A consultant clinical psychologist is proving that group analysis work with older people with mental health disorders can be successful.

Garry Brownbridge is based at specialist mental health provider the Retreat, York, which works with the NHS to provide care for people with complex and challenging needs.

He has been focusingon specialist psychosis and recovery units and older people's units with a view to finding out whether group analysis can help this severely disturbed client group.

Group analysis was originally developed for use with neurotic conditions. Its use with psychosis has been very rare by comparison.

Breakdown in interaction

"Psychotic experience is characterised by a breakdown in interaction, in the ability for social relationships, in communication," explains Dr Brownbridge.

"Feelings of belonging are absent and replaced by feelings of extreme alienation. People may become completely withdrawn and isolated, also very self-obsessed and regressed. Containment of the extreme feelings may seem impossible. The psychotic experience may be like a waking dream - or potentially a never-ending nightmare."

As group analysis aims to increase the effectiveness of interpersonal communication and relationships and to restore feelings of belonging,Dr Brownbridge hoped it might have something to offer older people.

The older people's psychotherapy group was set up on one of the Retreat's older people's units and included men and women aged 70-88. The group was very successful, with excellent attendance, partly down to the help of a core team of staff. This established a culture of commitment and attendance.

Natural therapy

Dr Brownbridge says: "The group is a very natural process that patients can quickly understand and use. It is stimulating and offers them an invitation as whole, real, interesting people to create and take part in something interesting.

"It talks about current affairs and interests on the unit and in the world. Many reminisce - which leads into more therapeutic life review and very significant shared themes, notably their past experiences.

"The group is spearheading our attempts to develop the psychotherapeutic potential of this older people's ward."

Two more groups have now been set up at the Retreat to develop this model.