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Stein, A. (1964). Experiences in Groups and Other Papers: By W. R. Bion. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1961. 198 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 33:441-442.

(1964). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 33:441-442

Experiences in Groups and Other Papers: By W. R. Bion. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1961. 198 pp.

Review by:
Aaron Stein

This book contains nine previously published articles derived from the experience of Bion (some of it with Richman) in using intragroup tensions in work and psychotherapy groups, first of soldiers and later of patients at the Tavistock Clinic since 1943.

Every group, says Bion, is motivated by certain 'basic assumptions'. The first is 'that the group is met in order to be sustained by a leader on whom it depends for nourishment, material and spiritual, and protection'. The second assumption is the pairing assumption: the group has come together for purposes of procreation, not merely for sexual purposes, but to provide the hope that, through the appearance of an as yet unborn leader (a genius or messiah), the group and its members will be preserved and fulfilled. The third basic assumption is that of fight-flight, 'that the group has met to fight something or to run away from it'.

These ideas are inactively present in all individuals and become active and observable only when a group comes together. They underlie social, organized groups such as the church, the army, and the aristocracy. They are unconscious, emotional, and completely irrational in contrast with the conscious and rational attitudes of the work group. They cause the group to seek a leader—an unborn genius, an idea, a bible, a patient in a therapy group—who will further these basic aims of the group. The leader is also subject to these aims. One basic assumption alternates with another in the unconscious mental activity of the group. Anxiety arises when the group comes too much under the sway of these basic assumptions; it then turns to another leader—the therapist in a therapy group—to guide it back to the rational goals of the work group.

Bion's last chapter attempts to relate these concepts to other psychoanalytic views of group dynamics; he believes that they supplement rather than contradict those of Freud. Freud focused only on the pairing assumption and the more neurotic (the more developed, less regressed) aspects of this as it developed from the relationships of the family. Bion believes his views, derived from those of Melanie Klein, give a more basic and complete view of the dynamics of the mental activity of the group.

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