Failures in the development of potential space in a group

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In this paper I shall use Winnicott's concept of potential space to discuss the impasses, which arises when failures occur in the development of group potential space. Because clinical social work is a service usually provided by public bodies with limited economic resources, unstable social and political realities are driving many social workers to search for methods of responding to the needs of many without compromising the quality of the service provided. This requires the acquisition of increasing knowledge in the field of group therapy, in order to help our clients, who often suffer from disabling conditions, to become functioning community members. The paper reviews Winnicott's concept of potential space and Ogden's formulation of the psychopathology of potential space, and describes various manifestations of impasses in group work and group development. Three clinical examples describing therapeutic groups led by clinicians in various public frameworks, are used to illustrate three different forms of group collapse following a failure in the formation of potential space. A fourth type of collapse is also discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)395-402
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Social Work Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2008


  • Failure
  • Group
  • Impasses
  • Potential space


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