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York psychologist highlights successful work with older people at national conference

Consultant clinical psychologist Garry Brownbridge will be speaking to a packed audience at a British Psychological Society conference in York this week, highlighting his successful group analysis work with older people at The Retreat in York.

Garry, who is also a group analyst, has worked at The Retreat in York - an independent mental health provider - for four years. His group analysis work with older people at The Retreat is proving extremely successful.

His half day workshop on group analytic psychotherapy with older people will take place at this year’s PSIGEP (Psychologist Special Interest Group for the Elderly) event entitled ‘Extending the Boundaries’ which is being held at University of York from Wednesday to Friday (2 to 4 July).

The Retreat is a specialist mental health provider, working with the NHS to provide care for people with complex and difficult needs.

Working specifically on the specialist psychosis and recovery units and older peoples’ units, Garry wanted to find out if group analysis might work with this severely disturbed client group.

So he developed a group analytic way of working in this setting and set about trying to integrate group analytic therapy with the Psychosocial Intervention (PSI) approach - the model in established operation by the nursing teams


Group analysis and psychosis

As a standard therapeutic approach, group analysis has been developed for use with neurotic conditions. Use of the approach with psychosis has been very rare by comparison.

Garry explained: “Psychotic experience is characterised by a breakdown in interaction, in the ability for social relationships, in communication. Feelings of belonging are absent and replaced by feelings of extreme alienation. People may become completely withdrawn and isolated, also very self obsessed and regressed. Containment of the extreme feelings may seem impossible. At times there seems to be a breakthrough into consciousness of thoughts and fantasies that might normally be unconscious. The psychotic experience may be like a waking dream – potentially a never-ending nightmare.”

Easy to see then, how Garry hoped group analysis might have something to offer for older people – group analysis aims to increase the effectiveness of interpersonal communication and relationships and to restore feelings of belonging. Perhaps most, importantly, Garry knew that a well-constructed group analytic group provides a robust and reliable container.

The Retreat’s older peoples’ psychotherapy group

The group was set up on one of The Retreat’s older people’s units and included men and women aged between 70 and 88.

Run by a core team of staff, the group was very successful with excellent attendance, partly down to staff help. A culture of commitment and attendance was quickly established

Garry said: “The group is a very natural process which patients can quickly understand and use. It is stimulating and offers them an invitation as whole, real, interesting people to create and take part in something interesting.

It talks about current affairs and interests on the unit and in the world. Many reminisce – which leads into more therapeutic life review and very significant shared themes, notably their past experiences.

The group is spearheading our attempts to develop the psychotherapeutic potential of this older peoples’ unit.”

Two more groups have now been set up at The Retreat to develop this model.