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Objects Of Desire:
Sexuality, the Individual and the Group
Morris Nitsun
Consultant clinical psychologist,
Camden and Islington NHS Mental Health Trust,
and group analyst, the Institute of Group Analysis,
Images of Sexuality in Art
Expression of desire and sexuality in visual art a reflection
of changing cultural norms in different societies
Pompei fresco
Egon Schiele
Goya – The Naked Maja
Francis Bacon
Japan – The Floating World
Jeff Koons
Indian erotic drawings
Thomas Ruff
Turkish erotic manuscripts
The Culture Of Group Psychotherapy
• The overall field as a cultural context
• The culture of a specific therapy group
• Sexuality as an aspect of the culture
• Therapist’s sexual context
• Values as integral part of cultural norms
What People Talk About – and not – in
Group Psychotherapy
• Public and private selves
• Fears of exposure and judgement
• Shame – the gap between public and
• All psychotherapy potentially shaming –
group more so?
• Regulating influence of shame in groups
• Challenging norms and assumptions
Sex as a Spoken Subject
Both universal and highly individual
The most difficult to talk about in groups?
Sex and the body
Non-verbal – difficult to mirror
Intensity of sexual desire
Need for the other
Incompleteness of sexuality
Transgressive aspects
Narratives of Desire
Different perspectives on the place of desire in
human experience
Relational psychoanalysis
Sex and Psychoanalysis
• Sexuality and the origins of psychoanalysis
• Most detailed and elaborate theory of sexuality
• Discrepancy between theoretical emphasis and
• Fears of enactment
• Normative approach – pathologizing
• Liberalizing and restraining
• Desexualization of psychoanalysis
• Bifurcation – psychosexual therapy
Sex in Group Psychotherapy
• Opposite to psychoanalysis – practically
no discourse
• Very wide range of practice
• Challenging voices – Burman, Moeller
• Uncritical absorption of dominant values
and norms
• Lack of framework creates ambiguity and
Changes in the Sexual Landscape
An expanded sexual universe
Greater openness about sexuality
Increased acceptance of sexual diversity
Ensuring problems –
addiction to internet pornography
inter-generational differences
conservative backlash
• Challenge to –
oneself as person, as therapist
psychotherapy in general
group psychotherapy
The Group as an Object of Desire
• Can a group be an object of desire?
• The Anti-group
Negative attitudes and enactments that
undermine the therapeutic task
Fears of intimacy and exposure
Bowden’s research (2002)
• Double perspective of desire expressed in
group and group as desirable
• How do we create a framework that
strengthens this aspect of the group?
Parameters of sexuality in the group
• The embodied group
The body of the group
‘Highly charged libidinal network’ (Moeller)
‘Theatre of desire’ (Tylim)
Non-verbal communication
• The erotic imagination
• Dynamic levels
Conscious and unconscious / fantasy
• Group morality
The super-ego and social restraints
Necessary and unnecessary restraints
Developing a model of sexuality in the group
From critical super-ego to benign authority
The group as witness
Re-contextualizing intimacy
The sexual self – social dimensions
The individual sexual self
The relational sexual self
The social sexual self
• The possibility of social reconstruction
The group therapist
• Major influence on the sexual discourse
• Therapist morality
Blind spots / prejudice
Relationship to diversity
• Therapist sexuality
Degree of comfort / discomfort
• Paradoxical role
Dynamic administrator plus object and
subject of desire
• Dealing with shame
Institutional issues
• Recognition of desire and sexuality in group
therapy training
Recognition or lip-service?
• Trainees’ experience in own group therapy?
• Supervision
• Institutional dynamics
Enactment of denied or repressed
Ethical considerations
• Need for appropriate boundaries
• What constitutes transgression?
• Risks of “safe analysis”
• Encapsulation of the erotic narrative
• Ethical to minimize or deny an area of
such personal significance?