PSYCHE EDUCATION - the process of the 'Working Group'

Presented by Karen Stefano and Anthony Blake

The term 'working group' is used to designate a group that performs an educational task that is not strictly psychotherapeutic nor functional. It is not psychotherapeutic in the sense that it is not to be considered in terms of therapist and clients. It is not functional in the sense that the group does not aim at a defined result or 'product'. A good overall description is that it provides several media of experience through which people can learn to investigate and learn from their own actions. This we call 'psyche education'.

The approach can be said to be meaning-based rather than psychology-based. It tends towards the existentialist and phenomenological schools but also reflects current thinking in physics on complex systems, autonomy and the role of randomness or 'noise'.

Socially it supports the ideas of diversity, autonomy and creativity. Philosophically, it acknowledges the reality of what is unknown and unknowable.

Principles

The word 'education' is used in the classical sense of 'to lead out'. It means to elicit capacities that are inherent in the individual, rather than to instruct them or treat dysfunction.

We assume that there is a common need of sustaining oneself in the midst of uncertainty and managing a complex of demands. This favours the development of autonomy in relation to a variety of experiences.

1. Psyche education includes, by way of example: the givenness of immediate experience; the conscious and the unconscious, however these are understood; all three dimensions of function, being and will; the four aspects Jung called sensation, feeling, thinking and intuition, and so on. There is a fundamental principle of organising through diversity as difference and similarity, as in the metaphor of the spectrum of visible light.

2. The process of this education is also diverse. Thus it includes: both strict control and spontaneous emergence from the formless; it is both individual and collective; it is verbal and non-verbal, and so on.

3. Psyche education awakens an encounter and dialogue of the person with herself but is not predicated on any view of what this 'self' might be. This encounter and dialogue is extended into relations with others and also with the world at large, in what is called 'culture', one expression of which is called participative consciousness, with observation as its consequence and not its driver.

4. It values discovery over learning; the idea that what comes out of this education is unexpected and unique to each person, not following a teaching, model or single paradigm. If we do not know in advance what the psyche is, or what it means, then how can we proceed? How can we enable a process that can allow for any kind of act of self-realization that can permit any system of beliefs, or accommodate any theory of human existence?

5. Psyche education needs to be a combination of several methods, each stimulating a different kind of experience, each with its own 'logic' or viewpoint, such that the approach and results of the one can become material or resource for another, each feeding into and being fed by the others, in a mutually correcting and supporting mosaic. The psyche education we have distilled is like a woven fabric, each strand interwoven with the others. It is a fabric of many colors of subtle texture. Most importantly, it allows individuals to weave themselves through it, because it is a fabric in process of being woven.

It is assumed that a valid way of realising these principles is through a method that combines many methods. In this approach we have several distinct media of experience, deriving from quite independent sources from each other; and we also have the considerable flexibility of the combinatorial possibilities they offer. An individual going through the process will discover in their experience various connections or relationships between two or more of the component methods.

The Approach of Integration

Psyche is meant as an inclusive term, largely to avoid a specific technical definition. Psyche includes the bodily life and participation in community. It includes perception of the world, including the wonder of the cosmos. It is material and immaterial, biological and cultural, genetic and spiritual. It includes language, science, metaphor, history, myth, etc. Awareness and recognition of this inclusivity is an essential part of psyche education.

The facilitators who service psyche education are neither authorities nor leaders in the usual sense. Their job is to run the methods as impartially as possible, because these are to act as neutral frameworks within which people can work. Each of the methods provides a way of 'containment' without which nothing can build. The individual, the group and the method form a relationship and the 'purity' of the method is essential. Each of the methods or frameworks used derives from substantial research and experience over very many years. Each, taken in its own right, can lead over time to the most profound results, including creations of great beauty and meaning. Such advanced pursuits are left to the decisions of individuals, but the depth and potential of the methods is of supreme importance.

There is no one core method in the mosaic of several methods. Each is the starting point and each a culmination. This ancient symbol represents the way it is most elegantly. Every method is a 'way into the centre'. The concentric rings are symbolic of the depth of experience. In the process of psyche education, at any moment, for a particular individual, experience of one method can give access to the center, where all methods converge into the same understanding of reality.

That there are seven methods is both pragmatic and symbolic. Seven is about the number of elements we can entertain at the same time. It is also embedded in our culture from ancient times in such things as the days of the week or the colours of the spectrum.

The methods are applied sequentially such that each full day contains them all. The daily cycle implicitly contains the sleep and dreaming during the nightly intervals. In a full programme there will be five cycles with an introductory and concluding phase. The introductory phase serves to orientate to the methods and encourage articulation of expectations and aims. The concluding phase brings to a conclusion any work carried out over the period, particularly with such methods as 'collage'.


Generating Insights

There are two main ways of understanding the process involved. Each of them addresses the phenomenon that some kind of new information is generated, that can be described as 'insight' and we need to consider how this can arise.

1. The process is a bridge between the 'conscious' and the 'unconscious'. These terms are variously understood and we argue that each person needs to understand them for herself according to her needs and aims. For each of the seven methods we use there are 'complementarities' that correspond to, but are not identical with, the familiar conscious-unconscious. These are outlined below:
Inner process (similar to 'meditation') - mental-somatic
Social Dreaming (derived from Gordon Lawrence) - dreaming-waking
Movements (complex patterns of movement involving thought and feeling) - intentional-automatic
Collage (derived from Edith Wallace) - verbal-nonverbal
Median Group (derived from Patrick de Mare) - voiced-unvoiced
Logovisual technology - explicit-implicit
'ILM' (derived from Edward Matchett) - outer-inner
The appellation given to each type of complementarity is only indicative, since
each is complex.

2. That the process itself creates new meanings. In this approach there is no need
to reify the unconscious as the definite source of information that is 'new' to
the conscious mind. This approach is relatively unfamiliar in the psychological
field but is better known in the realm of physics and the study of emergent
self-organising systems.

Every individual involved can entertain and evolve their own understanding of the arising of insight, but people develop their own understanding primarily in relation to that of others. There are several independent but mutually relevant agencies involved. Three of them are: the individual, the group and the relevant scale of collective mind or culture. The main briefing for the working group process of psyche education is that each individual takes responsibility for her learning and discovery. The other members of the group serve, in relation to this aim, as resources on account of their different interpretations (or 'readings') of experiences, which experiences have much in common. The process of the group involves the active presence of the culture within which it is embedded.

Another two agencies are the facilitators and the 'originators', the latter being those individuals and associated schools from which the methods have derived. The main role of the facilitators is to implement the methods as objectively as possible. Each method has its own logic and works with its own material of experience. Each is similar to a 'game' in requiring its own rules and its own 'space'.

Some of the methods (such as 'movements') are more directive than others (such as 'median group') and this is a critical dimension of designing the whole.

Besides having practical understanding and experience of the methods they are responsible for, the facilitators need to:
Keep track of what is happening
Contain what is happening
Keep the environment safe for exploration
Support awareness of group process
Acknowledge and encourage autonomous responsibility


Generic Method

Each of the seven methods provides a container (or space) for exploration. Such containers have structure. In general, this structure consists of the operation of two factors.

1. The suspension of some habitual mode of thinking, reacting, judging, etc. For example, in 'inner process' people should not move but sit still with a definite erect posture. In making 'collages' they should not 'think'.
2. The liberation of some relatively 'new' mode of action, awareness, meaning, etc. For example, in 'inner process' the liberation of 'inner attention' that can register psychosomatic process. In 'collage' there is the liberation of what Jung called 'active imagination'.

Each method generates new information that forms a pathway of and through experience. The elements of this pathway are not brought into the process but generated by it.

One of the most obvious benefits of psyche education is that it enables people to gain confidence that they can navigate through unfamiliar media of experience. For example, some people find initially that they have no way of managing themselves in the world of 'movements' where the corresponding language is based on physical awareness and it is a significant step when they learn how to do so. For others, the experience of the median group based on dialogue is at first confusing and unsettling but they can gain the confidence of being able to manage themselves in such unstructured conversation and learn to appreciate the structure that emerges that is not imposed from the start. The capacity of navigation develops through participation in the making of pathways.

The Methods

These are presented in the usual order they are sequenced.

1. Inner Process

Where attention is directed to internal process by means of awareness of physical and energetic states. This is distinguished from the more familiar 'meditation' because the latter largely works with stillness of mind and visual images and does not dwell on somatic phenomena. It is guided by a facilitator, whose task it is to provide a framework for individual exploration.

2. Social Dreaming

Derived from Gordon Lawrence's 'social dreaming matrix', it requires dreams to be reported and associated to by the group as an interpretation of what it is going through in the programme. The dreams must not be taken as belonging to the individuals who report them but as representing the whole group.

3. Movements

Various postures and movements of various limbs are combined so that the usual linear mental processing has to give way to a more integrated and holistic attention. These are more than abstract exercises and involve thought, sensation and feeling and sometimes music, which serve to attract the more holistic form of action. The facilitator gives a definite pattern of the whole that participants find a way to achieve from within themselves.

4. Collage

Derived from the work of Dr Edith Wallace as a means of active imagination, it calls on people to produce tissue paper collages by tearing and pasting without any plan or thought. Participants work with their collages to allow insights to emerge, in a dialogue between the conscious and the unconscious.

5. Median Group

Derived from the work of Patrick de Mare, it is a way of dialogue for the sake of coming to koinonia or 'impersonal fellowship'. This is a subtle process of following unstructured conversation that can be frustrating but can also reveal culture at work in the moment.

6. Logovisual Technology

Reflections, usually on experiences of the methods, are articulated into sets of discrete statements. These statements are attached to movable objects, like magnetic disks. Individuals and groups move and arrange these 'molecules of meaning' into patterns they can recognise as insights.

7. Immediate Learning Method

Derived from the work of a pioneer on creativity in design, Edward Matchett, initially called 'neural education', this entails in most cases listening to music, but without any concern for liking or disliking and, as far as possible, without reducing what is heard to familiar patterns such as 'tunes' or 'rhythms'. People bring 'their question' to the music, which affords a gateway to new understanding

Each of these methods is complex in its own right and requires considerable experience and training to master; but all have the character of being accessible to beginners as well. Since they are complex, the way in which they interplay with each other can be extremely rich.

The sequence in which they are usually presented stems from (a) trying for an alternation between talking and doing something else, and (b) the time of day. It is true of course that different people have different energy cycles (e.g. as between morning people and night people) and it is only for most but not all people that e.g. inner process best suits the early morning, while ILM best suits the evening.

Each is a universe in itself, or like a system with its specific centre of gravity, which can be named in many ways but along the following lines.

1. Inner Process SENSATION
2. Social Dreaming IMAGE
3. Movements GESTURE
4. Collage IMAGINATION
5. Median MEANING
6. LVT UNDERSTANDING
7. ILM RECEPTIVITY

Interpretation of Experience by Experience

As in many approaches, we do not want to have experts or authorities interpreting the words, actions and experiences of other people and imposing, however subtly, these interpretations upon them. Our approach has been to take the insight governing these interpretations as embedded in corresponding methods. If then people engage in these methods, they can find their own interpretations - and those that are exactly corresponding to their level of understanding. They themselves generate information in the guise of observations, images, meanings, etc. The process is then a self healing one.

By immersion in the different media of the seven methods, participants can see themselves in diverse ways.

The impact of passing from one type of medium of experience to another is sufficient challenge to enable people to loosen the hold of old habits of mind. There is sufficient occasion for conversation to allow for emergent ideas to be checked out with others.

Psychology has taken on board the importance of 'self-observation' and this plays a very significant part in psyche education both in general and in our specific application. There is also what we want to call 'self-understanding', which means the interpretation of oneself that acts and is more than a reflection. Self-observation shows what is going on in me while self-understanding shows me who I am.
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The Ideality of our approach is to enable the psyche to educate itself.

Addendum on possible queries

Could these methods be replaced by others with equal effect?
In practise, we do not know. In theory, yes. The main requirements are to have (a) distinct methods (b) methods that involve the unplanned (c) methods that the facilitators really know and understand

Can the sequence be changed?
Yes it can. The present sequence is optimal only from one point of view

Can one operate the programme using a lesser number of methods?
Yes, one can. In theory there is nothing stopping one from using just one of the methods. Obviously, this is what is largely happening anyway right now. However, even single method usage tends to weave in other elements - if only just because it is usually too boring to do the same kind of thing for more than a few hours at most. The methods we use do have a certain amount of redundancy since they overlap in range. If we use fewer there is less capacity for insight. If we use more there is no time to pick up even the basics of each method. Seven is probably the largest number we can handle and three the least we should consider.

Are there any other types of method you would like to integrate into the programme?
Yes, taking account of the restraints on number: in particular we would like to introduce a theatrical element, maybe through puppets and also practical tasks. Actually we sometimes involve the group in cooking its own meals and find this a good addition. And, although it is scarcely possible to include an expedition during a programme, we do connect with and organise expeditions such as recently to Peru.

Is there any theoretical direction you are taking this?
We have become conscious of the need to think in terms of a whole space of methods and of a complex nexus of meaningful connections between them. This space would include such things as sex and also political action. It may well be that the 'working group' complex of seven methods is just one example of a pattern that can be fulfilled in many ways. We need to find quite different examples in order to see what this pattern might really be.


References

De Mare, Patrick et al: Koinonia
Lawrence, Gordon et al: Social Dreaming @ Work
Wallace, Edith: 'Healing Through the Visual Arts - A Jungian Approach' in Approaches to Art Therapy: Theory and
Technique, edited J A Rubin, Brunner Mazel, 1987
Blake, Anthony & Stefano, Karen: 'Tissue Paper Collage' IGAP paper, 2003


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