“A horizon is not a rigid boundary”

From: The World within the Group: Developing Theory for Group Analysis (2014), by Martin Weegmann:

“The psychoanalytic process might be called a vertical analysis. It goes from surface to depth, from present to past, thinking in terms of hierarchical layers and levels inside the patient’s mind. By contrast, group-analysis might be termed a horizontal analysis … (Foulkes & Anthony, 1957, p. 42)

Foulkes used the notion of horizontal perspective to characterise group analysis, involving analysis of individuals as constituted by the matrix, that is, within a network of relations and cultural inheritance, contrasted with the psychoanalytic perspective, which operated on an archaeological or vertical plane (see Chapter One). Foulkes sought to bring the planes together—the horizontal and vertical—and in so doing displaced any absolute division between the interpersonal and the intrapsychic. He believed that it is through progressive expansion of communication that the different experiential worlds of patients within a group are clarified. If horizon is landscape, then horizontal understanding involves a kind of survey; we might call this a wide, “horizontal seeing”, to adopt Barthold’s (2010) suggestive phrase. True to Foulkes’ therapeutic pragmatism, horizontal seeing is not a God’s eye view or a commanding viewpoint, but is forever located within particular moments of seeing, acts of intervention, located within the context of ongoing clinical dialogue. Hence, whilst theory allows a necessary degree of separation and distance, our acts and expressions of understanding do not arise sui generis, because we operate within the context of pre-involvements and the horizons of specific traditions of training, convention, and so on; “The conductor, like the author, does not occupy an Archimedean point outside of the group from which to make pronouncements” (Zinkin, 1996, p. 351).

Several group analytic concepts seem compatible with the idea of horizon. Foulkes (1975a) deployed the image of the “figure and ground” relationship from Gestalt psychology. This visual, spatial metaphor illustrates how a certain position or practice acts as “ground”—a silent, background horizon—within which particular objects are experienced, but that if the former comes into direct awareness, then this becomes “figure”. Group analysis, with its emphasis on a plurality of perspectives, can be conceptualised in terms of an ever-changing figure-ground constellation; Foulkes referred to “configurational analysis”. The idea of horizon both describes the kind of enclosure that each group member brings with him into the group, but, as group, it also describes the resultant totality of enclosures, though these are not necessarily homogenous. Groups might start with narrow, fearful horizons; groups with “no horizon”, in colloquial terms, do not see far enough and cannot accommodate change. Thus, we justly worry when the horizons in any given group are narrow, repetitious, and when there is a lack of fluidity between figure and ground. On the other hand, “to have a horizon” means, in Gadamer’s (1995) words: “… not being limited to what is nearby but being able to see beyond it” (p. 302). To continue Gadamer’s point, ideally, then, “A horizon is not a rigid boundary but something that moves with one and invites one to advance further” (1995, p. 245) and in this respect groups are a rich presence of contrasting and competing perspectives, perspectives which broaden through successive communicative activity, layer upon layer…”

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