Introduction Group and Rite

The small psychoanalytic group is itself a ritual that contains individual anxieties and allows them to be faced within a group setting, creating a sense of belonging and the possibility of change. One of my patients said, turning to his companions, “We’re not losers: we have the group.” The ritual is accentuated by the size of the group. Belonging to the group allows the recovery and sharing of one’s childhood history, even when it is dramatic.
In one group, a story of sexual abuse endured was preceded by a dream in which the patient was naked under his coat, and, commenting on the dream said, “now all of us are stripping naked.” The similar experiences of others make us feel more human, the mirror-effect of the group, multiplied by its various members, allows one to feel recognised and valued. Deficiencies are seen as reparable, the group provides the experience of the object-self, that is, the function of self-support that was lacking.

Denis Mellier states that the rite is provoked to include the processes which encroach upon the subjects when a destabilising event occurs. The example he provides is birth, which in all cultures represents an ordeal for the family and the newborn.

There are intrapsychic anguishes, due to the personal stories of each one, intersubjective, specific of the group that accept the child, and intergenerational.

The author provides a series of clinical examples of observations of the child in the family, following E.Bick’s method”.

Stefania Marinelli addresses the theme of the dream in the group, as well as the group’s process of elaboration, a ritual that is not intended to reveal the dream’s contents, but to hold and attribute meaning to the various elements shared within the group. The individual’s dream belongs to the entire group and becomes a kind of common dream. The ritual of narration in the therapeutic group, if the work goes well, brings to life the elements that the group shares, allowing for elaboration and change.

Claudio Neri shows us, through a clinical account, how the implementation of rituals in the small psychoanalytic group signals the transition from one state to another and allows experiences to be shared between participants. He identifies three phases in the psychoanalytic group work: work, silence, and emotional exchange. In the work phases, fantasies and dreams are recounted, and one tries to understand what is happening in the session. The phases of silence are a prelude to a kind of enlightenment whereby something new emerges in the way participants see themselves and the group. The stages of “emotional and congratulatory exchange” with the warmth they promote, facilitate the processes of introjection of the elements present in the group.

Silvia Corbella reports on how small group therapy, conducted by means of analysis, can be a favoured mode of curing contemporary malaise, where a person finds closure in his or her “particularity”. Anxieties are not privatised but tackled together. The author carries out her work with HIV-positive patients, often unwanted children, who come from deprived families who had not recognised them as subject-objects in their vital relationships, and thus they felt they did not have a right to life. In these groups, rituals of emotional sharing were put in place: commemorating festivals and birthdays, illnesses and deaths. The emotional presence and warmth of other people made them feel “human among humans”. The group was able to recognise them and make them feel valued, and this allowed them to let go of their fear of death. Death was bearable because it left behind an “emotional inheritance”.

Angelo Bonaminio, Domenico Scaringi and Giusy Daniela Spagna hypothesise that in today’s individualistic social context, young people struggle to find in cyberspace and virtual reality a broader social dimension and rituals that allow them to be subjectified. Video games permit a person to test their resources and limits by overcoming trials: missions take place, opponents are faced and aggressiveness is brought to the fore. Even in cyberspace, rituals have a protective value and offer the possibility of “psychic representation” for the changes that emerge in adolescence: bodily change and the arrival of sexual and aggressive compulsions. The excessive use that some teenagers make of technological tools shows there is also a non-functional utility. These young people remain locked in a lonely ritual, they are unable to make contact with peers, nor can they utilise a psychotherapeutic relationship. In these cases, the authors have made a therapeutic group intervention, in a playful, experiential laboratory they use digital technologies to help participants forge new bonds and share experiences, breaking their isolation. This psychoanalytically oriented laboratory provides, as does the ritual, a fixed routine, a setting, and the presence of an adult who facilitates.

Mercedes Lugones shows how in the case of exiles, migrants forced to flee situations of war and violence, the rituality of everyday life, which has the function of protecting the self, is diminished. The frame in which to place ordinary and extraordinary events is missing. The author explains that this frame is created by a physical place where a series of rituals are established, but that are then abruptly interrupted, and the ordinary and seemingly unimportant interactions of everyday life disappear. There is the loss of the home, a container that protects the family and makes members feel welcome, and there is the loss of the cultural, social and geographical context, which disrupts the perception of the self and others. The structure of family bonds is compromised, hence the importance of supporting the whole family and not just the individual who demonstrates psychic distress, so that the family can recover its ability to care for its members. Through an analysis of the documentary “Fuocoammare” by Gianfranco Rosi, Lugones shows how our lives and those of the exiles are intertwined and how fostering integration can protect future generations, as their presence is no longer a temporary reality, but forms part of the social fabric that produces us as subjects.

Barbara Amabili shows how actions or body language, in analytic group psychotherapy carried out with children and adolescents, form a method of communicating mental anguish that is still unthinkable and unsayable: an initial contact with the emotions which the group welcomes and makes narratable and shareable. The author supports the idea that the facilitator must also make his or her body available, because bodily communication is a child’s preferred way of showing emotion, ahead of representing and sharing them. The action of a group member generates a flow of memories and stories in all the participants. Rituals are formed in the group, such as the ritual greeting of touching or bumping hands closed in fists as the summer separation approaches, in order to face up to the absence.

This issue of the magazine was born at the request of the “Gruppo e Rito” (Group and Ritual) conference, which took place at University of Rome “Sapienza” – Psychology Department, on April 9th, 2016.