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Blackwell, R.D. (1984). The Negotiation of Communicational Rules in a Group-Analytic Group. Brit. J. Psychother., 1(2):144-151.

(1984). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 1(2):144-151

The Negotiation of Communicational Rules in a Group-Analytic Group

Richard D. Blackwell

“An' though the rules of the road have been lodged It's only people's games that you got to dodge.”

Bob Dylan


S. H. Foulkes (1957) wrote of communication in Group Analysis as follows:

Group analytic theory has long recognised communication as a process of fundamental importance in group behaviour and in psychotherapy.


Anything that can at all be observed, or perceived or reacted to in a group is potentially a communication.

And again:

We have described … how as soon as a group if formed, there is an inevitable interaction between members and a need is felt among them to make more and more contact, to establish m and more common ground, to enlarge their understanding of others and to be bee, understood themselves. These forces all operate towards establishing communication which in its turn opens up new pathways of contact and new areas of understanding. Communication in a very real sense is this process.

This paper is an application of the communication theory developed by Gregory Bateson and his colleagues at Palo Alto between 1952 and 1962, to the understanding of particular developments in a group analytic psychotherapy group. It is structured as follows: firstly, an outline of the relevant aspects of the theory; secondly, an account of the events in the group with accompanying theoretical explication; thirdly, a concluding summary.

The Theory of Communicational Rules

Jackson (1965) proposes the concept of rules to describe the “certain redundan cies typical and repetitive patterns of interaction which characterise the family as a supra-individual entity”. Watzlawick et al (1967) explain the concept by the analogy of a person knowing nothing of chess observing two other people playing chess and working out through observation and recognition of the pattern, the rules of the game. In the same way, they argue, a family in interaction can be observed to be acting as if there were certain rules to which it was obliged to conform.

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