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The Northfield experiments were carried out by Wilfred Bion and John Rickman, and reported in the Lancet in 1943 [1], and later by Bion in the Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic in 1946 [2] . These studies laid the groundwork for the development of Socio-analysis.

Northfield Hospital was a military hospital, situated in Birmingham, in the English Midlands, with the task of treating soldiers who had developed psychiatric problems, in order to get them back into the war. This Experiment, together with the Second Northfield Experiment associated with the innovations of S. H. Foulkes, Tom Main and Harold Bridger, contributed the following elements to the emerging discipline of socio-analysis:

  • Attention to, and making hypotheses, and interpretations, about conscious and unconscious functioning at the level of the group. A group was no longer regarded as simply an aggregate of individuals, but as having its own intrinsic dynamics that required understanding and interpretation.
  • The concept of working therapeutically with the “institution as a whole", or the “whole community". The idea of the “therapeutic community” which burgeoned after the Second World War, e.g. at the Menninger Clinic in Kansas, and the Cassel Hospital in London has its origins in Main’s work at Northfield[3].
  • The significance of creating "transitional space" for therapy, action projects, and development, so that people, (in this case patients), are enabled to take up their own authority for task. Bridger pioneered this approach at Northfield through his celebrated “Club”, a space for patients to make of it what they wished to, without the use of the space being determined by hospital or military staff. Bridger continued to develop this approach to working with groups and organisations of all kinds after the War.

The Northfield Experiments heralded a socio-analytic consultant role: one of exploration of individual, group, and organisational phenomena which are linked dynamically. The socio-analyst, as exemplified by the role Bion took at Northfield, and after the War in his group explorations at the Tavistock Clinic, works from a stance of “not knowing” with the courage, and fortitude, to pursue psychological truth.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Bion, W.R., and Rickman, J., "Intra-group Tensions in Therapy", Lancet, 27 November 1943
  2. Bion, W.R., "The Leaderless Group Project", Bull. Meninger Clinic, 10, 3: 77 - 8l.1946
  3. Main, T."The Concept of the Therapeutic Community: Variations and Vicissitudes", Group Analysis, 10, Suppl.1977
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