Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Two Vital Aspects in the Facilitation of Groups: Connections and Containment

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Two Vital Aspects in the Facilitation of Groups: Connections and Containment

Article excerpt


This paper outlines two vital aspects in the facilitation of adventure groups. These aspects, linking and containment, are important in all types of group, whether they are for recreation, education, development or therapy. Linking refers to the existence of links at both conscious and unconscious levels. These links involve each group member, the group-as-a-whole, the leader, and the primary task of the group. Adequate containment refers to group members having the conscious and unconscious sense of being firmly held in the group and its task, and yet not immobilized by the experience. The leader has a vital role in facilitating both linking and containment, but to do so requires a sound level or skills and a degree of emotional and psychological maturity. Some aspects of leader competencies are examined.


Groups are complex. They involve the interdependence of a number of human beings whose actions, interactions and perceptions are constantly changing. The leader of a group is an integral part of the dynamic system that involves both conscious ancT unconscious processes of all present. Accordingly, he or she is strongly influenced by the emotional tides that move through the group. Being a member of a group challenges participants and leaders alike to maintain adequate emotional independence and behavioral autonomy, whilst simultaneously being influenced to act in ways that meets the approval of the group. Leading groups, then, is a challenging and complex business, but one that is as rewarding as it is difficult (Neill, 1997a). Two components of group leadership that can facilitate satisfying leadership experiences and the development of effective groups are addressed below.

The group leader is the facilitator of two major functions in groups. The first function is what I will call "containment." This involves creating boundaries around the group that enable it to conduct its business with a reasonable sense of security and without interference or harm. The second function is "linking" which involves creating and maintaining the links that hold the internal "structure" of the group together and create the potential for high quality interaction in the group. Linking and containment are necessary for all types of group, ranging in purpose from therapy, through development and education, to recreation. I have discussed elsewhere how addressing unconscious processes in a group create the potential for enjoyment in recreation groups and for effective learning in education and development groups (Ringer, 1999). This paper extends the ideas in the previous and focuses more on the rational rather then the unconscious. Issues addressed here include building both the outer "shell" and the inner structure of groups. Eggs provide an interesting comparison.

Of groups and eggs

If I remove from a raw egg the shell and the thin membrane inside the shell, the white and the yolk will slip through my fingers, and form a sticky mess on my hands and on the surface beneath my hands. The yolk and the white will mix, and the whole mess will flow in a gelatinous glob, following the whims of gravity. This egg is no longer contained, and in a limited way resembles a group that is uncontained. There is no predictable structure, the group is fragmented and all mixed up. The experience of being in an uncontained group is messy and often very disturbing. This disorder in the group translates generates a distressing disorder in our experience of ourselves and of others in the context of the group.

A raw egg that is adequately contained by its shell retains its form, but it is entirely dependent on that container to avoid it becoming an uncontained mess. If the egg is carefully boiled while still in its shell, it will be "processed" to the extent that the white and yolk develop a stable form that is independent of the outer shell. In comparison, A "raw" group is usually very dependent on structure, form and effective leadership to hold it together until it has been "processed" enough for adequate internal links to be built. …

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