By Rachel A. Chejanovsky

Socialization as a Group Specific Factor

First posted 16/3/2017

Foulkes and Anthony (1957, 1984) took the concept of socialization from the sociological field into the therapeutic group. The concept appears in both versions of “Group Psychotherapy, The psychoanalytic Approach”. There are no changes when comparing both texts, except the addition in the 1965 version of the subtitle ‘Socialization through the Group’. It seems the authors wanted to emphasize the importance of the therapeutic group in the process.

Foulkes and Anthony particularized socialization as a healing factor influencing psychological disturbances. The individual who joins the group meets the group acceptance. This enables him to express himself and to become communicative and coherent to himself and to those who surround him. They emphasized the changing character of intercommunication. They also were aware of the amount of distortion that can influence communication in the group (Foulkes and Anthony, 1957: 198; 1984: 149-150).

In contrast to the natural process of socialization that takes place in the social framework to which the individual belongs, this is a specific process in that it takes place in the therapeutic group.

When later dealing with leadership in the group, Foulkes referred to socialization as part of the normal ongoing experience of the individual in the group: “each individual member is actively brought up against what I have called for our purposes the first basic problem of social life: his relationship to other people and to the group as a whole” (2002, 58) He stressed the need to actively solve the clash between the individual egotistic needs and impulses, and the restrictions imposed by the group.

I can point to two major influences in Foulkes inclusion of socialization as a group factor. One is Erik H. Erikson’s view on ego- development, the other is Norbert Elias’ on the complexity of social life:

1-Erik H Erikson influenced Foulkes view when he pointed out that historical change influences every individual’s ego development. Ego Identity then, in its subjective aspect, is the awareness of the fact that there is sameness and continuity to the ego’s ways of mastering experience and that these methods are effective in safeguarding the sameness and continuity of one’s meaning for others in the group (Erikson, in Foulkes, 1948:11)

2- Foulkes, in his review of Norbert Elias’ book “The Civilising Process” in 1938, realized that in the history of civilization there is “an ever-increasing difficulty and complexity of social life” (Foulkes, 1990: 90-91). This complexity is not of a primary psychological nature, and it is transmitted to the growing child until it becomes internalized.

Foulkes and Anthony added a third mode of enquiry into the individual psyche. The individual is not only influenced by primary, primordial contents and by the specific personal development he went through; his personality is also the result of the historical and social influence of the changing environment of which he was and is a part.

In my view, in implementing socialization as a group specific factor, Foulkes alluded to the power aspect that socialization includes: “the individual …can replace blind domination by free acceptance of social necessity” (1948:13).

Lately, Nitzgen (2015), in describing how the process of socialization takes place in the intimacy of the family, gives us a careful link between psychoanalysis in its investigation of the unconscious in the individual and the social unconscious. Socialization appears as the linking process.

Nitzgen points: “the process of socialization in the family is not based on generally accepted norms and values, but only on particularized, ‘familio- centric’ versions of them, the origins of which are as unconscious to the children as they are to their parents “(2015: 26). The norms and values are those which are culturally accepted in the specific community. Nitzgen continues:” However, brought up by individual parents from different strata of the community, they differ from the standard norm in terms of ‘class, religion and region’ or even ‘nation’. And they differ in terms of the varying unconscious parental interpretations of these normations. These interpretations of culturally valid normations constitute the highly individual kernel of the super-ego ideal, which can neither be understood nor analysed without referring to dynamically unconscious psychic facts as well as to unconscious facts. For this reason Foulkes could rightfully claim the existence of a ‘social unconscious’ supplementing ‘the unconscious in the Freudian sense’ (Foulkes, 1984: 62 italics in original, in Nitzgen, 2015: 26-27)”


Foulkes S. H. (1948) Introduction to Group Analytic Psychotherapy. London: Heinemann Medical Books Ltd.

Foulkes S. H. (1938) ‘Book Review of Norbert Elias’ The Civilising Process’, in E. Foulkes (ed.) 1990:  S. H. Foulkes Selected Papers. London: Karnac Books.

Foulkes S. H. and Anthony E. J. (1957) Group Psychotherapy. The Psycho- Analytic Approach. London: Penguin Books. Reprint from the original edition, 2014, London: Karnac Books.

Foulkes S. H. and Anthony E. J. (1965) Group Psychotherapy. The Psycho- Analytic Approach. London: Maresfield Library. Reprinted, 1990. London.

Foulkes S. H. (1964) Therapeutic Group Analysis . London: Karnac Books. Reprinted 2002. London

Nitzgen D., (2015) Reflections on Group Analysis and Philosophy , Group Analysis,  49( 1) 19-36.