Data Type: Journal Article

Group psychotherapy of military offenders.

Abrahams, Joseph and McCorkle, Lloyd W. (1946). Group psychotherapy of military offenders. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 51, No. 5, pp. 455-464.

This article describes the detainment of U.S. military soldiers shortly after WWII
who had been convicted by a general courts-martial for acts such as going ‘A.W.O.L.’ (Absent Without Leave), military desertion, theft, assault, forgery or were sentenced to a dishonorable discharge and a stated number of years of hard labor. The research question posed by the authors is whether or not group talk therapy could be useful in rehabilitating deviant social groups or social offenders to a state of an agreeable social state or performance. The authors detail the group psychotherapy sessions in which detainees were required to participate and praise the high rates of ‘rehabilitation’ observed. The authors argue for a “total push” method in which the detainee is pushed towards ‘maturation’ and ‘reorientation’ through a group therapy process. The point of this piece is to evaluate the effectiveness of group therapy sessions from a sociological standpoint. That is, the authors seek to determine whether group therapy is an appropriate method to use when attempting to assimilate a group of social defectors back into the society they have rejected as a functioning, stable, acceptable member of that society. Using first-hand accounts of group psychotherapy, the authors seek to illustrate psychotherapy’s usability and potential to rehabilitate a group of offending subjects, i.e. social groups which exhibit deviant behavior and/or mental illness.

Exact research methods and methods of analysis are not outlined in this article. The authors demonstrate their “total push” method through careful transcripts of actual group-therapy talk sessions with military offenders. In these transcripts, the authors are shown discussing with their patients why exactly the patients felt they were justified in committing certain acts against their orders or military leadership. With assistance and commentary from other offenders in the group session, the authors attempt to demonstrate to the offenders how they might have expressed themselves or have handled their situations in a more mature fashion which would have been fairer to all parties involved. At the conclusion of these series of group-therapy talk sessions, the authors observe significant changes among the military offenders in terms of their personality and ability to adjust to the strict demands of military life. The authors even include an actual letter written to them by one of their patients weeks after they had been reassimilated into military service, which they offer as proof of the success of their methods of rehabilitation. There is no real key finding in this article, as it acts more so as a large, meticulously transcribed, diary-style account of group therapy sessions between detained soldiers and their psychotherapists. The authors attempt to let the transcripts speak for themselves, offering a limited amount of commentary for an article of its kind, interjecting only when they feel necessary. Subjects are referred to by the first initial of their first name, and their actual dialogue has been recorded as they talk amongst themselves and as they are addressed by the psychotherapists on duty. The authors attempt to demonstrate psychotherapy’s potential to rehabilitate deviant social groups through the provided in-depth group therapy transcripts in which progress towards mental and social stability can clearly be seen among the patients within the group based on their conversation and behavior.

This article is significant, as it dates back to 1946 and provides hard-documentation of actual group therapy sessions, techniques and results. Included in the piece are first-hand accounts delivered by not only the psychotherapists administering the therapy, but also the subjects, before, during and after the group therapy sessions have transpired and the subjects have been deemed ‘rehabilitated’ and are sent to resume military service in the field. The information found within this article can be applied to any future study seeking to investigate the methodologies of psychotherapy and its practitioners. It offers insight into how early sociologists studied and utilized group therapy as a method of ‘curing’ unstable individuals convicted of social offenses of their ‘immaturity’ and assimilating these individuals back into society as healthy, functioning members. The article also demonstrates how these sociologists tested a number of talk-therapy techniques on military offenders through actual transcribed dialogue—it’s a fascinating, organic and rare glimpse of early sociologists refining their theories and methodologies in the field with real individuals.

Categories: Counseling and Clinical Psychology, History & Philosophy of Psychology & Psychiatry, Qualitative Methods, Sociology of Mental Health and Illness
Publication Date: 1946