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Aveline, M. (1990). The group therapies in perspective. Free Associations, 1T(19):77-102.

(1990). Free Associations, 1T(19):77-102

The group therapies in perspective

Mark Aveline, FRC Psych


Jean-Paul Sartre's play In Camera was first staged in London in 1946. Two women and a man, all recently dead, are shown to a room by a polite but inscrutable valet who, having settled them in, retires and firmly closes the exit door, a door which to begin with they cannot open. This is Hell, a closed small group whose members have an eternity in which to torment each other with the truth about the nastier aspects of their personalities, truths which the protagonists initially try to avoid by neither speaking to nor looking at each other, but which are disclosed as soon as they interact and in so doing manifest the cowardliness, betrayals and narcissism artfully edited out in the initial tellings of their histories. They rend each other to the point where, towards the end, Garcin declares that ‘Hell … is other people!’ However, earlier he has argued — futilely, as it turns out — that they could help each other by finding a spark of human feeling in themselves and having faith in the other, the only others left to them.

Sartre points to a bleak existential truth about the responsibility people have for the existence they have willed. On another level, the play could be read as a depiction of a therapy group gone wrong — a group that is cohesive, to be sure, and expert in exposing what is wrong, but has not learnt to comfort and heal.

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