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Facilitating and Participating in Online Groups

Walter Logeman [email protected] Based on a post to Psyber-L, Thu, 2 Dec 1999.

To what extent should a facilitator also be a participant of an online group, especially in psychologically oriented groups such as a the Dreamevent?

  1. It is not so different from face to face groups. The participation involviong personal disclosure happens there too.

  2. There are some differences resulting from the contours of cyberspace. These differences mean that personal participation is more appropriate and an integral part of facillitation.

Looking at the similarities first:

It would be a strange party where the host was not also part of the celebrations. Yet the host needs to be an active participant. There are models of groupwork where the group therapist is very restrained. There are others, such as psychodrama where there is a specific slot, in the sharing after a drama, where the director explicitly shares personal experience.

Keeping away from the "therapy" model, and thinking of the psyche as an something objective to be explored, perhaps like white water rafting, then there is a guide, who must be a participant, by the very nature of the job, along with all the other roles.

On the other hand, there are differences:

Online asynchronous communication like email, and possibly synchronous communication like IRC or ICQ chat, are different from anything we can do offline. Facilitation online demands participation.

One reason is that there is not a physical space in which to have silence. There was a group once, that met face to face everyday for 136 days and sat in silence, stalemated. I am guessing at the days and the facts here, but it is a true story. I think it was a committee set up to negotiate peace, was it in the Korean war, or Vietnam? Imagine the tension and the consciousness of that silence! I can feel the tension in an online group for a week or so, but then it feels like the group goes stale somehow. It can always be revived, even years later, but it dies after a certain time.

To keep a group open, to build its virtual walls, the host must post. But what? In a face to face group, we might hear the familiar invitations... Let's hear from everyone. Online that might be good too. Its not enough. Why would anyone want to be in such a group? It needs life! So, an interesting post, which furthers the purpose of the group is the good hosting, facilitating and participation all at once.

And there are more reasons why leaders (what ever type) can participate online, where in the situation in physical meetings might call for a more distant approach.

There are contours here in cyberspace which do not have physical equivalents. The time twist is one. Posts can be made days apart. There is time between. Posts are condensations of experience, one hour to write, 5 minutes to read. I what face to face group does the leader have the luxury of opportunity for meditation, reflection, supervision and so on for every contribution? If there are transferences and countertransferences they can be attended to in a way that one can't do with physical presence... imagine it, excuse me for a moment while I cathart!

Another contour is the identity between the fact or the communication and the record of the communication. The posts have distinct individual reality. They are each, unique distinct packages. They can be linked to. They can be copied. They have a length, a time stamp, a line length, a subject line. In other words they have a body language. How does this contour relate to the participation facilitation theme? The physical presence of the body in a group is very fundamental participation. The online body is the email body.

I think there are more factors at work here, once we are in cyberspace we work directly with symbols, words, images, metaphor. The nature of these things places us more immediately in the realm of the psyche. Also the restrictions of the media stimulate the imagination.


Based on a post to Psyber-L Thu, 2 Dec 1999. Have also posted it to the Roles group.

Edited and placed on the web 8 December 1999.

Edited 2 January 2000