The interactive or interpersonal approach to psychotherapy derives from the work of the neo-Freudians and in particular Harry Stack Sullivan (1953). Sullivan believed that an individual’s history influences every moment of his life, because it provides a dynamic structure and definition of his experiences. He saw anxiety as arising from threats to an individual’s self-esteem. The individual uses well-tried defences to deal with these threats. Stack Sullivan did not agree with Freud’s idea that the basic personality structure was laid down in early childhood: rather he felt it developed, through interaction with significant others, right through to adulthood and was therefore open to change. A person’s psychological growth, then, depends on a concept of the self which is largely based on how a person experiences himself in relation to others (see Ratigan and Aveline, 1988:47).
A very informative account of group interactive psychotherapy is given by Yalom (1975) and the model is well described by Ratigan and Aveline in ‘Group Psychotherapy in Britain’ (1988:43-64) and several therapeutic features of the model are explored by Bloch and Crouch (1985). I shall not try to reproduce their work in this chapter, but merely attempt to highlight some of the points that they make. I would recommend a thorough reading of these sources for further elucidation of history, theory and practice of the model.
Group interactive psychotherapy focusses on the actions, reactions and characteristic patterns of interaction which constrain people in their everyday lives and for which help in modifying is sought in the group (Ratigan and Aveline, 1988:45). A fundamental of the approach is that each person constructs an individual inner world which is continuously being reconstructed through interactions with others and which determines that person’s view of himself and others and affects expectations of others. In group therapy, the individual gradually realises how inner assumptions may determine the patterns of interaction that develop. Exploration of these patterns and willingness to modify them in the safety of the group enables the person to try out new ways of relating in the ‘outside world’. Clearly, then, the model places the main source of change in the interaction between