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The Birth of Group Analysis from the Spirit of Theatre

Foulkes had maintained that besides Trigant Burrow, plays by Gorki: At the Bottom (1902) and Pirandello: Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921), had inspired him to group analysis 15 years before his first group in Exeter. An analysis of the plays under dramatic and group analytic perspectives tries to investigate the possible influential factors that might have inspired Foulkes. By expanding the neuroscientific and psychosocial ontological dimension of group analysis into the ontology of art, it is suggested that such an intuitive approach can be fruitful in understanding group processes, as is shown by a vignette of an adolescent group, opening up new dimensions for interrelational thinking and intersubjetivity.

Key words: Foulkes, Gorki, Pirandello, theatre, play within a play, history of group analysis, ontology of arts, adolescent group, intersubjectivity


A small remark by Foulkes in the 1960s, talking about inspiring influences of group analysis always irritated me, yet struck a chord.

In his book Therapeutic Group Analysis (1964) Foulkes acknowledges, that 15 years before his first actual experience with group therapy in his practice in Exeter, he had what he called a ‘first germinal inception’ of group analysis.

In the mid ‘twenties I came across one or two papers by Trigant Burrow which must have made a deep impression on me. They put the idea of group analysis as a form of treatment into my mind. There were other influences in the air at that time: apart from plays like Six Characters in Search of an Author by Pirandello, I remember being greatly impressed by Maxim Gorki’s The Lower Depths (Nacht-asyl)—quite recently revived in London. Here was a play without a hero, a leaderless group on the stage, driven by strong, anonymous forces. I pondered about the pathogenic and therapeutic power of the theatre and of everyday life. Fifteen years elapsed between this first germinal inception and my first actual experience with a group. (Foulkes, 1964: 13)

In her brief memoir his wife Elizabeth, mentions this influence:

Another stimulation came from the plays without heroes or conventional plots, such as Maxim Gorki’s ‘The Lower Depths’ and Pirandello’s ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’. (E. Foulkes, 1990: 13; also E. Foulkes, 1998: 437)

Now I am sure, I am not far off the track, presuming that one might pose the question of what use it is to go back to a ‘germinal incep- tion’, as we in the past 30 years have so magnificently succeeded in clearing up the specific frames of reference of Foulkes’ conceptual- ization of group analysis by meticulously researching the influences of Norbert Elias (Dalal, 1998; Lavie, 2005), of Kurt Goldstein and Adhemar Gelb (Nitzgen, 2008; 2009; 2010; Schultz-Venrath, 1984) and Trigant Burrow (Abse, 1979; Pertegato and Pertegato, 2013; Sandner, 2003). Have we not sufficiently cleared up the significant influences of group analysis by now?

I do admit, Fichte’s bold witticism on Kant has a charming kick, jesting that it is indeed possible to understand a philosopher better than he himself did. But let us assume for just a moment, Foulkes really meant, what he wrote, let us give in to the suspicion that we did not take it seriously in the way he did, because we know so much of the other influences. Let us propose just for a moment, that there is a special dimension for group analysis in these plays, which could be uncovered—would it not be worth the effort to find out? What in these plays could have triggered in Foulkes a first germinal inception of group analysis? And suppose, the specific dramatic constellation in these plays adds something to the understanding of group analysis, what could it add to our topic ‘Developments in Intersubjectivity’?

Specifying my quest, I do not strive to find out general connections between Foulkes’ later development of group analytic theory and how it relates to concepts of the theatre or to psychodrama concepts of Moreno. The central interest of this study brings into focus the question, what in the plays Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello (1867–1936) and The Lower Depths by Maxim Gorki (1868–1936) could have inspired the idea of group analysis?

In his later writings, Foulkes refers several times to playwrights. He mentions Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus (Foulkes and Anthony, 1957: 242) where he concentrates on the interplay between the hero and the chorus, suggesting a parallel juxtaposition of the conductor or a single group member and the group, as the field in which the basic conflict is enacted. In this passage, by the way, he acknowledges how much he is indebted to J.L. Moreno and his insight and application of dramatic techniques for psychotherapy. In a special article on the Oedipus complex and regression Foulkes refers to an interpretation of the chorus in the Oedipus Tyrannus having the function of kind of superego (Foulkes,1972 [1990]). He considers the Oedipus complex from a group analytic perspective and conceptualizes the myth as a family drama, interpreting the play from aspects of group analytic family therapy. In a different context Foulkes mentions the role of the chorus in a superego function by referring to Aeschylus’ Oresteia and again Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus (Foulkes, 1964: 112).

In one of his latest articles Foulkes cites Berthold Brecht’s concept of alienation (Foulkes, 1975 [1990]) which was intended to provoke a change of political reality by producing an alienation or estrangement effect via defamiliarization of the familiar and the self-evident. Foulkes goes on to suggest a similar technique for the conductor, opening up space by an intervention of not understanding, thus challenging what for a member of the group seems self-evident.

We have interesting evidence, that Foulkes at the end of his life was still concerned with these questions, as Sheila Thompson reports. Shortly before his death, Foulkes, lending her a biography of Chekhov, ‘thought that a study of the way in which dramatists have depicted interpersonal relationships might be useful for the development and enrichment for his own theories (Thompson, 1983: 344)’.

Maxim Gorki: At the Bottom. Scenes from Russian Life (1902 [2008]) (Known also as The Lower Depths)

The debut performance in the Moscow Art Theatre (1902), directed by Konstantin Stanislawski, paved the way for Gorki’s most success- ful drama. Its gloomy pessimism and ambiguous ethical philosophy had been criticized from the beginning. In creating believable charac- ters under disastrous social conditions, this play is regarded as his masterpiece. In four acts the scene is set in a Russian night shelter for the poorest of the poor, their living conditions depicted in a manner later to be called socialist realism. The lodging house near the Volga is run a by a treacherous couple, Kostoloff and his much younger wife Vassilisa, who has an adulterous affair with Vaska, a thief. Also living there is the locksmith Kleeshtsh, who had manhandled his wife, now dying from the injuries. The baron, an ex-aristocrat, now a pimp of the prostitute Nastya, is not working at all. Also living there is an actor, whose alcoholism has destroyed his career before it began, and Satine, a convicted murderer.

While Gorki develops these figures as victims of a cruel world and social misery, without any hope and perspective, their living together is marked by violence, alcoholism, deceit, conflict and quarrel. The only person in the house, who seems to be still morally intact is Natasha, the sister of Vassilisa, but exploited and mistreated by her sister, and deprived of food.

When Luka, the wise old pilgrim arrives at this shelter of misery, a new energy transforms the atmosphere. He builds up relations with the dying wife of Kleeshtsh, with Vaska and Natasha, with the actor and Nastya. His empathy, his pity and his idealism begin infusing the hope of positive perspectives. Vaska now is hoping to elope with Natasha to Siberia, for a new start in life. The alcoholic actor dreams of withdrawal treatment in a sanatorium. Yet the drama develops its inevitable course. Vaska falls in love with Natasha, to the utter dis- may of his mistress Vassilisa, the wife of Kleeshtsh dies, and Vassilisa shrewdly tries to persuade Vaska to kill her husband, Natasha being the prize. Luka, however, is forced to leave the lodge by its keepers. Then, as Vassilisa and her husband in a violent outbreak burn the legs of Natasha with boiling water, Vaska kills her husband. The actor leaves the shelter and hangs himself. We have here a drama of mur- der, suicide, a wife dying of injuries received from her abusive hus- band, adultery, prostitution, theft, fraud and alcoholism.

In the last act, with Luka gone, Vaska and Vassilisa in prison, Kleeshtsh’s wife and the actor dead, the play turns into a philosophi- cal discussion about Luka and the impossibility of changing social injustice by pity. People, who are victims of social injustice, cannot be saved by a christian-like humanism. This humanism, marked by pity only infuses false hope. Pity is not enough, it obscures the truth. The rest - is misery.

How could Foulkes have profited from this play without a classical hero as an inspiration for his conceptualization of group analysis?

We see this group in the beginning, left to itself, without perspec- tive, condemned to acting out the pathologies of its members. Luka, the pilgrim is bringing something new into the group. He embodies the function of a positive catalyzer, indirectly conducting the group for a short period, opening up space for reflection and change of the interplay between several characters. Empathetic dialogue builds respectful relationships to the dying wife of Kleeshtsh, the actor, Vaska, Natasha, Satine and Nastya, opening up space for reflection, enabling them to develop and reflect the narrative of their lives. He goes even further, once a relationship is established, providing con- crete advice as to how to change a personal situation, and advises Vaska to leave with Natasha for Siberia. In the case of Nastya, he validates her narrative and interprets hostile reaction to her as envy. His main effect is to infuse hope, indirectly leading this group into a new process of relationships.

Kleeshtsh’s wife dying is ignored by all others, even her husband. Only Luka and Natasha attend to her, offering consolation. Satine, the convicted murderer, being approached by Luka, opens up and narrates his biography. He later will save Natasha from the house- keeper and his wife. There is a change in the group and it is obviously connected to Luka. It threatens the status quo and the housekeeper asks him to leave.

Even if Gorki depicts the change in these relationships as having no effect on their social reality or their personal lives, their patholo- gies lead to murder and suicide. Yet, it is obvious that Luka opens up space for reflection in this group, radically changing the style of communication.

The fourth and last act of the play is a reflection in the absence of Luka, about his ethical intentions and the shortcomings of a social attitude based on pity—a sequence of dialogues unimaginable in the beginning of the play. The group—after he leaves—is a group in communication. Luka’s ‘therapy’ is more of an individual therapy in a group. But after he had left, the process has a stunning effect: It becomes a group therapy by the group itself, in the absence of an indirect conductor.

The inspiration of Gorki’s At the Bottom for Foulkes could have been in recognizing the potential of a severely disturbed group for change; the insight of the catalyzing factor of a conductor, who leads a group indirectly by opening up space for reflection, infusing hope and building personal relationships by empathy; provoking change of the social interplay in the group through indirect leadership. This group is condemned to acting out its pathologies, violence and self-destruction. This Luka could not change.

Pessimism prevails. And yet, after Luka leaves, a group, capable of dialogue, has been formed.

Luigi Pirandello: Six Characters in Search for an Author (1921 [1995])

This play is a hallmark in the history of modern drama, perhaps, as George Bernard Shaw presumed, ‘the most original play ever writ- ten’ (Cody and Sprinchorn, 2007: 1075). The debut performance in 1921 in Rome’s Teatro Valle caused a theatre battle and boxing fights between spectators, actors and critics, split up between supporters and adversaries, adversaries screaming ‘Manicomio!’ (Madhouse!). They threatened to beat up the author, who had to sneak out by the side exit of the theatre. The crowd continued to discuss the play in Rome’s public places. (This reminds me of a group I once conducted . . . I apologise that there is no room for it in this article . . . ).

In the 1920s Pirandello conquered the theatres of the world with this play. What makes this play so special and how could Foulkes have profited from it as an inspiration for his conceptualization of group analysis?

The basic idea of this play is the failure of a conventional theatre project.

The scene is set by a company of actors with the director, who stage a rehearsal of a play, The Rules of the Game, strangely enough an earlier play by Pirandello. As the rehearsal begins, the six charac- ters burst in and interrupt. They maintain having been created by an author as characters of a play, but the author has abandoned them after the second act and refused to finish the play. He refuses to have pity for the character not yet finished. As they have come into exist- ence now by his writing, they claim their right to live, to live on stage, now searching for an author to finish their play. This is a radi- cal construction of a play within a play. So we have two groups, the six characters on the one hand, and the rehearsing theatre staff, con- sisting of actors, the director and stage personnel on the other. None of the figures of this play bear personal names, they represent roles— except for a person to appear later as dea ex machina, Madame Pace, not a Goddess but a madam of a brothel.

The character roles are: the father, the mother, the stepdaughter, the son, the young boy, the child. In his astute stage directions, Pirandello asks this group of characters to be clearly marked as a group aside from the theatre personel, and in a later adaptation of the play he even suggests they wear masks. While the director is annoyed by being disturbed in his rehearsal, the actors stick to ironic skepticism, as the characters, members of a broken family begin to enact their compli- cated relations and conflicts.

The history of their family is this: The father takes the little son away from his wife and gives him to a wet nurse. Then he separates from the mother, suspecting adultery with his secretary, and sends her away; we still are in an Italy without the possibility of divorce. Afterwards, the mother lives in a new partnership with the secretary of her former husband, bearing him three children, two daughters and a son. When the father of her three children dies, the mother falls into poverty, sewing dresses for a Madame Pace, who runs a brothel. This Madame succeeds in pressuring the stepdaughter into prostitution. One day, the father comes to the brothel, does not recognize her, whom he had known as a child, and chooses his stepdaughter, who does recognize him. While undressing, the mother happens to come to the brothel and prevents the sexual act. Subsequently, the father offers his ex-wife and her children to live in his house, where he lives with his adult son. This son resents his mother and her children, despising her for having abandoned him. While the mother visits her oldest son in order to repair their relationship, the youngest daughter, unattended, drowns in the garden pond, and the younger son, feeling responsible, kills himself with a pistol.

So we have a drama about egotism, adultery, prostitution, all but incest, death by accident and suicide. The two small children never say a mumbling word in the whole play; the oldest son refuses to function as a character and always wants to leave the stage; the mother full of pain and sorrow, seldom speaks up; the stepdaughter and her stepfather take the leading roles to convince the director to give in, to finish the play for them, and stage it with his actors. The six characters as a product of a renegade author represent the reality of art, while the director and the company represent the reality of everyday life.

How is it possible, that these characters, who are formed definite and determined, who are not able to undergo character change—the father representing ruefulness, the stepdaughter revenge, the adult son contempt and scorn, the mother representing pain—how can they create a necessity for the performance of their play, how can they win over the director and the company? In a situation, where the stepdaughter demands the crucial scene to be played, where the stepfather is on the brink of having sex with her, she describes the scene to be played, the circumstance and the room in detail. She is undressing behind the screen, on the little mahogany table lies the blue envelope with the money.

Stepdaughter: I see it! I could pick it up! But you, gentlemen, should turn your backs now: I am almost in the nude! I’m no longer blushing, because he [the father] is blushing now! [To the father:] But I assure you, he was very pale, very pale at the moment! [To the director:] Believe me, Sir.

Director: I don’t understand a thing!

Father: No wonder you don’t when it’s put that way. Get things in order here and let me speak. Don’t listen to her infamous remarks, which she, this person here, so ferociously would have you believe about me without the required explanation.

Stepdaughter: You can’t tell a story here. Not here. No narration.Father: I’m not narrating! I want to explain to him.

Stepdaughter: Ah, sure, that’s nice! Explain in your own way!

Father: But can’t you see that all the trouble lies here! In the words! All of us have a world full of things inside of us, each of us his own world of things! And how can we understand one another, sir, if in the words I speak, I put the meaning and the value of things, as I myself see them, why the one who listens inevitably takes them according to the meaning and value, which he has in himself of the words he has inside of himself. We think we understand each other; we never understand one another. (Pirandello, 1995: 19)

This is a clear formulation of the limits of communication, the ulti- mate denial of a successful communication of the inner world, of words inside of oneself. Notwithstanding this pessimism, the daughter, the father and the mother try to establish with the director their view of the story, explaining their motives for doing, and what they did from their point of view. The actors listen still skeptically, but the director finds himself gradually involved in the interplay of these formed characters, his function almost a judge—the father accused by mother and stepdaughter, the father wanting to make plausible his position with huge effort to be judged on his own terms—the director now moving on to certain interventions like calling them to end discussions, or ending disputes, becoming more resolute. Once the scene in the brothel is simulated by father and daughter, he forbids his actors to disturb the scene in play. Then, when the actors start to rehearse the scene, the characters had demonstrated, he tells the stepdaughter to be quiet, or forbids her to laugh, even criticizing her as arrogant, and when she ultimately demands to be given the chance to display her own drama, he intervenes by correcting her:

Director: Oh, so there’s just your part. I’m sorry to have to tell you that yours is not the only part. There are also the others: his part [He points to the father], your mother’s. You can’t have a character invading the scene and becoming so dominant that he overpowers the others. (Pirandello, 1995: 49)

And the director continues, taking up the idea, that each have their chance to disclose their motives and reasons with a line that could be a formula of group analysis:

Director: All of them [these parts] have to be contained in a harmonious framework and then act out what is actable. I too am well aware of the fact that everyone has his own interior life which he would like to bring out in the open. But the difficulty is precisely this: to bring out into the open only what is important in reference to the others; and at the same time reveal through that little bit all of that unrevealed interior life! (Pirandello, 1995: 49)

Of course the father makes this point, because he does not want to be judged, committed and determined by this one situation in the brothel, while the daughter desperately pushes for the reconstruction of this scene. However, this contention is clearly against the creed of classi- cal dramatic form, which regards dialogue and action precisely in their finality for an adequate expression of human existence. For Pirandello, the deed, or action is not the valid objectivisation of the subject (Szondi, 1963: 133). He views this as an illegitimate and ruin- ous limitation of the infinite and manifold inner life.

Father: So we have the illusion of always being at the same time ‘one for everyone’ and always ‘this one’ that we believe we are in everything we do. It is not true! It is not true! We see this clearly whenever, in something we do, under very unfortunate circumstances, we are all of a sudden caught, as if suspended on the hook; we realize, I mean to say, that of all our self is not in that act, and that, therefore, it would be an atrocious injustice to pass judgment on us by that single action: to hold us fixed, hooked and suspended for our entire existence, as if our existence were all summed up in this one act! (Pirandello, 1995: 26)

The play ends with a cry from the mother because her little daughter has drowned; a shot, the boy killing himself with a pistol; shrill laughter of the stepdaughter, running away from the stage, where stepfather, mother and stepbrother remain. The curtain falls.

With this abolition of the theatre of illusion, the theatre itself being the theme to be reflected on, Pirandello creates in this meta-theatre the embodiment of modern theatre (Szondi, 1963: 127).

I suggest that the early ‘pre-group analysis Foulkes’ in the time of incubation was inspired by this play in several ways. The first and perhaps, the most important influence should have come by the fundamen- tal setting of the drama as a play within a play, in a much more radical and painful way than its predecessors e.g. Hamlet, Pirandello creates a framework of reflection within the play about the play itself, opening up a perspective of a group, reflecting what is happening in the group.

One of the interesting aspects of this play is the function of the director. He is promoted to being the author of the play. He holds the frame, or we might say, he is the master of the setting, he contains the daughter, he decides who is to bring forth a story, and he takes care that emotions stay within reasonable boundaries and no acting out takes place. Furthermore, it is a vivid example of a group process, enabling a reenactment of trauma within a given frame, held by the director. The drama offers a framework of containment with the director in a very specific position. Much more than in Gorki’s At the Bottom we have a vital group process in this play, the six characters forming a subgroup, the theatre staff another, with its director lured and seduced by the six characters, but also moved by the pain of step-daughter and father, in a position to conduct, holding the boundaries and on the other side intervening to give room to opening up space for the reenactment, yet enabling a working through of trauma and pain from a new perspective.

The director provides room for each victim to bring up its own experience, legitimizing its position as a victim, that is, opening up space for questions by creating room for the perspective of the others, not very different from a conductor in an analytic group. The interplay within the group, the intersubjectivity between the six characters and the stage personnel, the mother, but much more vigorously stepdaughter and father struggling to establish their ‘part’ in the drama. The director contains the frame, a conductor being able to reflect, what hap- pens in the group, as in a theatre, reflecting, what is happening in the theatre. Even though words are pronounced not adequate to communcate inner processes—but how much words can still accomplish.

The interplay of the characters in Pirandello’s play is very complex. Not only because the six characters are fixated and unable to change, their interplay among each other already complicated enough, there is also the interaction within the theatre staff and the director, before the characters appear and after, but there is also an interplay of the six characters with the actors and its director, not to speak of the theatre audience.

So why then did the adversaries of the debut performance want to beat up Mr. Pirandello? He not only took away from them the theatre of illusion, but he confronted them with a painful deconstruction of the theatre, this play ending in lunatic, even surreal laughter, and not in a dénouement of the fifth Aristotelian act, demonstrating the painful boundaries of communication in relationship, the suffering from the illusion of mutual understanding.

On the layer of the identity crisis of modern times, Pirandello creates a subversive play whose theme is the impossibility of representation, meaning it is impossible to represent real life on the stage. He confronts his audience with the shock waves of a new reality of the experience of World War I, with its incredible sacrifices and delusions—a reality envisioned in the prophetic philosophy of Nietzsche, whose The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music(1872) I cannibalized for the title of my presentation. This crisis of modern times is keenly expressed in British poet Mathew Arnold’sDover Beach (1876), a generation before the grand slaughter of World War I:


Ah love, let us be true

To one another! For the world, which seems

To lie before us like a world of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, no help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night. (Gardner, 1972: 703)


Ignorant armies clashing by night reminds me of a group of adoles- cents. Why do the characters of a certain group always invade my mind, disturbing and irritating? I give in, you win—you the adolescent group in that in-station setting, that claims to be in this article—a slow open group of 8 to10 adolescents (15 to 16 years), boys and three girls, living together in a residential unit of a treatment centre, most of them subjected to traumatic experiences; two of them have been exposed to ethnic strife in Chechnia and Afghanistan; others have experienced domestic violence or had been sexually abused, some with a delinquent background.

I was the sole conductor, because a female co-conductor was refused funding. The staff of the institution had decided on mandatory group therapy for all living at this particular unit together.

As we know, all adolescents of the world have a deep yearning to talk about their most intimate problems with a stranger, a man from an older generation or even with peers not of their own choosing, some of whom they might utterly dislike in a way that only adolescents are able to—whom they would certainly meet again at supper, while visioning the conductor off for some whisky in a nice bar.

Here is a picture of the early phase: some of the boys move around the room, others play with a sneaked in mobile phone, some boys touch the girls, as long as they do not protest, constantly voicing for the group—that this group therapy is killing the best time of the afternoon, that they never asked for therapy anyhow, why should they ask for bullshit?

In a disturbing incident while changing rooms for one session was necessary, the group deteriorated into acting out: some boys running in and out of the room; two girls climbing out of the window into the garden; some screaming loudly; other throwing therapy toys around; tossing objects at each other; creating an arena of violence, fear and insecurity. The session had to be canceled: ignorant armies clashing by day, yielding a stupefied conductor glimpses into very early emotional states of intrusion, violence, anxiety and utter despondency. The brutality of the early stages of this group came to a disturbing peak as one boy committed treason by revealing to the group a girl’s secret: she had been sexually abused by her brother. Another boy asked: Was it fun?

What we have is the disturbed early adolescent group, battling the adult world and the residential treatment centre, crusading against heteronomy brought upon them by a mandatory group therapy, now trying to destroy the group and demoralize the conductor in order to avoid what they fear most and yet desperately desire: intimacy and closeness. What really did help me, in a situation where a conductor is stirred into helplessness and feelings of utter incompetence, was Morris Nitsun’s deserving conceptualization of the anti-group (Nitsun, 1996). It provided me with a decisive instrument for coping with the destructive elements.

Two years later, the session begins. The group talks about sex, then about the current theme of the European soccer championship in its first round, the painful performance of the Austrian team, about Poland’s struggle for qualification, scoffing at me, sneering at the German team and alluding to my German accent and nationality. Then Daisy, who has Polish parents, complains about Lukas Podolski, who is Polish but plays for the German national team. As a Pole she would only play for Poland. A group discussion begins as to whether he is a traitor, then she asks the conductor if he himself would play for another country. I say, I never have been in this situation, but if I had come to a new country as a young man, I would play for the country that is closest to my heart, be it the old one or the new.

After a while Barak speaks up, revealing that he would like to do very much for his country Afghanistan. If he were rich he would build hospitals. He says that he wants to earn money so that he can send it to his family. The group asks him about his family. He explains that he has not heard of his mother for two and a half years, that his father was murdered by members of a different ethnic group in the village. His brother who had tried to flee with him, has spent years in an Iranian prison, but is now back home. The family knows that he, Barak, is alive. The group—in these 18 months—has never asked about him. He is the best liked in the group, but has been attacked several times for being a foreigner and mocked because of his flawed German.

There is a silence in the group now, as it has never been in these 18 months. Then the girls remark how terrible this must be for him, not to have any contact with his family and being alone at 16 in a foreign country. Why does his mother not write to him? He explains that his mother is illiterate.

In the beginning it was terrible for him in Austria, he did not under- stand a word, but now it is the uncertainty that is killing him, his legal status in Austria unresolved, he does not know how long he can stay. Now they ask him how he came to Austria. He tells the story of his flight to Turkey across the Iranian border, where he lost his brother in a dangerous situation. They had to hide, he had to fight the cold of the night and in the mornings some of the other refugees lay on the ground, frozen to death.

I flash back to a scene in the group one year ago, when he was attacked as ‘Shit-Afghani’, and I ask him how that was for him then, and how it was for him to have been discriminated against in his group all the time. He says that it was very hard for him then, he had felt excluded and this still happens, but he tries to find his way with it. Daisy now says that she cannot understand one thing about him, how he can always be in such good spirits and cheerful most of the time after such heavy blows of fate. He says that in spite of all these things that have happened in his life, he is looking ahead and tries to think of the future. What keeps him going is that he is now the hope of his family, and he hopes he will be able to bring his mother and brothers to Austria when he has earned enough money. He continues talking about his loneliness, especially because of Austrian racism in school, where all his friends are ‘Ausländerfeinde’, enemies of for- eigners. When he asks them, ‘What about me?’ they say, ‘No, not you, we have nothing against you, only against foreigners’. A mem- ber of the group asks a little ironically, if he cries sometimes when he is alone. Barak says, ‘I’m already so hard and tough, I’m not able to cry properly anymore’. The girls murmur, ‘That’s really gross, awful’. At the end, Barak with tears in his eyes, says that he is surprised that anyone took an interest in his fate. Max, the last to speak, still lying on the floor with a sardonic grin on his face, with caustic irony, says, ‘This was really, really super, that finally our Barak had his chance to cry his eyes out’.

Pirandello: Shrill laughter—The last of the Mohicans of the anti- group: caustic irony.


Returning to Foulkes ‘germinal inception’ of group analysis: D. Wilfred Abse, then professor of psychiatry at the University of Virginia, a friend of Foulkes, was the first and only to look in depth into the question of early influence of the theatre on Foulkes (Abse, 1974). The focus of Abse’s interpretation is based on an attempt to connect the central experience of Pirandello’s drama with the bio- graphical situation of the playwright.

Freud (1900a) had attempted psychoanalysis of a dead author, when he pronounced Hamlet to be the product of Shakespeare’s own working through the bereavement of his father (Freud, 1900a: 265), or in his study of Dostoevsky (Freud, 1928b), trying posthumously to reconstruct the unconscious conflict of this author, by interpreting his epilepsy as a grave neurotic symptom. Dostoevsky’s coming to terms with the Oedipal conflict, Freud maintained, was severely hampered by the fact that his father was murdered, the death wish of the son having become reality.

For good reasons we have become critical today of what Michael Rutschky (1981) called the ‘therapy model’ in the psychoanalytic approach to literary authors. This psychoanalytic approach searches for a correspondence between the literary text and the biography of the author, assuming a position of preeminence while insinuating a neurotic conflict. The ‘treatment’ takes place in depersonalized space, without any live correspondence between the two unconscious. We have become reluctant today in applying this analytic strategy towards literary texts. However, Abse opens up a first view into the group process within the plays, though neglecting the interplay between the figures on the stage and their different levels of reality. What remains is the merit of analysing the nonscientific influence from theatre on the early Foulkes, speaking of its importance in con- sidering ‘these bridges between the scientific and intuitive approach to meaning and identity formation (Abse, 1974: 7).’

Sasha Roseneil stresses Foulkes’ early holistic approach. She refers to Foulkes’ early statement: ‘Life is a complex whole. It can only artificially be separated into parts, analysed’ (1948: 1). She sees the ground laid in his writing to a path of, what she calls, a ‘language of relationality’ (Roseneil, 2013) by overcoming the of dualism of the individual and society in taking up new developments in relational psychoanalysis and relational sociology, moving to what she calls a ‘psychosocial ontology’. I find her suggestions intriguing to resolve this dualism of the individual and society and move on toward a relational thinking in group analysis. But whatever its gain for group analysis, however, it is still a scientific ontology. The late Foulkes (Thompson, 1983), consistent with the earliest influence by Gorki and Pirandello and his early holistic approach, sensed a deficit of non-scientific ontology in group analysis, looking out for the ‘bridges of scientific and intuitive approach’ (Abse, 1974: 7), for example in the ontology of art.

I come to the following conclusions:

The ‘germinal inception’ by the plays of Gorki and Pirandello is an indispensable influence on Foulkes conceptualization of group analysis.

If neglected, there is a price to be paid. Foulkes holistic conceptualization (Foulkes, 1948: 1; Foulkes, 1990: 39) can be realized only if neurobiological ontology and a psychosocial ontology are amended by an ontology of art.

This dimension opens up a new perspective on relational thinking. In exploring and opening up the conceptualizations of group analysis to interrelational and intersubjective theory, the analysis of interpersonal relationships in dramatic art is a promising project.

I will close with a personal remark. We are here in Vienna, where Hitler was bestowed a glorious welcome in 1938, and we know what followed. Our central Austrian group analytic training institute in Altaussee was established by Michael Hayne; by Jewish Psychoanalyst Josef Shaked, who had fled from Hungary to Israel, and returned to Austria after the war; and by Alice Ricardi, who as a doctor was keeper of the minutes at the Nuremberg trial of physicians. Beautiful Altaussee is a mountain resort that had been a crucial part of the alpine fortress or redoubt, where in March and April 1945 an SS and Nazi elite ganged together, where Eichmann was hidden, Kaltenbrunner arrested and numerous men of his the Reichsicherheitshauptamt, who architected the Holocaust, were hiding away, and where more than 5000 pieces of the stolen and robbed art of the victims were secured in the Altaussee salt mine in preparation for a planned ‘Führer-Museum’.

Foulkes, who had fled to London, could in the year 1936 slip into Vienna to visit Freud only from Czechoslovakia, where he attended the international psychoanalytical Congress in Marienbad. In his recollections of his visit Foulkes passed down the perplexed commentary of the 80 year old Freud about the anti-Semitic policy and crimes of the Third Reich: ‘One doesn’t know whence and why; one fails to understand it.’ (Foulkes, 1990a: 24). (German: Man weiss nicht woher und warum; man versteht es nicht).

In 2013 there was a debout performance at the Vienna Burgtheatre, the leading theatre of the German language, by Doron Rabinovici, Die letzten Zeugen. (The Last Witnesses.) Six characters were on stage, real survivors of the Holocaust. (An empty chair was reserved for a seventh, she had died recently.) They were seated behind a screen that allowed the audience to see through to them. So behind the permeable screen was reality pure, six aged survivors. At the front of the stage were four actors. Then, on and on, while the face of a survivor was projected largely onto the screen, an actor read the autobiographic memoir of this witness in her or his own words of how they had survived, the memoir being rearranged chronically for dramatic reasons by the author, whose mother was one of the witnesses.

All witnesses sat silent; there was no interaction between each other. After the memoir had been read, the actor or actress went behind the screen, and led the witness, one already 100 years of age, to the front of the stage. The witness went to a lectern and read a personal statement. Then he was accompanied to the stage exit by the actor and the next memoir was read. There was no interplay between actors and witnesses, the actors lending only voice. Bit by bit, the chairs behind the screen were emptied. All chairs empty. A short film was shown of the deceased witness.

Again, we have a play within a play, a painful reality behind the screen, enacted in the reality of a stage, the witnesses listening to their own text read by an actor or actress. In the end, the audience rose for a standing ovation.

Foulkes ‘germinal inception’ of group analysis came from Trigant Burrow, and the theatre. When the aged Foulkes leant Sheila Thompson a book about Chekhov, because ‘a study of the way in which drama- tists have depicted interpersonal relationships might be useful for the development and enrichment of his own theories’ (Thompson, 1983: 344), maybe—Foulkes had something in mind, like Rabinovici’s The Last Witnesses, and a fresh breeze for the development and enrich- ment group analysis from the spirit of theatre.


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18 may 2019

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