The relationship between groups and the mourning process has been addressed in the group therapy literature from two standpoints: (a) grief, separation and loss as central motifs in the development of all groups; and (b) the convening of specialized groups to work through issues of bereavement. In this chapter, Jeffrey Kauffman, a psychotherapist who specializes in bereavement therapy, discusses both aspects.
First, Kauffman revives and reworks Freud's contentions, articulated in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, about the centrality of death in human psychology. Kauffman posits radically that death is present as a motif, as a phenomenological background object, and as an imago in all groups. He relates this hypothesis to Freud's theory that group life began with the murder of the father (cf. Totem and Taboo, Moses and Monotheism). Kauffman compares his theory in some respects, to Melanie Klein's formulations of the depressive position. Citing Bion's writings, he postulates that an understanding of group relations from the standpoint of mourning allows for a radical new view of the group as a space (a 'cluse') for mystical experience and spiritual transformation.
Importantly, Kauffman connects the group dynamics of death, what he calls 'group thanatropics', to the new psychology of shame. Kauffman sees shame as a regulator of the intensity and nature of grief reactions in the group. He holds that shame and grief are regulating affects for group cohesion, norms, boundaries and development.
In the second part of this contribution, Kauffman provides a depiction of bereavement groups which should serve as a useful 'primer' for anyone considering convening such a group. This very practical segment can be read as a kind of introductory supervision session, independently of the theoretical discussion.