Use of RfG in Facilitating Basic Social Skills, Part I

RfG Newsletter, Volume 5, Number 1, Fall 1995

Over the past two years I have been running an outpatient group for a population of non-psychotic clients whose average psychosocial functioning is on a considerably lower level than that of most private practice clients. The group includes those in partial-hospitalization programs, on disability, and on outpatient medication. RfG has much to offer such clients; by encouraging them to explore how else to present themselves socially to others they can gain valuable knowledge and actualize choices of whom else they can present themselves to be. However, when applying regular RfG training in working with them, I have found that I need to take additional steps to induce RfG and also to direct this work toward improving basic social skills. This article outlines some of the methods I have found useful in preparing such clients for RfG work.

A common problem in groups with these clients is that some members are so preoccupied with body sensations, moods, and thoughts that they are not ready to focus outwardly toward other persons. I believe that group therapy which relies on exclusively verbal methods is often ineffectual in these circumstances because verbal interaction is used to demand an immediate interpersonal focus. What I have found helpful is starting from a focus on one’s body, gradually moving toward interaction with others. Below are two progressions of action methods that employ a gradual approach to drawing clients into interaction with others.

1. (a) members express the mood they each are in by the way they walk; (b) members mill around while looking down, each focusing on his/her own pace, being aware of others only enough to avoid colliding with them; (c) continuing (b), but now varying their gait and/or pace; (d) while still looking down, noticing the walk of one (or more) other and allow themselves to respond to it in some way (imitate it, move together with it, move away from it, etc.); (e) looking up, keep on walking, making eye contact with others and letting their walk be affected by any changes felt in noticing others.

2. (a) members close their eyes and notice what a body part is saying to their whole body, sharing this without questions, discussion, or interpretation (e.g., a neck saying, “I’m SO sore and tense!”) ; (b) each member in turn says what the body is replying to the part (e.g., “Quit complaining!”); (b) each member in turn chooses to voice the line of either the part or the whole body in a dialogue, with the leader taking the other line (this may be repeated a few times, with variations in tone allowed); (c) The leader reverses “roles” with the member, so that they now give the other’s former line; (d) each member invites other group members to play out the dialogue (e) members move to enactment of this dialogue on stage.

Another oft-encountered condition is members who violate the instructions of an exercise out of experiencing the leader’s instructions as too challenging, too restrictive, or an invitation to oppositional impulses. Of course, the leader must distinguish these responses from those engendered by confusion or inattention. Rather than focus on attaining compliance, the leader is often better off “joining the resistance,” either by adding instructions that encompass the unasked-for response. For instance, the instructor begins a Mirrors exercise in pairs and a member breaks eye contact with her/his partner, moving in an asymmetrical and uncoordinated way in relation to the partner. At this point, the instructor adds the instruction that the players may now break the symmetry of the mirror and move in free-form with their partners. On one level this is the leader demonstrating “making the other look good” by justifying the other’s offer. The frequent result is that the member follows instructions more frequently thereafter. Later, such members often report welcoming the contrast between such treatment and the upset of being “made wrong” in the past.