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Presentation, “Sensoriality, corporeity, and sexuality in the group”

All the articles in this issue are linked by the common vision of an holistic relationship between psyche and soma. According to this shared idea, as Corbella pointed out in her contribution, sensoriality is “defined both as an intrinsic quality of living things and as a subjective sensory experience. It is connected to both the mind and the body, providing the very foundations of our sexuality, our experience of pleasure and pain and therefore of our being-in-the-world”. The issue begins with Friedman’s contribution about the dream in the group, which is considered as a point of integration between psyche and soma, where the human being is present in his or her completeness. This issue points out that, when dreams originate from constructive preconscious aspects, they lead to new perspectives and also to new synaptic paths. In particular, in its harmonious and detailed work Notes on sensoriality, corporeity and sexuality in the group, Paola Russo emphasizes the way human beings interrogate the world through the senses, and the way group setting pays particular attention also to non-verbal communication. This is because “sometimes it is the body that sends the first signals of a change that has just taken place, but which still has not reached its full extent”. Thus, we could acknowledge corporeity and sensoriality as non incidental elements of the group setting and process, electively active in the establishment of the basic levels of the group and of the group thinking. It is also pointed out, because of the specific environment of the group setting, how the group measures itself against alterity, and in this sense it indicates the importance of the face. From the very first moment, our face plays a role in the communication game, which also contributes to the sexed body in its various possibilities: “as a possible exchange, as an aspect of the group bond, as the beginning of a possible symbolic transformation and as a display of alterity”. As Marinelli’s article “Notes on the meaning of clothing in the group” deeply and originally points out, clothing also plays an important role in this process: “Searles said that the face of the analyst during a session is actually the face of the patient (1986). He stated that when words were not effective or could not be said, the face can be used both visually and scenically to represent feelings which still need to be processed. I suggest here that clothing can serve as an important iconic container for non-immediately evident elements. These elements can be less visible, but they are very significant in psychic care, particularly within the perceptive and sensory environment of a group, in which echoes the most indistinct parts of one’s identity. The three following case studies clarify the validity of analytic attention, which, at first sight, could seem less relevant”. The above mentioned quotaion confirms the validity of the hypothesis made by Silvia Corbella in “The group: a privileged mirror for the person”. The group setting can in fact be considered as a privileged setting for a person as a whole. This is because it leads the single participants as well as the whole group towards a more complete personal and collective awareness of the psyche-soma relationship. This leads to the self-awareness of being a whole and integrated “person”, who is identifiable through his or her body and through his or her intentionality towards the world. Specifically, this work analyzes love relationships which lead to the need to procreate and the difficulties that this project (related both to psyche and soma) involves in modern western society. As a matter of fact, nowadays the pregnancy and the birth of a child, even if natural, are often extremely “medicalized”. Assisted reproductive technology is also taken into account. It undeniably takes out the pregnancy from “normality” for both partners, and it places it among the Events. Actually, it becomes a disturbing Advent-like event. The author, thanks to her group therapy experience with several patients who required this kind of medicalization, makes some clinical examples to hypothesize the presence of some variables that allow us to see the complexity and traumaticity of such intervention and to emphasize a specific “syndrome” which she defines as “The Holy Family” syndrome. The woman symbolically recovers her “virginal” state, the man feels estranged from the procreation, while the so longed-for child is eagerly awaited like “Baby Jesus”, with all the ambiguity that this implies. Feelings of incommunicable anger and shame separate the parents from each other before and after the birth of the child, with very negative consequences for their relationship. Corbella emphasizes that those couples who resort to assisted reproduction, need to participate to functional homogeneous groups, where they can share, talk about and address all the issues they will have to deal with. The group needs  to be that sheltered environment in which men and women feel like sharing and communicating. In such environment, people can appreciate gender differences and different emotional and physical reactions, instead of denying them. The stated examples show how group setting is the most suitable setting to handle the emotional consequences of physical distress in those situations in which the mind and the body cannot speak. However, the opposite is also true. Group settings also allow the understanding of the physical consequences of “mental distress”. That is because human beings are the result of the interactions between psyche and soma and their mutual influence. Quoting B. Spinoza’s Ethics: “Mind and body are one and the  same  individual  conceived now under the attribute of thought, now under the attribute of extension”. We intend to follow the leading thread of the seasons of life: conception and gestation, birth and growth, adolescence, old age, and the problems of adulthood. We will therefore start from the origins: how does the mother await for the newborn’s body to come into the world? What happens during the gestation? S. Graziosi, R. Castellano, P. Viola and S. Zibellini try to answer to this question in their article “«Precious pregnancy»: The bodily and emotional perceptions of pregnant women through a qualitative study of their drawings”. The authors analyze more than 200 drawings produced over a period of two years. They qualitatively compared the drawings of women with a normal and healthy pregnancy, with the drawings of women who had difficulty getting pregnant (recurrent miscarriages and/or fertility treatment). The drawings of the latter, showed a number of indicators of emotional and physical distress. Such distress, once detected, could be treated by guiding the mother through her parenting experience. When the child is born, he or she must learn to recognize and to express emotions, facing the obstacles and the difficulty that this task, which is not always easy and painless, may imply.  Donata Maglietta describes the experience of the construction of a “Dragon house” by a group of children. Children, as the author says, are in a period of their life in which “communication is still connected to a purely kinetic modality and where the cognitive development course initially proceeds from the dynamics of the body to the playing experience, and only in a second phase from playing to thinking. Our body and actions are, for all human beings, the precursors of spoken language”. The author shows the transformational function of the group on the experience of burning emotions represented by “the Dragon”. The conductor should also be involved at a bodily level. The author demonstrates how physical contact in children groups provides “a house for the dragon, which allows to turn the fire of excitement into a more bearable heat state, where emotions are thinkable and expressible”.    Staying on the subject of the transformation of excitement, Adriana Dondona sees the body and its “patrimony of sensoriality, mime and gestures” in the group of children as “the centre of the stage and the core of the action, imagination, creation and exchange”. The body is a means of concrete events which stimulates psychic productivity and the acquisition of processes of symbolization. Collectively, it is possible to find ways in which the body is more eloquent than words, and to face and express fears and desires, activating a process of continuous construction and redefinition of the relations between body, mind and external reality. In order to become creative, the child needs to experiment through his body the mesh between sensory and imagination, shape and symbol, playing imaginary roles allowing him to embed the quality of objects. This way he or she can properly deal with conflicts and handle himself and the world, within a group that reflects and accompanies mental and physical groupality. The child grows up and becomes an adolescent. “ The adolescent is immature”, as Winnicott (1968) specifies. “Immaturity is an essential element of health at adolescence. There is only one cure for immaturity  and that is the passage of time and the growth into maturity that time may bring […]” (ibidem). All this may give rise to the adult individual. This process cannot be accelerated nor slowed down, even though it can be destroyed or undermined and thus turn into a mental disease. “[…] Immaturity is a precious part of the adolescent scene. In this is contained  the most exciting features of creative thought, new and fresh feeling, ideas for new living. Society needs to be shaken by the aspirations of those who are not responsible” (ibidem). It cannot expect immature adolescents to reach “a false maturity by handing over to them responsibility that is not yet theirs” (ibidem). Monniello and Quadrana’s paper adopts a neurophysiological perspective for the individual’s development through puberty and the need for steady and meaningful relations, focusing on the transformations and the connections (synapses) between the new brain structures at adolescence, the different developmental rhythms of the emotional and of the cortical brains and the specificity of the psychic and behavioural correlations at that stage. Both neurophysiological and neuropsychological research have been widely developing lately, due to some neuroscientists’ continuous attempt to explain how scientific discoveries may help rediscover the foundations of the psychoanalytic theory. At present, neurosciences are outlining the structures and the functions of those brain systems which process the information connected with the individual’s relationship with the caregiver, mediate attachment and look on to subjectuality and intersubjectuality processes.   Today, thanks to the implementation of brain imaging, the process of maturation of brain through adolescence can be observed, with particular regard to the full development of the frontal lobe which, from a phylogenetic point of view, represents that surplus which distinguishes human beings from all other animal species.   As M. Ametrano points out in her work “Body and images of the body in a group of adolescents in an educational context”, the adolescent experiences uncontrollable body changes which can generate discomfort and confusion during the difficult stage of transit from childhood to adulthood. The author describes the adolescent corporeity within the setting of discussion groups at school. Specifically, the paper describes groups of girls in which the intensity of the relationship among peers and the distinctiveness of the development stage of the participants, generate complex transference and counter-transference feelings. The transformational potential of the adolescent body and mind, along with the specificity of the group setting, allows the passage from a place full of  “physicality”  to a symbolic space of “thinkability”. M. Salis particularly emphasizes how therapy groups with girls suffering from food disorders allow the evolution of the perception of the symptom and the body. Initially, their description is mainly focused on their “ritualistic and ambivalent aspects”, but later  on, as group therapy unrolls, they will be “expressed through their experience and meaning […]. The symptom expresses and gives vent to the implicit and difficult dependence, but also to the need of being recognized, which implies the pursuit of identity”. This article points out how the privileged communication modality in the group might sometimes be the presence, and some other times the absence. Staying on the subject of life ages, we will take a look at the specific issues of adulthood. Within this short excursus on the passing of time, we think that the group (not necessarily the psychoanalytic setting, but also the group as a meeting setting) can provide a privileged environment also in another life stage in which, like in adolescence, physical transformations are visible but incontrollable: old age. In “The lounge of restless” Maddalena Cinque and Germana Aiello tell us how “old people grow up in groups, just like teenagers […]” (Fasolo, 2008). The path of a medium size social group, which met once a month for a few years in the headquarters of an association of old people, through the help of the transcripts of some of the meetings shows the pursuit of a feeling of shared meaning. Physical changes caused by aging and sickness, as well as the death of some of the participants, were dealt with unity, as it usually happens in the case of emergency. The passing of time for each one of them as individuals, comes to a halt here and now in the group, and it becomes a time-space to be intensely experienced, bearing future projects in mind. Mental and physical suffering can be recognized, understood and treated in the group setting also in the prime of one’s life, as Nadia Fina highlights in her richly condensed work “Experience made concrete: the body-mind relationship and possible transformational processes in group therapy”: “the group is a matrix that favours an initial meaningful organizing moment of the psyche”, a base from which one can pass from the concrete to the symbolic and vice versa. The group is in actual fact immediate experience of the world and its complexity. From this perspective, the mirroring potential of the group is quite particular and meaningful. There is the manifold nature of the group experience that is brought about by what each group component makes of each “other” person who is there; there are the different forms of empathic sensitivity and modulation; and there are the various expressive modalities which needless to say can bring about breaks in tuning. Understanding the deep meaning of these very breaks that signal the subject’s otherness and complexity, is what goes towards making up the base of a new form of intersubjective experience within the group’s relational dynamics. And thanks to the intense emotions that circulate in the group during those moments when empathic twinning stops, leaving room for differentiation and diversity, the patient can relive his or her early, painful emotional experiences. This does not occur, however, as it did in the past, since the broken bond is now experienced simultaneously with its rearrangement in the hic et nunc. Interaction and intersubjective exchange are ongoing, thanks to the active presence of the therapist, and the patient is able to fully and meaningfully experience a new pattern of the self in relation-with. This also happens in the most severe situations, as Occhiuzzi underlines in his paper about psychotic communication in a psychoanalytical psychotherapy group within an institutional setting. “The body in the group has a strong communicative power, it is the stage where the psychopathological conflict is played, and in which unthinkable, purely sensorial emotions”. G. Marruzzo and P. D’Acunzo describe part of an eighteen-months therapeutic experience of a small group with analytical aims (timelimited group psychotherapy) with complex the patients of a “group living” facility. The authors highlight the possibility for the analyst to build a therapeutic alliance and a relationship of transference. In the early stages of the group, the sensoriality and the corporality in the group field might play a significant role in the start of the therapeutic process. In fact, if the analyst, in the group or through the group, approaches the psychotic suffering, seeing the corporality and the sensoriality shown by the patients not as obstacles, but as available tools in that particular moment (here and now), he has the opportunity to access a level of preverbal and proximate communication, unconscious and primitive, which, for now, is the only possible way for the patients to relate to others. Along this line of study about group communication models, Goriano Rugi analyzes how the current neurophysiological assumptions on intersubjectivity and empathy, which are grounded on the theory of mirror neurons, fit the theory of the field derived from Bion’s work. In these studies, they replace the concept of the group as a whole with the concept of a synchronous multidimensional space which goes beyond the group-individual antinomy. The review of the leading position on intersubjectivity (Stern) and on the psychology of Self (Kaës), allows us to analyze the phenomenological aspects of perception and empathy. Merleau-Ponty’s chiasmatic-empathetic conception is considered the very precursor of the field theory, which is in tune with the current neurophysiological models, with Bion’s theory of the “here and now”  and with Varela’s model of structural coupling. The hypothesis of the preservation of motor, sensorial and preverbal communication competences, which are biologically grounded on the mirror neurons system, is interestingly developed, and it enriches the understanding of the phenomena underlying the multipersonal field. Within this framework, the intersubjective space, which Stern would define as us-centric, is generated and powered by the somatic-preverbal interaction within the field. Intersubjectivity should be interpreted not only as the space of empathetic communication, but also as the space in which to collect rough, pre-categorical, precognitive materials. These material are still available to be mentally processed by the group. As such, as Rizzolati says, they can be considered at the basis of the later cognitive propositions: the search of meaning. All the papers in this issue encourage the valorisation of group settings and trained health care providers who understand the value of this specific experience, also at an educational level. This issue is addressed by A. Bruno and M. Gallozzi’s article “Body-playing ”, which points out some sensorial and corporeal aspects of the group process which can arise during professional training. Here, the body not only sends out signals, but it also holds the power to create new thoughts. The possibility to communicate through movements triggers emotions, feelings and states of mind which allows them to circulate: it stirs up the whole psychological dimension of both teachers and students, creating new or renewed ways of thinking. The body is “received” with analytical listening (like listening to oneself and to others), with patient waiting and with attention, with uncertainty but also with curiosity. This is to emphasize the choice of some kind of involved neutrality. The conductor has the internal structure of a mother-container, which allows him or her to listen and process internally the arising issues. The accurate observation of one’s own countertransferance is part of this structure, which also includes the monitoring of one’s corporeal state. To conclude while getting back to our original topic, the dream, we would like to draw the attention on Fabiola Fortuna’s report on the international conference “The body in psychoanalysis and analytical psychodrama” (Rome, March 6th-7th 2010), which can be found in the Reviews page of this issue (, Italian version only). The author promoted and followed the conference, introducing it with the following question and historical opening: “Why are we holding a conference for ‘psyche professionals’ about the body?”. “The mind-body dualism, is in fact an issue which arose with human beings. The relationship between the material and spiritual aspects of human nature, has always been a matter of debate – from primitive animism to Cartesian dualism between the immaterial mind and the material body, from the platonic conception of the realm of ideas as opposed to the realm of reality, to the ideal aim of Juvenal “mens sana in corpora sano”. The “new psychoanalytic science”, from its very beginning with its pioneers Messner and Janet, immediately deals with this highly topical issue. Freud, in the wake of their work, formulates his ideas on the psyche based on the physical symptoms of hysterical women. After Freud, many psychoanalysts (Jung and Lacan are among the most famous ones) have approached the issue of the possible correlations between mind and body.   The preface introduces the contribution that psychodrama and group mechanisms can make to the reconstruction of the identity and of the connections between physical and mental experience. Specifically, the author presents a case study of a patient suffering from neoplasia,  emphasizing that “severe organic diseases can be the cause of really old psychic states, characterized by the escape from conflict”. She also analyzes the relationship “between the meaning of the psychosomatic phenomenon, described by Lacan as result of the interruption of the process of signification, due to the denial of otherness. Furthermore, she also analyzes Modigliani’s conception of psychosomatic illness as a result of a deep unconscious conflict, annihilated by an unrelenting Super-ego which he places in an old regressive phase”. Other possible group-setting aspects and situations are included in other contributions to the conference – the body which is overwhelmed by the effects of a panic attack, or confused and inseparable from words within a group of psychotic patients, or dying of AIDS and dreamt of as a “passage to the absence of body”. Quoting Merleau-Ponty, “the body is a twilight zone where the brightness of the conscience can transit”. Though in different ways, group work is described as a possibility to transform and integrate the identity and the connection with the deep Self. It is also described as the possibility to break out of the circular impasse caused by unresolved issues. This way, it can recreate a relationship between biological and relational life, especially through the dream work. This does not imply the fulfillment of a wish, but it means that it is the natural shape of nocturnal thinking that allows the patient to see the trap set by conflict, which weakened and exposed him or her to somatization disorders, giving meaning to the relationship (Sami-Alì). Going back to the dream work analyzed by Friedman in the introduction, we would like to conclude our presentation of this issue emphasizing the dream as the main focus of the relationship between body and mind, and individual and group.

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