Ricerca in Psicoterapia e Formazione. Presentazioni ai Congressi, 6: 5th PCE Europe Symposium

Lo Studio MB di Roma si occupa anche e soprattutto di Ricerca in ambito psicoterapeutico e, come già, presentato in precedenza, riteniamo che sia importante la condivisione delle riflessioni che emergono dalla clinica per crescere e portare avanti un pensiero comune sull’essere umano come linea guida della Psicoterapia. L’obiettivo è che i diversi orientamenti teorici partano da una base che è la Fisiologia Umana per rivolgersi ai pazienti e aiutarli con la cura o il supporto adeguati alla specifica situazione. Per questo motivo mettiamo a disposizione di tutti il materiale presentato nelle sedi dedicate alla Ricerca.

5th PCE (Person Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies) Symposium, Athens, Greece, September 21st-24th 2023: Welcoming Poliphony in a Changing World
Title of the Oral Presentation: The polyphony of co-leadership inside the Strategic-Experiential Group Training in Psychotherapy.

Authors and Co-presenters: Michele Battuello, Caterina Bianchi, Ilaria Ungheri.

IL. Hello everyone, thank you for being here to follow our presentation.
Our voices today will speak about the polyphony of co-leadership in the strategic model.
Co-leadership is the conduct of the training process by two professionals together.
We will talk about co-leadership within experiential training groups in strategic psychotherapy.
In general, groups – social, training, psychotherapy, counseling, … – are the most representative tool of the polyphony of human relationships and are also a mirror of contemporary time.

MI. Integration, listening and meeting in groups and between groups, are the themes of this symposium that stimulated us to participate.
We thank the scientific committee and the organizers for having accepted our polyphonic proposal, even if we come from different epistemological models.
We met during PCE2022 in Copenhagen on the topic of group training in psychotherapy, highlighting how many points the Carl Rogers model has in common, with the strategic experiential group model that belongs to us.

CA. Here in front of you today, we are not all the voices of our group but a part, and we have decided to speak together because the true nature of the group is to oppose individualism and promote well-being due to relationships with others.
We are Ilaria, Michele and Caterina, from Rome, Italy and the model we present, focusing on the aspects of co-leadership, was born within experiential psychotherapy training groups.

IL. In the relationship with each other, it is irrelevant to distinguish the figure of the teacher/trainer from that of the students, so there is equality and parity among group members, regardless of their roles.
Before the theoretical model there is the relationship between human beings, without any difference, identity or political colors: “we are our relationships.”
Equality and respect should be the founding principles within different group memberships.

MI. We maintain that roles exist and are defined within groups but even before the role there is the equal relationship with others and if this is not recognized, the role is, as unfortunately often happens, management of power.
In this way the roles are dynamic and interchangeable based on the who, how, what, when and with whom of the relationships in the here and now.

CA. Rogers’ pedagogical and psychotherapeutic approach to the person is integrated for the Training: the potential of the Self is both developed (educational aim) and restored (psychotherapeutic aim).
Although in the literature the term co-leadership is mainly used in counselor training, today we use the term co-conduction, even if absent in English-speaking writings, as it is more consistent with our training work.
The co-conduction is the here and now of the two professionals.

IL.  The first observation is that co-conduction is widely used in group psychotherapies even if there are not numerous studies describing the epistemological matrix of origin.
The clinical practice of co-leading is often due to the needs of the context such as the training of students or the mentoring of new professionals but it seems difficult to find models that essentially include co-conduction as a specific feature of psychotherapy training.

CA. The implications of the joint work between two psychotherapists within the group process are numerous with advantages for the well-being of the participants as well as risks for the maintenance of the group and for individuals including the psychotherapists.
These aspects are extremely underestimated in the clinic but above all in Research and Group Training as in many cases the use of the group and co-conduction is a convenience adaptation of individual psychotherapy.
It is necessary to keep in mind, for example:

  • IL. The very high level of collaboration that must exist between the two therapists;
  • MI. The relationship that is established must absolutely not be competitive;
  • CA. Professionals, both understood as an essential part of the therapeutic process, must be able to recognize the strengths and limitations, their own and those of the other;
  • IL. The two therapists must necessarily have good communication and a high level of coordination even after the session;
  • MI. Each therapist must have a clear understanding of his role in the therapeutic context of reference;
  • CA. The individual orientation of the therapist must enrich the therapy and not limit and an integrated treatment must always be made possible.

IL. It is easy to understand how much the use of the group for psychotherapy and co-conduction between psychotherapists is a delicate area that requires specific theoretical, but above all experiential, training.
Training in psychotherapy should focus on the specific activity of co-conduction inserting it in the four-year course like the model we are presenting.

MI. The educational program includes 5 annual meetings for a total of 20 in the four-year period lasting about 3 hours and the co-conduction of the class-group starts from the second year up to specialization.
The initial focus and much of the group process is to take care of the person/student.
The ultimate goal of the work is to experience group dynamics including conduction and co-conduction of the group itself as a psychotherapist.

CA. We embrace Carl Rogers’ (1951) intention of psychotherapy as a way to be in the relationship with the other more than a sum of techniques and specific models of intervention.
Consequently, there is no need of categorial, nosographic and diagnostic frames to interact with the suffering of participants inside groups as well.
The psychotherapeutic focus is on the relational dimension in terms of intensity and quality; on the here and now of the relationship and, especially for groups, on the truth for personal growth that is in each participant’s hands (Watzlavick, 1976; Watzlavick & Nardone, 1997).

IL. The first two years is thus considered as focused on the expressiveness of the student to allow her four steps:
get in touch with your emotions,
express them,
understand the emotions of others,
return, by verbalizing, the intuitions themselves to the group.
These dynamics summarize synthetically the relational activity of the psychotherapist.

MI. The teacher/leader of the group is emotionally very active at the beginning to directly offer the relational experience to the students with his/her own involvement, the stripping of the role, the relevance of the emotional spectrum compared to the technical-professional one.
The teacher is the vehicle and emotional mirror of the emotions of the group, breaking the balance and the structural and cognitive defenses that tend to arise spontaneously during the growth of a group.

CA. The co-conductions begin during the second year, usually teacher/student with a very specific intention which is to expand the expressive capacity of the student: the relevance of the technical aspects is still in the background.
Co-conduction activates the many eyes of the group psychotherapist in training: listening to oneself, attention to the speaker, simultaneous observation of others and intuition of the dynamics existing in the group.

IL. The teacher, in co-conduction, has the function of facilitating the emotional involvement of the student for the release of shyness, for reflective stimulus and for verbal and non-verbal expressive activation.
The sole objective, in this phase, is to take care of the student/person and allow the emergence of unresolved emotional-relational conflicts and situations, explored and transformed within the group: training is also a group psychotherapy.

MI. The degree fills students with theoretical notions and concepts on emotions, relational dynamics, models of approach to the person, reinforcing their conscious awareness and cognitive restructuring of the personality, thus acting as a defense mechanism.
Often those who have chosen this path as a profession also unknowingly seek a cure for a wounded self which, however, with study becomes a poorly effective self-cure.

CA. A training course that mainly deals with the other (the patient/client), with his ailments and with the possibilities of treatment inevitably takes away from taking care of the self of the student which instead should be the starting point.
Individual psychotherapy is suggested but not mandatory for the majority of psychotherapy schools and so the new professional arrives prepared to the relationship with the patient but less ready to manage related emotions.

IL. The group is therefore a safe space within which these difficulties can emerge while still giving access to free self-expression.
“Homo faber fortunae suae”, man is the advocate of his own destiny, we could add not alone but together with others.
According to Carl Rogers’ point of view, we truly believe that the drive for growth, which occurs through suffering, is the “actualizing tendency”, a force that drives the person to find independence, self-realization and development of potential, within the group.

MI. We reiterate the need for the training space to be, also and above all, dedicated to the care and attention of the person, in this case the student, as psychotherapy is the cure of the relationship with the relationship itself.
The marketing of schools and of the various theoretical models, on the other hand, often has the objective of reaching a sufficient number of subscribers and focuses publicity and attention on innovative trends and approaches, fragmenting psychotherapy into many currents.

CA. The student therefore finds herself choosing between models that are attractive but which rarely include experiential training.
The specialist, overshadowed by skills and techniques, loses global observation of the patient, who is the person himself.
The result is that more and more people have undertaken one or more psychotherapy courses which in the best of cases have helped to improve aspects of themselves but not the person as a whole.

IL. In addition, contemporary culture, blocked for decades in the pursuit of individualism and the domination of the ego, has deprived the vitality of a culture of “us” which is instead the matrix of human relationships.
Training is therefore a driver of change with time and must be re-evaluated in its importance for the well-being of society.

MI. We thus introduce the second characteristic of co-conduction of the strategic-experiential model: the two psychotherapists take care of the group but also find in one a voice that takes care of the other as a consequence of the active listening towards the colleague.

CA. In the training course, during the first two years, the ego expresses itself predominantly and, as mentioned, is listened to and sometimes cared for.
In the second two years we notice a maturation that transforms from the expressiveness of the ego to the awareness and importance of “we”.

IL. The innovative and effective tool of the proposed model is precisely co-conduction with which it is possible to observe and analyze the dynamics of the group, as well as the movements of each member.
It is precisely the true listening of us, which allows each participant, starting from the co-hosts, to move from a phase of individualism (defense) to one of identification (self-realization).
Expressiveness is thus integrated with identification: the personality of the other as a resource for the entire group.

MI. The group is thus truly a free space that offers itself to letting oneself go to the here and now of the relationship.
In particular, the co-therapists, if the goal of expressiveness has really been achieved, can co-create the setting together thanks to the use of the imagination and its consequent activation which is experimentation.
In this way, the experiential strategic model of training is not established a priori, but built a posteriori from time to time, from meeting to meeting, from group to group.

CA. Furthermore, in a free and casual way, the teacher suggests that the students, individually or in subgroups, write down some moments of the meetings.
The movements of the leaders, the group dynamics, some specific themes or emotions that emerged during the meeting, reported in written word, have the function of further activating the students’ expressiveness, of maintaining the relationship even when the meetings are temporally distant from each other and to build a historical and affective memory of the group itself.

IL. The meetings between authors started after the 3rd year’s sessions were focused to tell and relive the experience of the single encounter: words, emotions, associations, thoughts were welcome.
Step by step we realised that the theoretical issues of the model were emerging as a consequence of the story-telling and it was a touching surprise.
Specifically, the Strategic perspectives applied to Groups coming from this training’s group experience are:

  1. rapport;
  2. matching;
  3. utilisation;
  4. communication and emotional circularity;
  5. relevance of psychotherapeutic relationship.

MI. Rapport is the resemblance with the group that promotes trust and unconditional acceptance of the other. It is activated by gestures, vocal timbre, eye contact, breath, facial mimicry, postures and silences (Erickson, 1976; Satir et al., 1991; Loriedo et al., 2002).

CA. Matching allows the connection between individual emotions and those of the group and generates emotional mirroring for real and genuine relationships.

IL. Utilisation helps to take the opportunity of the moment, catching what is said or acting. It activates circular attention of the group in the here and now (Watzlawick & Nardone, 1997).

MI. Communication and emotional circularity take shape when the group climax is fluid. When narrations emerge, they are used by the group for the power of meditation and of silence, for introspection and for taking care of the relationship to enhance, consolidate and build it. (Watzlawick et al.,1971; Haley, 1973; Watzlawick & Nardone, 1997).

CA. Both the teacher and the future psychotherapist must leave behind everything they have seen and experienced in their professional experience and try to be truly naked in front of the group.
This comes close to Roger’s view of the psychotherapist who is not the expert displaying universal knowledge but a facilitator of a mutual exchange.

IL. The rules of the setting are only the interest in expressiveness, in the terms we have described.
The rest is group life which as a word may seem abstract or excessively generic but contains the essence of psychotherapy, especially group psychotherapy: the ability of the co-students to listen and activate a movement which responds solely to the moment of the group without meanings or projections of unresolved personal dynamics.
Only in this way does the change take place, consequently the cure: abandoning the conceptual and cognitive space of the task in favor of the affective-relational one of being.
The word spoken to the other is thus transformed from competence to recognition.

MI. In emerging from the single meeting and so on up to the end of the specialization, the student integrates the great baggage of theoretical notions that he continues to acquire with the experiential baggage that is the main driving force of psychotherapeutic work.
Internships and supervisions amplify skills but with the essential assumption of an affective relational process in progress as the founding matrix of being a psychotherapist.

CA. We thus summarize the relevance of using co-conduction within psychotherapy groups.
It is a tool that must be thoroughly known by both professionals and trainers.

IL. Specific preparation and experience are required to work as a team and for this reason co-conduction should be included in all group training models.

MI. In the model presented, all the students, on a rotational basis, experience co-conduction.
The most exciting result is that the group ends up having experienced the polyphony of the collaborative leadership of all its participants.

CA. Each person’s voice is thus truly a resource for the other, in a process of growth in which equality and recognition finally return to the fabric of the relational fabric.

IL. The model we have described is the basis of the training which in turn is the epistemological basis of strategic-experiential group psychotherapy which perhaps we will describe to you another time.
Thank you for your attention and participation.

Michele Battuello