Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Amplification in Group Work

Originally posted on July 29, 2018

People often lower their voice unconsciously in order to disqualify their own statements. It’s an expression of ambivalence: “Perhaps I shouldn’t be saying this.” There’s a gradient of disclosure from repression to shouting it from the highest hill:
  – I can’t admit it to myself at all. Repression.
  – I admit it secretly but immediately push it away. I know I did this. Shh. Suppression.
  – I will admit it to myself as a secret thought or image and also feel ashamed, guilty, and/or disgusted with myself—but also know at some level it’s a little true.
  – I might admit it to my therapist after I’ve built up a lot of trust.
  – I would admit it to my therapist fairly soon. But hardly to anyone else.
  – I admit it when drunk or to a best friend but not to others.
  – I admit it to a small group of people I trust, us guys, the gals we lunch with, not for public consumption.
  – I admit it softly in group.
  – I admit it loudly in group, knowing I can take it back and re-work it. I will be understood, forgiven for harboring such thoughts, and my thoughts need not prove anything about my character.
  – I brag about it in public.

So we are really talking about the last few “penultimate” items, the transition from whispering it to the side to saying it openly in group work. The point of the aforementioned spectrum of self-expression is the inner magical sense that if it isn’t said and registered, it doesn’t count. The key word is register, also hear, or hear clearly. People have a not insignificant magical body-mind block to speaking up so that everyone can hear. If it isn’t heard clearly, you see, then it can be denied: I never said that. People harbor these fantasies unconsciously.

Related to this is the problem that many people speak so softly that everyone in the group cannot hear, which leads to them feeling left out, vaguely annoyed with themselves for being so deaf, vaguely annoyed with the speaker—although one is otherwise inclined to be sympathetic. But how can you be sympathetic when the so-and-so won’t let you hear him!?

The technique of “amplification,” derived from psychodrama, helps this: The group leader who sits close to the soft-spoken or mumbling speaker repeats what is said in a voice loud enough so that everyone in the group can hear easily. This serves two functions: First, others can hear and they don’t have to experience the mixed feelings that maybe if they tried harder they could hear, or “doggone it, maybe if I spent more money on these doggone hearing aids I could hear!” or other forms of self-torture.

(This contemplation was triggered by my being in a group with new hearing aids and doggone it if even with them in the main speaker was allowed to mumble and those close could hear and interact, but I couldn’t. And I tried to edge up close, and I still couldn’t!)

The other good thing this technique offers is that it implicitly says to the speaker, “Hey, we’re here to work on whatever you’re talking about. Include us in!” and also “This is a thought that has been expressed. It has been expressed very softly so you won’t hear, but it shows that the person wants to be understood. I’m going to amplify what’s being said so that we can understand. What he has said has been said. He’s free to change it, modify it, think about it, re-evaluate it, but he can’t just try to pretend it wasn’t said or thought.”  Of course all this isn’t said out loud every time, but maybe you’ll say something like this to your group early on, explaining the technique of amplification. You’ll find some people will push themselves and amplify their own voices! And everyone will hear.

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