them. Nor am I very sure about the nature of this kind of observation. It would be tempting, by analogy with psychoanalysis, to call them interpretations of group transference, but I think any psychoanalyst would agree with me that, before such a description could be justified, a great deal of evidence from groups would have to be evaluated. But at least I can plead that observations of this kind are made spontaneously and naturally in everyday life, that we cannot avoid making them, unconsciously if not consciously, and that it would be very useful if we could feel that when we made observations of this kind they corresponded to facts. We are constantly affected by what we feel to be the attitude of a group to ourselves, and are consciously or unconsciously swayed by our idea of it. It will be seen at once that it does not follow that one should blurt it out in the way I have so far described myself as doing in the group. This, I confess, must be regarded as peculiar, although if precedent were required, we are all familiar with certain types of people, particularly those who tend to feel persecuted, who behave in this manner. Not a happy precedent, the reader will think, and it will not be long before it is evident that the group thinks so too. But it is necessary now to return to the group, whom we left in the process of changing course.

The first thing that strikes us is the improvement that has taken place in the atmosphere. Mr. X, who has a likeable personality, has taken charge of the group, and is already taking steps to repair the deplorable situation created by myself. But I have given a mistaken impression if I seemed to suggest that we can watch this group in detachment, for Mr. X, who is anxious for the welfare of the group, quite rightly turns his attention to the source of the trouble, which, from his point of view, is myself. You can see that he has a very good idea of tackling at once those elements in his group which are destructive of morale and good fellowship. He therefore asked me directly what my object is, and why I cannot give a straightforward explanation of my behaviour. I can only apologize, and say that, beyond feeling that the statement that I want to study group tensions is probably a very inadequate description of my motives, I can throw no light on his problem; he has a good deal of sympathy from the group when he turns from this very unsatisfactory reply to question one or two others, who seem to be more co-operative and frank than myself. I think, however, I detect some unwillingness on the part of the group to follow his lead wholeheartedly. The dissidents seem to have reassured themselves that the Committee of the Tavistock Clinic must have had some good purpose in saying that I was to take the group; they give the impression that they are determined to believe that experience of a group taken by myself is valuable, in spite of their observations so far.

Nevertheless, Mr. X is having some success. Mr. Y tells him he is a Probation Officer, and has come to get a scientific knowledge of groups, which he feels would be of value to him. Mr. R, though not professionally concerned, has always had an interest in the scientific study of groups. Mr. X, Mr. Y, and Mr. R also give some details of their background, and explain why they feel a scientific study would help them.

But now difficulties appear to be arising. Other members of the group are not so forthcoming as Mr. Y and Mr. R. Furthermore, there seems to be some irritation with Mr. X for taking the lead at all. Replies become evasive, and it looks as if even the information that has been obtained was not really quite the information that was wanted. I begin to feel, as the conversation becomes more desultory, that I am again the focus of discontent. Without quite knowing why, I suggest that what the group really wants to know is my motives for being present, and, since these have not been discovered, they are not satisfied with any substitute.

It is clear that my interpretation is not welcome. One or two members want to know why I should take curiosity, which would seem to be valid without any further explanation, upon myself. The impression I receive is that very little importance is attached to the view I express as a possible explanation of what is going on. It seems to me either to be ignored, or to be taken as evidence of a warped outlook in myself. To make matters worse, it is not at all clear to me that my observation, however correct, is really the most useful one to make at the moment. But I have made it, and prepare to watch what follows.

I should explain that this bald description does not do justice to the emotional state of the group at this point. Mr. X seems harassed to find his initiative ill-received, and the rest of group seem to be in varying stages of discomfort. For my part, I have to confess that it is a reaction with which I am familiar in every group of which I have been a member. I cannot, therefore, dismiss it simply as a peculiarity of this group. To me it is clear that whatever the group may think about Mr. X, it has much more serious misgivings about myself. In, particular, I suspect that my personality, and especially my capacity for social relationships, and, therefore, my fitness for the role I am expected to fill, is in question. In the group we are contemplating at the moment, discontent with what is taking place, and particularly with my part in producing it, has risen to such a pitch that even the continued existence of the group becomes a matter of doubt to me. For some uncomfortable moments I fear it will all end by my having to explain to the Professional Committee that their project has broken down through the inability of the group to tolerate my behaviour. I suspect from their demeanour that similar gloomy thoughts, differently orientated, are passing through the minds of the rest of the group.

In the tense atmosphere prevailing my own thoughts are not wholly reassuring. For one thing, I have recent memories of a group in which my exclusion had been openly advocated; for another, it is quite common for me to experience a situation in which the group, while saying nothing, simply ignores my presence, and excludes me from the discussion quite as effectively as if I were not there. On some occasions of this kind of crisis, the reaction has taken the milder form of suggestions that I have already excluded myself from the group, and that I make things difficult by not participating. A reaction as mild as this is quite reassuring, but I cannot forget that when I first attempted to put such methods into operation the experiment was terminated by my removal in fact from my post. I should prefer to believe that on that occasion the dismissal was due to coincidental circumstances, but I remember that, even so, the patients with whom I was dealing had constantly warned me, on what grounds I did not know, that serious attempts were being made to sabotage the scheme. I have, therefore, every reason, in such a situation as I am describing, to believe that the discontent is real, and may easily lead to the disruption of the group.

But on this occasion my anxieties are relieved by a new turn of events. Mr. Q suggests that logical argument at this point would hardly be likely to elicit the information wanted, and, indeed, it is possible that I would rather not explain why I make such an interpretation, because it would run counter to any idea of leaving the group to experience the nature of group phenomena for itself. He argues that, after all, I must have good reason for taking the line I do. The tension in the group is immediately relaxed, and a far more friendly attitude towards myself becomes apparent. It is clear that the group has a high opinion of myself after all, and I begin to feel that I have been perhaps treating the group unfairly by not being more communicative. For a moment I am impelled to make amends by responding to this friendly change with some explanation of my behaviour. Then I check myself, as I realize that the group has simply gone back to its former mood of insisting that hearsay is fact; so, instead of this, I point out that the group now appears to me to be coaxing me to mend my ways and fall in with their wish that my behaviour should conform more to what is expected or familiar to them in other fields. I also remark that the group has, in essence, ignored what was said by Mr. Q. The emphasis has been shifted from what Mr. Q intended to only one part of what he said, namely, that, after all, I was likely to know what I was about. In other words, it has been difficult for an individual member to convey meanings to the group which are other than those which the group wishes to entertain.

This time the group really is annoyed, and it is necessary to explain that they have every right to be. It is perfectly clear that nobody ever explained to them what it meant to be in a group in which I was present. For that matter, nobody ever explained to me what it was like to be in a group in which all the individual members of this group were present. But I have to realize that the only person whose presence has so far been found to be disagreeable is myself, so that any complaints I may have not the same validity as those of other members. To me it is more than ever clear that there is some quite surprising contradiction in the situation in which I find myself. I, too, have heard rumours about the value of my contribution to groups; I have done my best to find out just in what respect my contribution was so remarkable, but have failed to elicit any information. I can, therefore, easily sympathize with the group, who feel that they are entitled to expect something different from what, in fact, they are getting. I can quite see that my statements must appear to the group to be as inaccurate as views of one's own position in a given society usually are, and, furthermore, to have very little relevance or importance for anybody but myself. I feel, therefore, that I must try to present a broader view of the situation than I have done so far.

With this in view, I say that I think my interpretations are disturbing the group. Furthermore, that the group interprets my interpretations as a revelation of the nature of my personality. No doubt attempts are being made to consider that they are in some way descriptive of the mental life of the group, but such attempts are overshadowed by a suspicion that my interpretations, when interpreted, throw more light on myself than on anything else, and that what is then revealed is in marked contrast with any expectations that members of the group had before they came. This, I think, must be very disturbing, but quite apart from any point of this sort, we have to recognize that perhaps members of the group assume too easily that the label on the box is a good description of the contents.

We must recognize now that a crisis has been reached, in that members may well have discovered that membership of a group in which I am a member happens to be an experience that they do not wish to have. In that way we have to face frankly that members of our group may need to leave, in exactly the same way as a person might wish to leave a room which he had entered under a mistaken impression. I do not myself believe that this is quite a correct description, because, I remind the group, it was quite clear that in the beginning the group was most unwilling to entertain any idea that they had not properly satisfied themselves of the accuracy of hearsay reports about myself. In my view, therefore, those who felt that they had been misled by others, and now wished to withdraw, ought seriously to consider why they resisted so strongly any statements that seemed to question the validity of their belief in the value of my contributions to a group.

At this point it is necessary that I should say that I consider the emotional forces underlying this situation to be very powerful. I do not believe for a moment that the objective fact--namely, that I am merely one member of a group possessing some degree of specialized knowledge, and in that respect no different from any other member of the group--would be likely to be accepted. The forces opposed to this are far too strong. One external group--that is, the Clinic responsible for saying that I am to take a group--has given the seal of its authority to a myth of unknown dimensions; but apart from this, I am certain that the group is quite unable to face the emotional tensions within it without believing that it has some sort of God who is fully responsible for all that takes place. It has to be faced, therefore, that no matter what interpretations may be given, by myself or anybody else, the probability is that the group will reinterpret them to suit its own desires, exactly as we have just seen it do with the contribution of Mr. Q. It therefore becomes important to point out that the means of communication within the group are tenuous in the extreme, and quite uncertain in their action. Indeed, one might almost think that it would be less misleading if each individual member of the group spoke a language unknown to the remainder. There would then be less risk of assuming that we understood what any given individual said.

The group has now turned somewhat resentfully, but with more anxiety than resentment, to another member of the group. I get the impression that they are looking to him to be leader, but without any real conviction that he can be leader. This impression is strengthened because the man in question shows every desire to efface himself. The conversation becomes more and more desultory, and I feel that for most of the group the experience is becoming painful and uninteresting. A fresh thought occurs to me, so I pass it on.

I tell the group that it seems to me we are determined to have a leader, and that the leader we want seems to possess certain characteristics against which we match the characteristics of the different individuals we try out. Judging by our rejections, we seem to know perfectly well what we want. At the same time, it would be very difficult to say from our experience so far what these desirable characteristics are. Nor is it obvious why we should require a leader. The time of meeting of the group has been laid down, and really there seem to be no other decisions that the group has to make. One would imagine that a leader was required in order to give effective orders to the group, to implement moment-to-moment decisions; but, if this is so, what is there in our present situation that would make us think that a leader of this kind is required? It cannot be the external situation, for our material needs and our relationships with external groups are stable, and would not seem to indicate that any decisions will be required in the near future. Either the desire for a leader is some emotional survival operating uselessly in the group as archaism, or else there is some awareness of a situation, which we have not defined, which demands the presence of such a person.

If my description of what it is like to be in a group of which I am a member has been at all adequate, the reader will have experienced some misgivings, harboured some objections, and reserved many questions for further discussion. At the present stage I wish only to isolate two features of the group experience for inspection; one of these is the futility of the conversation in the group. judged by ordinary standards of social intercourse, the performance of the group is almost devoid of intellectual content. Furthermore, if we note how assumptions pass unchallenged as statements of fact, and are accepted as such, it seems clear that critical judgment is almost entirely absent. To appreciate this point the reader must remember that he is able to read this account in tranquillity, with unfettered use of his judgment. This is not the situation in the group. Whatever it may appear to be on the surface, that situation is charged with emotions which exert a powerful, and frequently unobserved, influence on the individual. As a result, his emotions are stirred to the detriment of his judgment. The group accordingly will often wrestle with intellectual problems that, one believes, the individual could solve without difficulty in another situation—a belief that will later be seen to be illusory. One of the main objects of our study may well turn out to be precisely the phenomena that produce these perturbations of rational behaviour in the group--phenomena whose existence I have only been able to indicate by descriptions of facts that bear less relationship to the object of our study than the lines of a monochrome print do to the colours of a painting in which colour is the all-important quality.

The second feature to which I must allude is the nature of my own contribution. It would be satisfying if I could now give a logical account of my technique--the technique the Professional Committee, it will be remembered, wished me to employ--but I am persuaded that it would also be very inaccurate and misleading. I shall, in the course of the sections that follow, give as accurate a description as I can of what I say and do, but I propose also to indicate what groups think I say and do, and this not merely to illustrate the mental working of a group, but to provide as much material as possible for the reader to use in reaching his own conclusions. I will, however, emphasize one aspect of my interpretations of group behaviour which appears to the group, and probably to the reader, to be merely incidental to my personality, but which is, in fact, quite deliberate--the fact that the interpretations would seem to be concerned with matters of no importance to anyone but myself." 29-40

23. ". . . This kind of assessment [what the group feels about the individual] is as much a part of the mental life of the individual as is his assessment, shall we say, of the information brought to him by his sense of touch. Therefore, the way in which a man assesses the group attitude to himself is, in fact, an important object of study even if it leads us to nothing else." 43

24. ". . . The way in which men and women in a group make these assessments is a mater of great importance to the group, for on the judgments that individuals make depends the efflorescence or decay of the social life of the group." 43

25. "Even when the majority of members in the group have had unmistakable evidence that their behaviour is being affected by a conscious or unconscious estimate of the group attitude to themselves, they will say they do not know what the rest of the group thinks about them, and they do not believe that anyone else does either. " 44

26. ". . . One element in the individual's automatic assessment of the attitude of the group towards himself is doubt. If an individual claims he has no doubt at all, one would really like to know why not. Are there occasions when the group attitude is utterly unmistakable?" 45

27. ". . . I would say that the individual in a group is profiting by his experience if at one and the same time he becomes more accurate in his appreciation of his position in the emotional field, and more capable of accepting it as a fact that even his increased accuracy falls lamentably short of his needs." 45

28. "I begin to wonder whether the group approach to problems is really worth while when it affords so much opportunity for apathy and obstruction about which one can do nothing." 47

29. "Absentees can be 'present' and active in a group. This group at the moment seems to me to be led by the two absentees, who are indicating that there are better ways of spending their time than by engaging in the sort of experience with which the group is familiar when I am a member of it." 48

30. "As I say, I am inclined to think that the present leaders of this group are not in the room; they are the two absentees, who are felt not only to be contemptuous of the group, but also to be expressing that contempt in action." 49

31. "It occurs to me, however, that if a group affords splendid opportunities for evasion and denial, it should afford splendid oppor/tunities for observation of the way in which these evasions and denials are effected." 49/50

32. "It can be seen that what the individual says or does in a group illumines both his own personality and his view of the group; sometimes his contribution illumines one more than the other. Some contributions he is prepared to make as coming unmistakably from himself, but there are others which he would wish to make anonymously. If the group can provide means by which contributions can be made anonymously, then the foundations are laid for a successful system of evasion and denial, and in the first examples I gave it was possibly because the hostility of the individuals was being contributed to the group anonymously that each member could quite sincerely deny that he felt hostile." 50

33. "I shall postulate a group mentality as the pool to which the anonymous contributions are made, and through which the impulses and desires implicit in these contributions are gratified. Any contribution to this group mentality must enlist the support of, or be in conformity with, the other anonymous contributions of the group. I should expect the group mentality to be distinguished by a uniformity that contrasted with the diversity of thought in the mentality of the individuals who have contributed to its formation. I should expect that the group mentality, as I have postulated it, would be opposed to the avowed aims of the individual members of the group." 50

34. "After listening for some time to this sort of talk, it becomes clear to me that anybody in this group who suffers from a neurotic complaint is going to be advised to do something which the speaker knows form his own experience to be absolutely futile. Furthermore, it is clear that nobody has the least patience with any neurotic symptom. A suspicion grows in my mind, until it becomes a certainty, that there is no hope whatever of expecting co-operation from this group." 52

35. "I reflect that from the way in which the group is going on its motto might be: 'Vendors of quack nostrums unite.' No sooner have I said this to myself than I realize that I am expressing my feeling, not of the group's disharmony, but of its unity. . . . The idea that neurotics cannot co-operate has to be modified." 52

36. "The point I wish to make is that the group is essential to the fulfilment of a man's mental life/--quite as essential to that as it is to the more obvious activities of economics and war." 53/4

37. ". . . I consider that group mental life is essential to the full life of the individual, quite apart from any temporary or specific need, and that satisfaction of this need has to be sought through membership of a group." 54

38. ". . . I suspect that most resentment is caused through the expression in a group of impulses which individuals wish to satisfy anonymously, and the frustration produced in the individual by the consequences to himself that follow from this satisfaction. In other words, it is in this area, which I have temporarily demarcated as the group mentality, that I propose to look for the causes of the group's failure to afford the individual a full life." 54

39. "The power of the group to fulfil the needs of the individual is, I suggest, challenged by the group mentality. The group meets this challenge by the elaboration of a characteristic culture of the group. I employ the phrase 'culture of the group' in an extremely loose manner; I include in it the structure which the group achieves at any given moment, the occupations it pursues, and the organization it adopts." 55

40. "The attempt on that occasion to construct the group so that it consisted of a leader and his followers, above whom he towered supremely, is a very good example of the kind of thing I am meaning to include under the word culture. If we assume that the undefined situation is the group mentality of which I have been speaking, and I think there was good reason to assume that, then the group was attempting to meet the challenge presented to its capacity to fulfil the individual's need by this simple culture of leader and followers. It will be seen that, in the scheme I am now putting forward, the group can be regarded as an interplay between individual needs, group mentality, and culture." 55

41. When one member began to display madness (hallucination), Bion was readmitted to the group. "I was the good leader, master of the situation, fully capable of dealing with a crisis of this nature--in short, so outstandingly the right man for the job that it would have been presumption for any other member of the group to attempt to take any helpful initiative." 56

42. "After the group had become alarmed I was the centre of a cult in its full power. Looked at from the point of view of an ordinary man attempting to do a serious job, neither situation was satisfactory. A group structure in which one member is a god, either established or discredited, has a very limited usefulness. The culture of the group in this instance might almost be described as a miniature theocracy." 56

43. "Before the turning-point, the group mentality had been of such a nature that the needs of the individual were being successfully denied by the provision of a good friendly relationship between the patients, and a hostile and sceptical attitude towards myself." 56

44. "My attempt to simplify, by means of the concepts I have adumbrated, will prove to be very misleading unless the reader bears in mind that the group situation is mostly perplexing and confused; operations of what I have called the group mentality, or of the group culture, only occasionally emerge in any strikingly clear way. Furthermore, the fact that one is involved in the emotional situation oneself makes clear-headedness difficult." 57

45. ". . . I shall assume, nevertheless, that unless a group actively disavows its leader it is, in fact, following him." 58

46. "I shall insist that I am quite justified in saying that the group feels such and such when, in fact, perhaps only one or two people would seem to provide by their behaviour warrant for such a statement, if, at the time of behaving like this, the group show no outward sign of repudiating the lead they are given. I dare say it will be possible to base belief in the complicity of the group on something more convincing than negative evidence, but for the time being I regard negative evidence as good enough." 58

47. The psychiatrist must necessarily be a part of the group." 59

48. "This term [group mentality] I use to describe what I believe to be the unanimous expression of the will of the group, an expression of will to which individuals contribute anonymously." 59

49. "My third and last postulate was of a group culture, a term I used to describe those aspects of the be/haviour of the group which seemed to be born of the conflict between group mentality and the desires of the individual." 59/60

50. "In making interpretation to the group I avoid terms such as group mentality; the terms used should be as simple and precise as possible. Thus, I may say, speaking of what I call group mentality: I think the group has got together during the last five minutes in order to make anyone uncomfortable who says or does anything to help me to give further interpretations. I should then describe facts that showed how the group had done this and that had made me think that the group had been working together as a team, even though I may not have been able to detect how this team-work had been achieved. If I thought I had some evidence of how it had been achieved I would give it." 60

51. "Or I might say, speaking of what I call group culture, we are now behaving as if we were equals, grown men and women, discussing the problem together freely, with tolerance for differences of opinion and without concern about a 'right' to express a point of view." 60

52. "Or, speaking of the individual, I might say: Mr. X is having difficulty, because he wants a problem of his dealt with, but feels he is going to get into trouble with the rest of the group if he perseveres in his attempt." 60

53. ". . . The situation should be described in concrete terms and the information given as fully and precisely as possible, without mention of the theoretical concepts on which the psychiatrist's own views have been based." 61

54. "How did the use of these three concepts, group mentality, group culture, and individual, as interdependent phenomena, work in practice? Not very well; I found that the group reacted in a tiresomely erratic manner." 61

55. "My second point is that the group seems to know only two techniques of self-preservation, fight or flight." 63

56. "The individual feels that in a group the welfare of the individual is a matter of secondary consideration--the group comes first, in flight the individual is abandoned; the paramount need is for the group to survive--not the individual." 64

57. "The kind of leadership that is recognized as appropriate is the leadership of the man who mobilizes the group to attack somebody, or alternatively to lead it in flight." 65

58. "We learned that leaders who neither fight nor run away are not easily understood." 65

59. "Group mentality is the unanimous expression of the will of the group, contributed to by the individual in ways of which he is unaware, influencing him disagreeably whenever he thinks or behaves in a manner at variance with the basic assumptions. It is thus a machinery of intercommunication that is designed to ensure that group life is in accordance with the basic assumptions." 65

60. "Group culture is a function of the conflict between the individual's desires and the group mentality." 66

61. "It will follow that the group culture will always show evidence of the underlying basic assumptions. To the two basic assumptions I have already described it is necessary to add one more. It is the basic assumption that the group has met together to obtain security from one individual on whom they depend." 66

62. "There was anxiety that the group should proceed along well-established lines, e.g., those of a seminar or lecture. Although it was understood by each individual that we were met together to study groups and their tensions, in the group itself such an activity on my part did not appear to be comprehensible." 66

PURPOSE OF NATION: welfare of citizens

DERANGED PURPOSE: to be lead by a "fearless leader"

63. "That attempt [to use the group as a seminar] failing, there began to emerge the group that is, according to my theory, dominated by the basic assumption of unity for purposes of fight or flight.

"With the emergence of this group the leadership that I was exercising became no longer recognizable as leadership." 67

64. "If you can only fight or run away you must find something to fight or run away from." 67

65. "In my experience most groups, not only patient groups, find a substitute that satisfies them very well. It is usually a man or woman with marked paranoid trends; perhaps if the presence of an enemy is not immediately obvious to the group, the next best thing is for the group to choose a leader to whom it is." 67

66. "The effect of the interpretations had been to make members feel that I menaced the 'good' group."


67. "I felt certain this determination [group coming together to put an end to Bion's interventions] received its embodiment in Mr. X who had not said a word at any time. Mr. X was a man with strong feelings of hatred and marked fear of his aggressiveness. He talked only when the group was either a pairing group or a group met to satisfy the need for dependence."

A. A person in a group can be "communicating" even while remaining silent

B. In groups the same members become different realities: "when the group was either..."

68. "The silence [to a member trying to ‘get on with treatment’], I thought, might be regarded as an expression of the awareness of individuals that in the group as it was no creative work could be done." 69

[A group's silence can be an "expression" of a specific understanding of the nature of the group]

SILENCE IN CONTEMPORARY AMERICA IS PARTY THAT [recognition that no creative work can be done] but also complete satisfaction with the group assumptions at the moment (#67)

69. "Mr. X had not need to speak in this group; he was at one with the group, the feelings about which he is most guilty, his destructive hatred, are feelings which are licensed by the basic assumption that the group has come together to fight or run away." 70

70. "Mr. M's function was to keep hostility alive so that no could fail to notice my impotence to effect any change whatever in the situation." 70


71. "I was able to show that various members of the group, for example, Mr. M, were communicating by a system of gestures, often of great subtlety, with the rest of the group." 70

BOB WOODWARD'S BOOKS WERE SUBTLE GESTURES FROM THE BUSH JUNTA (they recommend his recent "expose;" they continue to give him access)

72. "There was something going on which made me feel that some of what I said was being taken in, but as far as outward appearance was concerned I might have been cut off from the rest of the group by a sheet of sound-proof plate glass. Certainly my interpretations did not make a scrap of difference to the behaviour of the group, which continued unresponsive for a good thirty minutes until time was up." 71

73. The group culture changes from one moment to another within a single session.

74. ". . . If this behaviour [Bion commenting on several speaking to Bion desultorily] was to be accurately keyed to the emotions of that time and place, then the interpretation needed to be one that gave due weight to the social functions the individuals were performing. I accordingly interpreted their behaviour as a manipulation of the group; they were trying to break up the fight-flight culture by establishing pair relationships." 72

75. "I mentioned that in the fight-flight culture the reactions of the group throw into prominence the individual with paranoid trends." 73

76. Dependent group culture: "The basic assumption in this group culture seems to be that an external object exists whose function it is to provide security for the immature organism. This means that one person is always felt to be in a position to supply the needs of the group, and the rest in a position in which their needs are supplied." 74

77. Groups:

A. Fight/flight group

B. Pairing group

C. Dependent group

D. Work group

78. Factors:

A. Group mentality

B. Group culture

C. Individual

79. "The psychiatrist should be suspicious if he feels that he is dealing with the problem that the patient or the group thinks he should deal with." 81

80. "Except in the leader, fearfulness becomes the supreme virtue of the individual in this kind of group [dependent]. Participation in this emotional field means a heightened capacity, as soon as any member of the group experiences fear, for instantaneous flight." 81

FLIGHT INTO DELUSIONS (WMD, Saddam links to Al Quaeda, etc.)

81. ". . . There is a marked inability on the part of the individuals in the group to believe that they can possibly learn anything of value from each other." 82

82. "The endeavour that I myself make is to illuminate the obscurities of the situation in the group by clear thinking clearly expressed; it is at the best of times a considerable ambition, but in time it becomes clear that amongst other factors that go to make this a difficult aim to achieve is the hostility of the group to the aim, as an aim. The nature of this hostility can be best apprehended if it is considered as a hostility to all scientific method and therefore as hostility to any activity that might appear to be approaching this ideal." 84

83. ". . . The group, as a group, is quite opposed to the idea that they are met for the purpose of doing work, and indeed react as if some important principle would be infringed if they were to work." 84


84. "I shall now suggest that all facets of behaviour in the dependent group can be recognized as related if we suppose that in this group power is believed to flow not from science but from magic. One of the characteristics demanded of the leader of the group, then, is that he should either be a magician or behave like one. Silences in a dependent group are accordingly either expressions of determination to deny to the [legitimate] leader the material he requires for scientific investigation,/and thereby to prevent developments that would appear to undermine the illusion of security derived from care at the hands of a magician, or expressions of worshipful devotion to the leader, as magician--an interpretation will often be followed by a silence that is far more a tribute of awe than a pause for thought." 84/5

85. ". . . I believe that it is more fruitful to consider the group as a community that felt that a hostile attack was being made upon its religious beliefs. Indeed, it is quite common to find at this stage that references to religion are frequent." 85

86. The individual "assumes a somewhat artificially self-assured air, as if to indicate either that he were investigating an interesting survival of the past or one of the well-known religions of the world, such as Buddhism or Christianity. The air is assumed in order to avoid realizing that he is investigating on the spot an emotionally vital 'religion', whose devotees surround him and are waiting to fall upon him." 85

87. "He [investigator] must be aware also that he should consider not only the dogmata of the cult, but all related phenomena, such as the demands it makes upon the lives of its devotees. Some of these can be witnessed in the group itself: the stifling of independent thought, the heresy-hunting, the rebellion this in turn produces, the attempts to justify the imposed limitations by appeals to reason, or, at any rate, rationalization, and so forth." 85

88. ". . . I am convinced that patients produce material in a steady stream to support the view that their membership of the dependent group, as a 'religious' sect, exerts a widespread influence on their mental lives when the group disperses as well as in the short period when they meet as a group." 86

89. "There is a hatred of having to learn by experience at all, and lack of faith in the worth of such a kind of learning." 89

90. "In the group it becomes very clear that this longed-for alternative to the group procedure is really something like arriving fully equipped as an adult fitted by instinct to know without training or development exactly how to live and move and have his being in a group." 89

91. "There is only one kind of . . . man that approximates to this dream, and that is . . . the man who is able to sink his identity in the herd." 89

92. "In the group the individual becomes aware of capacities that are only potential so long as he is in comparative isolation. The group, therefore, is more than the aggregate of individuals, because an individual in a group is more than an individual in isolation." 90

93. ". . . The group is often used to achieve a sense of vitality by total submergence in the group, or a sense of individual independence by total repudiation of the group, and that part of the individual's mental life, which is being incessantly stimulated and activated by his group, is his inalienable inheritance as a group animal." 91

94. Work group: "When a group meets, it meets for a specific task, and in most human activities today co-operation has to be achieved by sophisticated means." 98

95. "The W[ork] group is necessarily concerned with reality and, therefore, might be said to have some of the characteristics Freud attributes to the ego in his discussion of the individual. Since the W group is concerned with reality, its techniques tend ultimately to be scientific." 127

96. Sub-groups

A. Reciprocal sub-group: composed of those ostensibly supporting the new idea

B. Schism group: "the schismatic group attempts to solve its problem by internal war, the other by external war." 128

97. "It [Plato's insistence that specific people stick to their specific tasks] presupposes that individuals are rational people and that the governing consideration is the limitation imposed by reality. If the individual sticks to his task, if he co-operates with other individuals in letting them fulfil their tasks, then all will be well. In my terminology this would be the equivalent of saying that if the W group were the only component in the mental life of the group, then there would be no difficulty. But the point that I have made throughout these articles is that the W group is constantly perturbed by influences which come from other group mental phenomena." 129

98. "The only point about collecting a group of people is that it enables us to see just how the 'political' characteristics of the human body operate." 131

99. "The individual is a group animal at war, not simply with the group, but with himself for being a group animal and with those aspects of his personality that constitute his 'groupishness'." 131

100. "The explanation of certain phenomena must be sought in the matrix of the group and not in the individuals that go to make up the/group. Time-keeping is no function of any part, in isolation, of the mechanism of a clock, yet time-keeping is a function of the clock and of the various parts of the clock when held in combination with each other." 132/3

101. "The whole point about looking at a group is that it changes the field of study to include phenomena that cannot be studied outside the group." 134

102. "The group, in the sense of a collection of people in a room, adds nothing to the individual or the aggregate of individuals--it merely reveals something that is not otherwise visible." 134

103. "I think one of the striking things about a group is that, despite the influence of the basic assumptions, it is the W group that triumphs in the long run." 135

104. "This comes very near to my view of the specialized work group as having as its function the manipulation of the basic assumption to prevent its obstruction of the work group." 135

105. "Organization and structure are weapons of the W group. They are the product of co-operation between members of the group, and their effect once established in the group is to demand still further co-operation from the individuals in the group." 136

106. "A group acting on a basic assumption needs no organization or co-operation. The counterpart of co-operation in the basic-assumption group is what I have called valency--a spontaneous, unconscious function of the gregarious quality in the personality of man." 136

107. "It is only when a group begins to act on a basic assumption that difficulties arise. Action inevitably means contact with reality, and contact with reality compels regard for truth and therefore imposes scientific method, and hence the evocation of the work group." 136

108. Examples of basic assumption:

A. "Our diseases would be cured if the group could be conducted in such a way that only pleasant emotions were experienced." 145

B. "It was easy to recognize that one assumption common to all the group was that they were met together to receive some form of treatment from me." 146

C. "The first assumption is that the group is met in order to be sustained by a leader on whom it depends for nourishment, material and spiritual, and protection." 147

D. ". . . The group has met to fight something or to run away from it." 152

109. "I believe ability to shake oneself out of the numbing feeling of reality that is a concomitant of this state is the prime requisite of the analyst in the group; if he can do this he is in a position to give what I believe is the correct interpretation . . ." 149

110. "The leader need not be identified with any individual in the group; it need not be a person at all but may be identified with an idea or an inanimate object. In the dependent group the place of leader may be filled by the history of the group. A group, complaining of an inability to remember what took place on a previous occasion, sets about making a record of its meetings. This record then becomes a 'bible' to which appeal is made, if, for example, the individual whom the group has invested with leadership proves to be refractory material for moulding into the likeness proper to the dependent leader. The group resorts to bible-making when threatened with an idea the acceptance of which would entail development on the part of the individuals comprising the group." 155

111. "As work-group function consists essentially of the translation of thoughts and feelings into behaviour which is adapted to reality, it is ill-adapted to give expression to basic assumptions." 157

112. "One group adheres to the dependent group, often in the form of the group 'bible'. This group popularizes the established ideas by denuding them of any quality that might demand painful effort and thereby secures a numerous adherence of those who oppose the pains of development. Thought thus becomes stabilized on a level that is platitudinous and dogmatic." 159

113. "All [basic assumption groups] are opposed to development, which is itself dependent on understanding. The work group, on the other hand, recognizes a need both the understand and to develop." 160

114. "I know of no experience that demonstrates more clearly than the group experience the dread with which a questioning attitude is regarded." 162

115. "Nevertheless, there is much to suggest that these supposed 'basic assumptions' cannot be regarded as distinct states of mind. By that I do not mean to claim that they are 'basic' explanations which between them explain all conduct in the gorup--that would indeed be extravagant nonsense--but that each state, even when it is possible to differentiate it with reasonable certainty from the other two, has about it a quality that suggests it may in some way be the dual, or reciprocal of one of the other two, or perhaps simply another view of what one had thought to be a different basic/assumption. For example, the Messianic hope of the pairing group has some similarity to the group deity of the dependent group." 165/6