The concept of boundaries in group theory gained prominence in the 70s and 80s
mainly as a construct to describe significant group events. A contributing factor
was when general systems theory, in which boundaries are central, was applied
to living systems. Boundaries continued to be used predominantly to refer to
structural aspects of a group, such as time structuring, membership, role,
subgroupings, and task, and, to a lesser extent, as an abstract construct to refer
to group processes and dynamics. In group practice, the use of boundaries as a
guide and instrument to gauge group dynamics has been limited. In general,
boundaries are not used to assess group events in order to determine a course
of action or intervention.
The first part of the research explores the concept of boundaries in three
theoretical frameworks. The second part of the research explores the application
of boundaries as a construct central to the understanding of group dynamics in
an experiential time-limited training group. It also examines ways in which this
can lead to enhanced group practice. The focus was on boundaries as
psychological dimensions in the group space. In the exploration of boundaries in existing theoretical frameworks, an important
link between boundaries and trauma, which inevitably involves a breach and
violation of boundaries, was highlighted.
A novel qualitative content analysis method was designed to reveal boundary
changes systematically and to show how boundaries were redefined over a
period of time. A unique feature of this computer assisted (Atlas.ti) method is that
boundary shifts are quantitatively tracked, allowing further qualitative exploration.
This method was applied in a case study of a training group, so demonstrating
the applicability of the method to the study of small groups. Results of the case
study revealed the impact that events prior the group had on group boundary
development, in particular emotional linking in the group. Shifts in psychological
boundaries were clearly visible in the quantitative analysis of boundaries in focus,
across boundaries, indicated by transactions across boundaries.
South Africa, as is the case in other societies in transition, is characterised by
continuous breaches and violations of boundaries. By viewing group interactions
through a boundary lens, group leaders can understand the complexity of group
dynamics better. With this understanding, facilitators and leaders of groups can
deliberately influence psychological boundaries. In so doing they can create
opportunities for individual transitions and societal transformation.