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Beyond the Anti-Group

Beyond the Anti-Group: Survival and transformation builds on the success of Morris
Nitsun’s influential concept of the anti-group, taking it into new domains of thought and
practice in the current century. ‘A historical and ideological breakthrough’ (Tuttman 1991),
the concept focuses on anxiety and hostility within, towards and between groups, as well
as the destructive potential of groups. In Beyond the Anti-Group, Morris Nitsun continues
his inquiry into the clinical implications of the anti-group but also explores the concept
beyond the consulting room, in settings as wide-ranging as cultural and environmental
stress in the twenty-first century, the fate of public health services and the themes of
contemporary art.

Groups are potentially destructive but also have the capacity for survival, creativity and
transformation. Focusing on the interplay between the two, Morris Nitsun explores the
struggle to overcome group impasse and dysfunction and to emerge stronger. Why does
this happen in some groups and not others? What are the conditions for group transformation?
How does this affect individuals, groups, organizations and societies? By tracking this
process in a range of cultural settings, the author weaves a rich tapestry in which group
psychotherapy, organizational process and the arts come together in unexpected and novel
ways. The author draws on group analysis and the Foulkesian tradition as his overall
discipline but within a critical frame that questions the relevance of the approach in a
changing world, highlighting new directions and opportunities. Questions of group and
organizational leadership and their contribution to anti-group processes are a further theme.

Readers of Beyond the Anti-Group will be stimulated by the depth, breadth and
creativity of the author’s analysis and by the excursion into new fields of inquiry. This
book offers new scope, new ideas and new impetus for psychotherapists, group analysts
and group practitioners in general, students of group and organizational processes and
those working on the boundary between psychotherapy and the arts.

Morris Nitsun is a consultant psychologist in Camden and Islington NHS Trust,
psychotherapist at the Fitzrovia Group Analytic Practice, Training Analyst at the Institute
of Group Analysis, and Convenor, Diploma in Innovative Group Interventions, Anna
Freud Clinic. His books The Anti-group: Destructive Forces in the Group and their
Creative Potential (Routledge, 1996) and The Group as an Object of Desire (Routledge,
2006) have been described as ‘classics in the field’. He has lectured and run workshops in
countries across the world. He is also a practising artist who exhibits regularly in London.

Page 133

116 The clinical setting

These examples could be repeated many times over, with myriad variations on the
themes of loss, trauma and alienation. In some ways, the migrants’ and immigrants’
stories epitomize the tragic predicaments of people in our local community,
mirrored when they enter NHS services, which can feel like entering another
country. By the time they are referred for group therapy, patients have often been
through the mill of psychiatric assessment and treatment, little of which has had
any positive or lasting effect. Referral for group therapy is often the end of the
line. Sometimes, there is a glimmer of understanding amongst referrers that these
are social problems as much as psychiatric disorders and group treatment is seen
as potentially providing them with the support and sense of belonging they lack in
their lives. In principle, this may be true and a valid reason for referral. In practice,
however, the weight of ‘social suffering’ (Hoggett 2008) and the compounding
impact of financial and emotional chaos, is so great that the chances of helping
these people in a psychotherapy group are tantalizingly present but realistically

What of the rich inhabitants of the smart pockets of affluence in this part of
London? The reality is that these people are not immune from the toll of emotional
disturbance, family breakdown and social dysfunction. Money is not necessarily
a hedge against the problems of life. But people from this community who need
psychotherapeutic help usually gravitate towards private practice. Generally, they
have the means and the knowledge that equips them to do so – and of course their
chances of successful treatment are greater, since they have wider choice, they do
not have to languish on waiting lists, they can decide for how long they need help
(very different from NHS psychotherapy) and they may have the emotional
vocabulary that might make them more accessible psychotherapeutically. The
point, though, is not so much how the better endowed members of the community
fare in psychotherapy. It is more what they represent politically and culturally in
the context of those, such as James, Farah and Gil, who are a large minority, the
disadvantaged and dispossessed. If it is difficult enough to be poor, unemployed
and socially dysfunctional in inner-city London, how much more so when exposed
to the privilege, wealth and well-being of people living virtually on your doorstep?
These observations highlight the painful discrepancies between the haves and the
have-nots, the rooted and the uprooted or un-rooted, all within a few square miles
of London. This introduces notions of inequality and injustice and points to the
inevitable manifestations of envy and estrangement that add a sting to the already
difficult plight of the poor and the marginalized in inner-city society.

Am I safe? – surviving in the city

In as diverse, disadvantaged – and sometimes dangerous – a community as
described, one of the prevailing anxieties concerns survival. Many of the groups I
have supervised in this setting have included at least one person directly affected
by murder or other serious physical attack, while some of the groups have included
a perpetrator of violence. In one group, a member’s teenage nephew was murdered

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The group as refuge 117

by a youth gang during her time in the group. She arrived at the group one day in
a state of shock, shared the news and left hurriedly to be with the family. Another
man was preoccupied with vengeance for the murder of his brother in a gang
shooting some years earlier, his default position being that he would one day hunt
down and destroy each and every member of the gang. These events bring the
threat of violence and death close to the group, creating unsettling and lurking
fears of violence. Although this is not the part of London with the highest crime
rate and incidence of violence, there is a great deal of it about, particularly in the
lower-income groups, with considerable domestic violence, drug- and alcohol-
related violence and gang violence.

Sometimes an air of ambiguity surrounds the event: who was perpetrator and
who was victim, and how did it happen? In one case Nico, a member of a weekly
group, had killed his brother with a kitchen knife some years earlier in a violent
argument. His explanation was that this was an accident that occurred in the panic
of self-defence. His brother had lunged towards him, grabbing his throat.
Desperate, Nico threatened him with the knife but the brother lunged further
forward and accidentally impaled himself on the knife. Nico was acquitted of both
murder and manslaughter but some doubt existed about what had actually
happened. Even the conductor described looking at Nico, the patient, and
wondering whether he had told the whole story. In another group, Allison, a
mother of two, described how her life disintegrated following an accident in
which she killed a child in a car accident. The child had darted out of nowhere in
front of the car. There was good reason to believe that she was innocent but was
this really the case? Could she have stopped in time? Did her depression that day
render her prone to causing an accident? Did her exhaustion with life, including
her own family, play a part in the accident?

Fears of destructiveness are compounded by the presence of serious emotional
disturbance. Although our psychotherapy groups exclude actively psychotic
patients, some members have serious psychiatric histories, including schizophrenia
and bi-polar disorder. These patients are usually not violent themselves but have
anxieties about violence and fears of being regarded as violent, largely because of
the popular misconception that all schizophrenics are dangerous. While knowing
at one level that this is untrue, they may doubt themselves and are very aware of
others’ prejudices about the ‘crazy’.

A young man, previously diagnosed as schizophrenic, in one of the groups

became extremely anxious when he had to fill in an application form for a

driving licence. He froze at the question of whether he had a mental illness, his

main fear being that he would be refused a licence if he revealed the truth.

Although there were some grounds for concern, his anxiety was exacerbated

by a fear that he could not fully trust himself and hence be trusted by others.

In the midst of this episode, he had a dream in which he was being hunted for

Page 266

Index 249

psychotherapy as performance 187;
psychotherapy in 189, 192;
recognition of the dark sides 196; as
social critique 188, 191;
transformation 196; see also body in
performance art; case studies, group
analysis as a form of performance art;
enactment; group as theatre of
performance; play; roles

performativity 200–1
Pilgrim, D. 74
Piotrowski, Z.A. 149
play 198; constructive 199, 200, 201;

destructive 199–200; in early child
development 199; human seriousness
of 199; as marker of progress 199;
precariousness of 199; as preparation
200; proto narrative envelopes 199;
see also case studies, group analysis
as a form of performance art

postmodernity 79–81; importance of
historical/social context 79, 81;
threats to psychoanalytic
psychotherapy 80

pragmatic social context 201
primal scene 167
primordial level see group levels
projection 52, 149; onto the conductor 141;

onto an outside group 243; onto the
patient 140

projective level see group levels
pseudomutuality 129
psychosocial awareness 36, 54
psychotherapy 67, 69, 74, 87–9, 105, 185,

191, 207, 237; future of 16, 30, 31;
requirements of 107; see also art; art
psychotherapy; individual

RCT (randomized controlled trial) 81–2,

Rebel without a Cause 216–19, 232
Rees, M. 32
refusal 121–4, 125, 133; boundaries 123
relationships: 33, 103–4; difficulties in

160, 162–4; amongst group members
123–4, 176–7; gift relationship 129;
idealized 124; instrumental 56;
long-term 165; organizational 37, 54;
psychosocial 54; virtual 19; see also
core complex; couple; love;
narcissism in relationships

Reppen, J. 155

research 81–2
revolt 214–5; in the absence of authority

217–8, 220; as aspect of social
development 228–9; against
community 221; generational 216–9;
in the history of film 215;
impossibility of 227; masculinism of
revolt in film 230; as necessary part
of theory 212; against oppressive
authority 221–3

Reyes, Pedro 192
Rogers, A. 39, 45, 49–50
roles 206–7; dialectical interchange of 201,

205; ‘role play’ in groups 202–3,
206–7; see also case studies, group
analysis as a form of performance art;
conductor, role of

Roth, B. 241, 242

Sanatorium 192
Schaverien, J. 180
schema therapy 93
Schlapobersky, J. 98, 139
Segal, H. 193–4, 208
Sehgal, Tino 192
sexuality 80; group response to sexual

difference 74–5; openness about
176–7; as performative act 200;
sexual aspects of group analysis 165,

shadow: being the 145; denying the 145;
living with a 145; living under a 145;
projecting the 145; reconciling the
145; splitting the 145

Sherman, Cindy 190, 198, 200–1, 207
Sievers, B. 23
Silver Action 190–1, 200
Skynner, R. 68
Sloterdijk, P. 28
Slumdog Millionaire 213
social drama 205–6; 207
social learning 104
social norms 74–5
social perspective 9, 69–71, 75; dismissal

of the intra-psychic 69–70; distance
from clinical practice 69, 71;
marginality of the individual 64,
69–70; see also both-and-position;
individual; social unconscious

social suffering 116
social unconscious 68; clinical

applicability of the idea 71–3; as a
concept of theory 64, 71; individual

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250 Index

responses to social trauma 77–9; as
located in the past 73

Socratic dialogue 97–8, 99
Stacey, R.D. 69–70
Stapley, L.F. and Rickman, C. 21–2
Stern, D. 29, 199
Sternberg, R.J. 168
Sussman, M. 137, 140–1
survival 15, 243; as shared anxiety 116,

119; fear in the NHS 36–7, 48, 50, 53;
function of the anti-group for 5; group
4, 5, 7, 126, 142; of the group’s
environment 7, 16; of the group
member 7; as group principle 4; at
individual level 49, 53, at
organizational level 49; of
psychotherapeutic services 60, 93,
236; see also annihilation; death

Szasz, T. 222

Tabboni, S. 30
technology see change, technological
Thygesen, B. 66
time: collapse of 22–4, 30; denigration of

the past 23, 30; dominant 30;
instantaneous timelessness 23;
integrating past, present and future
138, 146; objectification of 23; social
22–3, 30

Titmus, R. 129
Toffler, A. 51
Totton, N. 74
transference 141, 154, 178; level 231;

progressive romantic 178; regressive
romantic 178

transference level see group levels
trauma 78, 124; adjustment to 146; see

also shadow
Trevarthen, C. 199
Tubert-Oklander, J. 73
Turkle, S. 19, 20
Turner, V. 199, 203, 206, 208

Vinge, V. 18
violence 112, 116–7, 129, 132, 191, 195,

199, 218, 221, 225–7, 240, 241;
fantasy of 194; social 242–3; threat of
27, 115, 117; see also destructiveness

Weinberg. H. 21
The White Ribbon 216, 224–8, 229
Winnicott, D.W. 198–9

Yalom, I.B. and Leszcz, M. 104, 171, 205

Zaltzman, N. 226–7

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