‘In 1623 when seriously ill, John Donne, the English poet wrote ‘No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main’. This insight, that we are all interconnected is as true today as it was then. More recently, experimental psychologist John Dunbar (2015) proposed the social-brain hypothesis which suggests a ‘quantitative relationship between social-group size and neocortex volume in monkeys and apes.’ In humans this predicts a group size of about 150 people, the average group size in small societies and that of modern personal social networks. Of significance is the effect of group size on health and wellbeing including mortality and morbidity, recovery from illness and cognitive functioning.
What are the implications of this for therapy which is often one individual connecting to another whose task it is to become redundant? This is the value of groups, places where people who have grown up or live in highly constricted social worlds which have limited their opportunities to develop skills of relating and building their 150 connections can learn. For some of our clients their isolation may be due to individual neurobiological constraints while others have been severely frightened by harm others have done them. A group that is based on a task; cooking, making music, exercising, or painting provides a context where participants can focus outside themselves, be distracted from their fear about relationships and learn to enjoy the company of others while supported by a leader who understands their anxiety. Groups look and are fun, but they are also an important step towards a much greater and healthier life change.