The large group is a particular species in group analytic terms, and personally I have shied away from it. But last weekend I was one of 850 people singing in the park in Bath, raising money for WaterAid – a completely new venture for me and definitely a sign that changing environments has a profound effect!
I’ve not done anything like this before, and I was amazed at the difference the conductor could make to the singing. We had 5 different singer/songwriters conducting their own songs so it was a good opportunity to contrast and compare. All were smiley and encouraging, but……
What is the ‘but’ ? At one stage I felt that the conductor was frustrated that we weren’t performing ‘her song’ quite as she wished, and in response I felt I didn’t like the song very much. It’s that childhood experience of encountering a teacher who is disappointed in you, and feeling that you are not good at whatever subject they are teaching. Chemistry, for example.
One conductor I felt seemed tired somewhere deep in herself, beneath the warm and nurturing surface, and I felt concerned, a little anxious, whereas there were others who seemed calm, alive and very much in dialogue with this unwieldy gang of 850. This of course may turn out to be all about me and my projections! However, as a great believer in unconscious communication, I’m not going to dismiss it, especially as it reminded me so much of group facilitating.
Calling it ‘conducting’ has gone out of fashion in some circles, but in my supervision I often find it such a helpful word. In the choir, the conductor at different moments emphasised, drew out, calmed down, provoked, encouraged the different voices so that together they created a rich and balanced sound. The parallel is clear I think! Add to that their ability to be personable – to incorporate their skills, techniques, talents with their own unique style and identity – and you have a great facilitator!
Of course, the relationship between choir member and a conductor that you meet once or twice is very different from that that develops between a therapy group member and the facilitator. Expectations, commitments, the long-term revealing and working with rational patterns – all very different, but there is some common ground, I believe. Few group facilitators are waving their arms, swaying, clapping, and pointing; but the ways in which they use their voice, body, facial expressions, the way they communicate warmth, displeasure, approval, enjoyment, frustration – these all very much part of conducting a therapy group.
My brief experience at the weekend as a group member reminded me how powerful this could be. I felt quite differently with each conductor. At best I felt open, light hearted, alive and enjoying the task. I would describe this as being contained- clear boundaries, clear signals, and challenged – let’s try that again – within a relationship that felt mutually creative. There was familiar ambiguity about control and authority. I was being told what to do by someone who I felt was fully aware that I could choose to wander off whenever I wanted. Power sharing ! However bossy I might be as a group facilitator, I know I have absolutely no power other than that given me by a fragile consensus in the group.
I started off writing about an experience that felt like new territory and have ended back on familiar ground. Being able to hold together the old and the new seems like a good way to proceed, and not only in psychotherapy.