Urge and Creativity in the Group Matrix

(Applying Art Therapy within Group Therapy)


Foulkes (1964), the founding father of group analysis, described the individual as a starting point in the group network – the “matrix”. The matrix is a hypothetical network of communication and reciprocation, created and developed in the group; it is the common ground, which determines the meaning and importance of all of the group proceedings. The term receives a visual facet when the group process merges two approaches – therapeutic group analysis and art therapy. The combination of these approaches produces non-verbal communication and encounters with unconscious feelings.

For this, we may first use a squiggling technique. When a patient uses the squiggle technique with closed eyes, they squiggle intertwined lines, without direction or control. Squiggle drawing, supposedly a meaningless behavior, actually fulfills the role of both physical and symbolic venting. Winnicott described, how, when he had a child squiggle, and then joined in to the drawing, both were surprised by the outcome. Winnicott lent his unconscious in order to connect with the patient’s unconscious (Winnicott, 2003). The squiggle is a basis for visual speculation and release, while the participant has no control over this part of the outcome; Sort of a “release net” to understand the unconscious substance of the individual and the group.


The squiggling technique is used as a web of lines, first representing a personal fabric to the individual, and through a process, becoming a group fabric. Winnicott presented the squiggling technique in his diagnostic interviews, in which both child and therapist alternately complemented each other’s drawings (1971). Winnicott’s squiggles are a shape or line drawn quickly in black pencil. Therapist and patient alternate roles. One starts the squiggle, and the other completes it. The patient’s image is meaningful to understanding the group’s inner world.


Presented below are the different stages in the process of working with squiggling, constructing a personal fabric and having it become a group tapestry.

Stage One: Creating the Squiggle

Each participant receives a pencil and a blank piece of paper. Before starting the squiggle on the page, participants practice by drawing small and large circles and figure eights in the air. They also trace the exterior of the page with their hand, in order to internalize the space of the page (which reduces the level of anxiety of going off the page while drawing with their eyes closed). Participants are then requested to close their eyes and create a squiggle on the paper.

Stage Two: Finding an Image

Following the squiggling stage, participants are requested to find a concrete image to work on. The lines of the squiggle are like a net thrown into the “sea”, which uses “bait” to raise images from the unconscious. The patient pulls the net in from the unconscious, through it, raising visual images. In this stage there is use of imagery from the unconscious, without any conscious control. Elements in working with squiggles are similar to group therapy with dreams. In both cases, the imagery and associations accompanying the process, as well as assembling the content of the group network, are from an initially unconscious source. As in work with dreams, squiggling is potentially important material concerning the individual’s unconscious, through the images that float above the net. These images will contribute to the collective group unconscious, the unconscious basis of the group process.

Stage Three: The Image Fleshes Out

The patient goes colors only the images that float above the net, so they stand out and can be seen clearly. They may add details and color to the image, if these are needed to strengthen the power of the image.

Stage Four: Self Presentation of the Image

In the fourth stage, the “fleshed out” image, “presents” itself to the patient – the patient uses a projection technique, and allows the image to “speak” in first person. For example: “I am a question mark, I came here because… I can tell you about myself because … “, and so on.

This stage happens between the patient and their self, through a process of writing. It is the phase that connects to the patient’s unconscious inner representation, a sort of “key” to the hidden door leading into the patient’s unconscious world, which later on will construct a network of insights.

Stage Five: Completing the Personal Tapestry

This stage consists mostly of completing the personal grid. The group participants’ world view completes itself through the group fabric, with every participant marking two words which have significance to them, out of a list of sentences put forth by the image. They pass these words, written on paper, alternately to the participant on their right, and then to the participant on their left. These people write free associations for the chosen words, expanding the world of their fellow group member through their contribution of words. The images in the group create fertile ground, with the associations supplying a significant contribution, as they highlight and strengthen the squiggle drawing and the personal and group creativity derived from them. The content of the words may also supply suggestions and messages regarding the personal and group unconscious material. This is relevant also to communication about the group, by means of a group member (Kieffer, 1996).

The process creates a joint dialogue between the individual who created the image and the image; and between the image and the members of the group. This dialogue brings about familiarity, and leads to insights regarding the creator of the image, both to themselves and to the group. The insights are strengthened by the addition of words which further define the image. Relating to the content arising from the squiggle drawing, the group participants facilitate the understanding of the hidden meanings – not just the creator’s, but the entire group’s.

Stage Six: “I”

In this stage, group members are requested to add the word I to the beginning of each sentence. Now the projection is connected directly to the patient. This is the moment of intimate contact with the self and internal resonances of insights, especially in view of the group work with the image. This insight is not always simple or easy. Sometimes the net raises images whose “innocence” quickly dissipates, giving way to the “shadow” in the patient’s personality (Jung, 1961); the hidden and repressed shadow, the guilty and inferior parts of the personality, whose roots are deeply embedded in our animal origins.  


During a group meeting, one of the participants exhibited the image of a snake in her net. Initially, she looked at it amiably, and commented that the “snake looks sweet”. When we got to the part in which the image (the snake) introduces and presents itself, she suddenly recoiled from it. The snake spoke of itself, and relayed messages that were hard for her to hear and contain. It may possibly have been internal stress, which cannot be released through rational thinking or language (Graham 2010). The outer upper part of the snake’s body was drawn in blue, which represented calmness and quiet to the patient; while from within, the body included color, which in the world of nature is used as a warning: colorful animals warn those that threaten them that they are the poisonous. The “sweet” snake was now a snake with aggressive capabilities, and its fangs threatened those in its vicinity. The associations to the two words she chose, resonated by the group, related to the poisonous capabilities of the image; poison, which became representative of the group’s unspoken aggressiveness, and of the underlying power struggles between the group members.

An additional example is the picture of a duck vomiting, or spitting out a fish (the fish and the inner part of the duck are the same color). The fish represents those parts of the “self” that cannot be digested by the creator of the image. The woman who created the work spoke of the her own “indigestible” parts, and how she created the duck: first it was created in the squiggle line net alone, and only after a process of work with the group members regarding the image, was she able to “eject” these parts and create the image of the fish.

A third example is of two images: a parrot and a fish. The parrot’s colorfulness is a metaphor of the many colors each participant brings the group, while keeping their individuality. The parrot is a bird that creates many sounds, and speaks without stopping, occasionally mimicking. This quote was used as a metaphor and a representation for resonance / echoing, reflection and free conversation between the group members. The debate created a “new group parrot”, which grew within the parrot – the “body of the group”. The group, through different processes, creates new life between its members (occasionally called group “pulse”), as webs of communication are woven between its members. This new product is depicted as an egg, growing in the parrot’s body. The egg represents life, as it forms new life, and the incubation occurs within the group circle, replaying events from the patients’ lives. The reconstruction, happening within the individual in the “here and now” in front of the group members, creates an event, in which the group participants are both subjective and objective. The “unintentional” squiggle is communication; communication which presents the emotional atmosphere of the group members, while raising their individual internal representations and those of the group as a whole, as tacit communication – a matrix.


According to Baumen (2008), the Shadow is a concept welcome in therapy, so that the patient confronts, processes, integrates and becomes conscious of an element in our lives completing the self and our world view. There is an approach, which sees the matrix as a “hoop” encircling the group. The net, which the patient creates during the squiggle, uses and holds the parts of the patient’s self and creates meetings between their repressed parts and those of the whole group. The constructed matrix is used to create an enveloping and secure feeling. The imagery is usually very significant and the group, echoing and resonating the images arising in it, allows the process of observation and insight, and even makes the image more bearable. Like a fisherman, the patient can fix the holes in their net in order to keep their inner representations; occasionally, when they are incapable of doing so, the group may fix the net for them, during conversation, in the analytical part of the meeting and as part of the associative stage of the image, when it is passed among the group members. In an analytical group, the group leader can intervene, if they think this intervention will serve to better understand the silence in the group process. In a group that integrates Art Therapy, there is no need for theses interventions, because even if there is verbal quiet, the images and the drawings in the center of the circle speak for themselves. Working with squiggling, I see the network of lines as an inviting space, and a source of potential communication.


באומן, א. (2008). השד שלי, הצללים המשפחתיים והמפלצת אשר סביבנו. הרצאה שהועברה במסגרת יום עיון של האיגוד הישראלי לפסיכותרפיה.

ויניקוט, ד. ו. (2003). משחק ומציאות. תל אביב: עם עובד.

יונג, ק. ג. (1961). זיכרונות, חלומות, מחשבות. בן-שמן: מודן.

Foulkes, S. H. (1964). Therapeutic group analysis. New York: International University Press.

Kieffer, C. C. (1996). Using dream interpretation to resolve group developmental impasses. Group, 20, 273-85.

Winnicott, D. W. (1971). Mirror role of mother and family in child development. Playing and Reality, pp. 130-138. Middlesex: Penguin Books.

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