Bob Bennett, MD,CGP,FAPA
Melissa Black, PhD,CGP
Dale C. Godby, PhD,CGP,ABPP · Myrna Little, PhD,CGP
Scott Nelson, PhD, CGP
Fwy, Suite 150, Dallas, TX 75240
Published in International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 50(2), 2000, 256-257.
Chaos is a frequent visitor to groups. Students are frightened by the chaotic experiences in their groups. Teachers struggle to make sense of these chaotic experiences to their students. Bud McClure has given us an in-depth exposure to chaos theory as it has evolved in the physical sciences and mathematics and applies it to the understanding of groups. He begins by explaining that chaos theory is something of a misnomer. What initially appears as randomness or chaos is not without order. When life’s irregularities are mapped out, patterns emerge. Chaos theory is a recent development in science and McClure places it within the context of the history of science. Science moved from a focus on equilibrium states to a focus on periodic fluctuations to the more recent study of states of extreme instability and chaos, states that are far from equilibrium. It is this more recent study of chaos that McClure introduces to the world of group theorizing.
McClure states his primary goal in writing is to offer an alternative model of group development that addresses three factors: 1) the integration of old ideas of group development and new concepts from chaos theory with the work of Arthur Young in evolution. 2) the importance of conflict in group development. 3) how groups change, evolve, and mature. He also wanted to highlight the frequently neglected areas of women in authority, group metaphors, regressive groups, and the transpersonal potential of small groups.
Systems can be seen to change in linear or non-linear ways. Most social science statistics use linear equations: multiple regression, analysis of variance, etc. Linear change is gradual, sequential and predictable and referred to as first order change by chaos theorists. Second order or non-linear change is turbulent and chaotic and results in discontinuous transformations that cannot be predicted. The change from caterpillar to butterfly is a common example. What occurs often is a combination of linear and non-linear dynamics in which order gives way to chaos and chaos then leads to order. To develop complexity groups must undergo a period of uncertainty and chaos. Groups may often get stuck at this point and become regressive. However, if the chaos is adequately contained, the group can re-organize around what is known as a “strange attractor,” a phenomenon that appears to order chaos, and move to a more complex level of organization. This may allow a group to become a generative or transpersonal group.
How does containment help the group move to a new level? McClure explains that “self-organizing capacity”(p.22) is a fundamental tenet of chaos theory. We don’t need to impose a structure from the outside. In fact, if we impose too much from the outside we may produce a regressive group. Living systems generate their own new forms from inner guidelines. If the leader adequately contains the group it will develop.
This doesn’t mean the leader is idle. McClure emphasizes that the leader has much to do, especially to help the group face conflict and confrontation. This is where his model of group development comes in. Stimulated by ideas of Arthur Young on evolution, McClure has developed a model of group development in dialogue with old models of group development. The model can be pictured as the letter V or an arc as McClure refers to it. “The left side of the arc represents the descent in which individuals are conjoined to form a group. The right side, or ascent, depicts group members as an emerging collective force....What members relinquish in each stage during the descent; they regain in the corresponding state of the ascent”(p.44). The seven potential stages are 1) Preforming, 2) Unity, and 3) Disunity, which are the descending stages. They meet at the vertex in the most crucial stage 4) Conflict/Confrontation. Then, if properly contained, the last three stages, 5) Disharmony, 6) Harmony, and 7) Performing, begin to ascend on the right side of the arc. McClure describes the transition between stages as discontinuous leaps. Each stage may be seen as a fractal, as having seven sub-stages, and each session as having seven potential phases.
McClure, a University of Minnesota at Duluth professor, has given us a dense and complex book on group. His case examples come from the university classroom and may be more helpful to the group dynamics professor than the group therapist. Group therapists will find his discussion of the group metaphor as a strange attractor closer to their daily experience. The discussion of the transpersonal dimension of groups, often neglected or dismissed by other theorists, will also be of use. Anyone working in the area of group theory will find this book stimulating and important. There seems to be a critical mass of group theorizing going on (Agazarian, 1997, Ettin, 1997, Nitsun, 1996, and Schermer and Pines, 1994) that hopefully will lead to the development of a clearly articulated group theory that is not primarily dependent on the individual or the dyad.
work of Foulkes and the world of Group Analysis can add a more clinical
dimension to McClure’s work. Powell (1993) and Dick (1993) seem to be
working similar terrain but closer to the world of group therapy.
Dialogue with this group of thinkers should prove to be productive.
McClure’s hope to invigorate the thought and discussion about the
potentials of working in small groups deserves to be realized.
Dale C. Godby, Ph.D.
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