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October 22, 2020


A series of programmes about Fraser House, a total therapeutic community in 1960s Australia, featuring David Cruise and Dr. Les Spencer, a behavioural scientist and sociologist in Melbourne, Australia.


Programme Six: "Neville Yeomans Therapeutic Process"

DC I am David Cruise in Melbourne Australia for Radio TC International. 'Fraser House' is a series of Programs about Dr Neville Yeomans – the founder of the Fraser House psychiatric Therapeutic Community in Australia. This extraordinary unit ran from 1959 to 1968 and was responsible for introducing many psychosocial innovations into Australian society. The series introduces doctoral research into Neville Yeomans' work by Les Spencer a behavioural scientist and clinical sociologist. I have Les with me in the studio.

Les Spencer [LS] Hi David

DC Hi Les, Our theme today is Dr Neville Yeomans therapeutic process at Fraser House.

LS In the previous program we talked about Neville continually shifting people's states in Big Group. In Neville's paper, 'Collective Therapy – Audience and Crowd' he wrote,

'the skilled use of collective forces is one of the paramount functions of the socio-therapist and such skills are defined by the team as 'Collective Therapy' (end of quote).

In Neville's paper, 'Sociotherapeutic Attitudes to Institutions' he wrote,

'Collective therapy, both audience and crowd, utilizes social forces in the patients' primary group (end of quote).

Neville engaged all involved in Fraser House in recognizing, understanding and utilizing these social forces.

In fact, every person I interviewed connected to Fraser House said that Neville's group process skills were way ahead of everybody else; he was just so fast and strategic. In the following I endeavour to unpack some of Neville's processes.

Now Neville was continually scanning everyone (including various factions and isolates in the groups) to continually sense changing mood, themes - what one would be appropriate right now conducive to coherence in the group - what values were being expressed and the nature of the interaction.

And Neville discussed his own process in a monograph entitled, 'The problem of Taking Sides'. Neville's process for working with destructive non-ecological behaviour was as far as I could sense it as follows.

Whenever Neville was with more than one person, he was always on what he called 'the side of the constructive striving' of everyone present - their ecological bits. This was defined by Neville as 'what was functional in the context', and what Neville called, 'free energy'.

Isomorphic with the Keyline principle – his father's work, 'make use of the free energy in the system'.

The essence of this process was that Neville never took sides verbally or non-verbally with anyone or between anyone. When carrying out therapy with family and friends within Big Group, Neville did not take the side of any one person. Rather, Neville took the side of, or supported what he called 'the healthy component of a role in the relationship between the individuals concerned in that unfolding context'.

The following quotes are taken from Neville's 'The problem of Taking Sides' paper.

When working within the intra-psychic structure of any one person in the family group, Neville wrote that he supported:

certain role behaviours of the particular individual and not other role behaviours.

More specifically, he supported:

the normal component of certain roles undertaken by the person in the particular context.

Neville did not take sides between the two or more individuals, even though typically they may be attempting to make him do this. Neville was constantly supporting what he termed: the positive component in role relationships, and in any one individual in the role relationship - that person's positive role behaviour component.

Using this process, it was surprising easy for Neville to flow very comfortably through the most potentially disturbing of family quarrels and conflicts. Within the unfolding context, Neville was supporting what he termed:

the normal component of their role relationships, and consequently the normal component of the intra-psychic role structures

Neville was, intra-psychically speaking:

supporting the normal sub-total of roles in the individual and the group

At the same time, Neville was not supporting and condoning:

the abnormal role part functions of any in the group

Looked at from the perspective of a person's total personality, Neville was:

personally supporting each member of the group as a person, while fundamentally not supporting or condoning anyone's abnormal behaviour. Each member of the group was accepted. Everyone's abnormal behaviour was rejected. The tension in each individual within the family/friendship sub-group was thus supported towards the normal.

What Neville was actually doing in the unfolding context was continually changing his position as a function of the particular roles that were being attempted by one or other of the partners in the exchange. Neville was always supporting the context specific healthy role functions.

DC That's:

Accentuate the positive Eliminate the negative Latch on to the affirmative Don't mess with Mister In-Between

LS (Laughing)

DC Where have we heard that?

LS (Laughter)

Yes that's right! That's Henry Mercer's song. That's right. Was it Henry Mercer?

DC It was from, I remember, Burl Ives sang it in Song of the South, or something – the Little Black Sheep.

LS Was it really? Well - yes, exactly.

DC Either that, or it was Jiminy Cricket

LS(Laughing) Well in this context, Neville was a 'positive Mr. In-between' and according to all of my interviewees (its breaking me up), according to all of my interviewees he was so far ahead of everyone else in his strategic and actually ruthless compassionate caring, that it was best not to 'mess' with him.

The following outline of Neville's behaviors in Big Group was confirmed by interviewees and is consistent with Neville's paper, 'The Problem of Taking Sides' discussed before.

In Big Group, if anyone was destructively attacking another person present, Neville said that he engaged the attacker and momentarily gave the attacker his attention.

He then immediately interrupted the attacker, and suddenly withdrew attention. Neville would switch his full attention to the person being attacked and ignored the attacker, and possibly the ongoing attacking.

This sudden withdrawal of attention from the attacker was all the more potent because Neville's prior engagement being so strong.

At the same time he would continue to monitor the attacker as part of a continual meta-scanning of the whole group and group process.

Neville may provide support and comfort, and respond to any constructive striving of the victim. This behaviour 'rewarded' the victim and was 'punishing' the attacker in being excluded.

Sometimes he may isolate out and focus on the constructive and functionally appropriate-in-context aspects of the attacker's behaviour and use this to interrupt the destructive aspects. Neville was very adept at this rapid pattern interrupt to non-functional-in-context behaviour.

Neville said that aspects of the interrupt process may include the following: the sudden removal of gaze, the rapid turning of eyes, head and body away from the attacker, the cessation of Neville's attention (as perceived by the attacker), perhaps the hand up, 'stop now' hand gesture of the traffic policeman, the non-acknowledgment of the attacker's words and being-in-the-room, and the engagement of the 'victim' as Neville's (and the Groups) new centre of attention.

Typically, the victim became the new centre of the group-as-audience's attention and the attacker was for the time, 'excluded' by the Group process.

This was an example of Neville's use of social forces. This sudden withdrawal of being the centre of the Group's attention, the taking away of the supports to the attacker's 'taken-for-granted what's happening'- this 'denial of the attacker's reality' - typically creates an interrupt - an internal 'interrupt' to their state and functioning. Often they go into momentary confusion.

Often the 'state' of the suddenly interrupted person may collapse. For example, 'anger' may collapse through 'confusion' to 'frustration' to 'brooding' till the dramatic theatre unfolding around them 'captures' their attention and they shift to being profoundly engaged as part of the audience to other's change-work.

Now two of the ex-Fraser House staff that I interviewed, Warrick Bruen and Phil Chilmaid confirmed that Neville was continually using the behaviours I have just been talking about.

Neville termed the functional behaviour in context 'the ecological bits'. Neville would, in his terms, 'support the ecological bits of all concerned'. He would support 'the functional behaviour in context and ignore the dysfunctional behaviour in context'. This was what Neville called 'ecology therapy'.

Neville was particularly interested in processes for crowd synchrony and contagion and how to use this for enabling caring and wellbeing.

In fact Neville said his models for his own group leader behaviour were interestingly, Churchill – you know, people who could move a crowd like – Hitler even, Billy Graham and Jesus - that is people who could create crowd synchrony and contagion; people who could inspire, manipulate, emotionally move and control a crowd. However, he made great stress on that he did not use them as content models. He did not follow what they were actually saying, except Jesus' love.

Neville said that he often mentioned to staff and clients that he used these charismatic people as process models.

But Neville's abiding metaframe was love surrounded by humane caring, psychosocial ecology, and safety.

Neville said that one appeal of charismatic leaders is that: (and I quote)

….for many followers, the paradox of existence requires the intervention of the miraculous. Many believe that such leaders can deliver miracles.

And I asked Neville if there were miracles at Fraser House, and he said with some considerable flourish:

Of course it was miraculous. We were the best in the planet, and we all believed this, so we would acknowledge our failings, as we were streets ahead of everyone else.

This is Neville talking:

I was accused of being an impossible optimist. I sense I was more of a fatalistic optimist. I was context driven - if I go to 'creative context' then 'everything is creative' - it worked like that. As for the miraculous - well that was a calm night.....peaceful.... remember we were filled with the very bad and the very mad - the under controlled and the over controlled. (that's the end of the quote)

DC Les that's provided listeners with some insights into how Neville worked therapeutically. What is the theme of the next program.

LS I will discuss a case study that illustrates the processes that we have explored in this program

DC Listeners can find Les' Cultural Keyline thesis on Fraser House on the Internet at www.laceweb.org.au

This is David Cruise for Radio TC International. My guest today has been Les Spencer in Melbourne, Australia.

Programme Seven: The Stabbing the Wall Message

Read the Script

Essential reading:

Dr. Les Spencer (2005), CULTURAL KEYLINE - The Life Work of Dr. Neville Yeomans, PhD. Thesis, School of Social Work and Community Welfare, James Cook University (Australia)

Email comments and questions to Les Spencer, for incorporation into later programmes: lspencre@alphalink.com.au

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