The First Meeting of our Group on May 4, 2013 Has Already Begun

In terms of systems theory, the group dynamics for our first meeting with young people on May 4, 2013, has already begun.  Isomorphy, often called parallel process, means that in a complex system there are similar organizing structures that operate beneath the diverse contents of any system. We are not just creating a video called “Group Dynamics and the New Heroism” but creating a movement–and that movement begins with the formation of many subgroups.

As the co-leader subgroup, Phil and I are working through our anxiety  about leading a group that no one has ever led before and finding the funds to make the video. Our process anticipates the anxiety that our group members will surely experience as they form their subgroups of network support and face the uncertainty of how they can act nonviolently and courageously in the world and how much risk they are willing to take. As the production subgroup, my film director and I are working through the anxiety of taking on the difficult task of how best to capture images of our group members’ interaction on camera with limited resources.  Our camera people and crew must form their own subgroup as well to meet the challenge of filming a spontaneous, unscripted group that is moving and shifting at will.

At each level, our subgroups face the essential work of the new heroism: Being willing to take calculated risks and spontaneously act in concert with others in situations they have never faced before. In this sense, our research is measuring the capacity of our subgroups to mitigate our fear of failure. It will be a test of our sophistication and humility as leaders and participants that we can persevere in the face of high uncertainty and low predictability.

In this sense, our group has already begun.


Why Should Psychologists and Group Therapists Be Interested in the Group Processes that Lead to Torture?

It is not immediately obvious why psychologists and group therapists should be interested in the group processes that lead to torture. It is an historical truth, as Alfred McCoy states in his book, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror, “–torture research had involved three of the ‘100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century’ –Hebb, Milgram, and Janis–as well as several presidents of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association ” (p.33)

But beyond this formal, scholarly involvement, group therapists are quite aware of the power the leader has to manipulate and shape the behavior of individuals acting in a group. Authoritarian leaders require obedience of group members and establish a norm that rewards the conformity of its members and punishes any departure from conformity to agreed upon practices and tolerates no compunction expressed by individual members.This phenomenon has immediate implications for the the group processes that proceed and lead a group to become torturers. Dissenters are branded as disloyal. In such a hierarchical system, responsibility becomes diffused. Everyone is just doing their job. Whatever accountability there is often falls to the lowest members carrying out the orders. They become the bad apples, if shameful or criminal behavior comes to light.

It is clear that psychologists and group therapists must use their special knowledge to counteract the aberrant group behavior described above. The Ethical Guidelines and Professional Standards for Group Psychotherapy, ratified by the membership of the International Association for Group Psychotherapy and Group Processes, “…condemns the participation of group therapists in the planning, execution, or passively witnessing torture, or participating in any procedure in which torture is threatened.”(

As professionals we must enjoin our colleagues to follow these guidelines.

Distortion of Philip Zimbardo’s Prison Study to say that torture is inevitable

Amrit Singh, the senior legal officer at the National Security and Counterterrorism program at the Open Society Justice Initiative, has just authored a disturbing report entitled, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition.” The report identifies 54 countries in the international community that aided the CIA with its torture operations. The implication here is stark and will be used by those to justify the use of torture and excuse those who practice it. Those who support the use of torture will
say that it is an international phenomenon, unavoidable and inevitable, due to the inclination of  human beings to commit such abuses. They will point to Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment and other obedience studies to justify such behavior on the grounds that it is some how in the human nature to torture.

However, it is a distortion of Philip Zimbardo’s prison study to say that torture is an inevitable part of human behavior. Those of us who have spent our lives studying group behavior know that torture and abuse depend on the kind of leadership a group is provided and the group norms that emerge as a consequence of that leadership. In the case of the United States government, it is the political leadership at the highest level that sets the norms for subordinates in the military, the FBI and the CIA to follow.

United States citizens must hold their leaders accountable when they fail to comply with United States law and International treaties which condemn and forbid the planning and practice of torture by U.S. operatives or anyone acting on our behest.

Bill Roller

Note: Amrit Singh is co-author with Jameel Jaffer of the book Administration of Torture: A Documentary Record from Washington to Abu Ghraib and Beyond. 

Psychiatrist wants to replicate the results of our video study

A friend and colleague is very enthusiastic about the video we shall produce with the help of our many donors. He is a psychiatrist and he wants to form and lead a group like the group we shall conduct and capture on the video, “Group Dynamics and the New Heroism.”  He is excited to think he can replicate the results of our process research, looking specifically at our method of teaching group members to act nonviolently and heroically even at personal risk to themselves.  It will be an opportunity for him to follow what will be a pioneering study.

Many studies have been made researching how to get people to obey authority–but next to nothing until now has been spent researching conditions which allow people to obey their conscience.

May this be the beginning of a new worldwide trend.

Bill Roller


We are now live with our INDIEGOGO crowd funder, GROUP DYNAMICS AND THE NEW HEROISM

Phil Zimbardo and I will create a new social psychology experiment that we’ll make into a video called, “Group Dynamics and the New Heroism.”  The video will show us co-leading a group of young people–encouraging them to take courageous nonviolent action in defense of their ethical principles.

It’s something that’s never been done before.

Although governments have spent a lot of money researching how to get people to obey authority–next to nothing has been spent researching the conditions which allow people to obey their conscience.

Our video will help individuals practice civil obedience to the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the laws of the United States.

Today, we went “live” on our Indiegogo crowd funder, GROUP DYNAMICS AND THE NEW HEROISM.

Keep your eye on my blog for frequent undates on the progress of our crowd funder, including events and parties you can attend to support our cause.

And please keep your donations to our crowd funder coming!

MY Sincere Thanks,

Bill Roller

Group Dynamics and the New Heroism


Philip Zimbardo and  I are  excited to be creating a new social psychology experiment  that will challenge a group of  young people to take courageous nonviolent action in defense of ethical principles they hold dear.

Professor Zimbardo, creator of the Stanford Prison Experiment, has spent his career studying how people can be induced to behave badly.  In this project, we’ll be encouraging people to behave admirably and ethically. The Heroic Imagination Project and the Berkeley Group Education Foundation intend to produce a video series, Group Dynamics and the New Heroism. In that video we shall help young leaders become attuned to the new heroism that is sociocentric and not egocentric, focusing on the cooperation of many and not the idealization of one.  It is not the lone figure acting in isolation that epitomizes the hero but the individual who can effectively enlist the help of others in accomplishing a task of ethical importance.  And the action a person takes may involve considerable personal risk and may not offer any tangible reward.

We shall be looking for the social forces and contexts which allow ordinary human beings to act in extraordinary ways in the service of other human beings and the support of ethical causes.  How can our group members transform themselves and create a social network that mutually supports courageous actions?  Philip  Zimbardo and I will model for the group members the key to heroism—a willingness to take calculated risks and to spontaneously act in situations you have never faced before. As co-leaders, we will stitch together the edited segments of the videos with commentary that anticipates developments in the group process,  building expectations for the viewers to keep them watching.

We shall gather ten aspiring young leaders, ages 18 to 25 years, and meet for 10 hours across two successive Saturdays to teach the skills of ethical leadership. The group will be unscripted, spontaneous and will be captured by state of the art video and sound stage equipment.  The video footage will be edited to produce a  four hour video series, for sale and dissemination to high schools and colleges.

We are appealing to the public to support our video project.

Look for us soon on Indiegogo, the crowd funding website.

Bill Roller

Philip Zimbardo


Second Edition, Promise of Group Therapy, Now On Line

Dear Readers,

I am happy to announce that the Second Edition of my book— THE PROMISE OF GROUP THERAPY: HOW TO BUILD A VIGOROUS TRAINING AND ORGANIZATIONAL BASE FOR GROUP THERAPY IN MANAGED BEHAVIORAL HEALTHCARE—is now available for free on-line for the common good and the benefit of all.

Click here to read all the Chapters

I look forward to hearing your comments about my work.


Bill Roller

The Second Edition of The Promise of Group Therapy will appear on-line

The Second Edition of the text The Promise of Group Therapy: How to Build  a Vigorous Training Base for Group Therapy in Managed Behavioral Healthcare will be published on-line by THERAVIVE, a well known directory of therapists and their practices. The book will be re-published sequentially, one chapter at a time.  It will have a new introduction that I give below.

When I wrote the First Edition of this text 14 years ago, I was overly optimistic in my assumption that corporate medicine would adopt the common sense notion that a skillful combination of  1) capitation, 2) utilization of less labor intensive treatment methods (group and family therapy), and  3) highly trained clinicians would both serve a growing population of patients in need of mental health treatment and reduce medical costs.  In addition, an effective organization would develop avenues of communication and coordination between the three essential components of a health care delivery system: An administration that implements sound principles of organization development in the service of comprehensive patient care,  a staff of highly trained clinical professionals dedicated to patient education and preventive care, and a Board of consumers who advocate for patient benefits and encourage patients to take an active role in their own self care. Unfortunately and ironically, corporate medicine and its health insurance partners failed to develop the appropriate organizational structure and competent personnel in a context of ongoing professional training that would have led to such a successful operation and felicitous outcome for patients and their doctors.  Instead, the medical-health insurance industry pursued a for profit path serving the interests of their investors and highly paid management.

It did not have to come to this. In the absence of public control and in the face of rising medical costs, employers and insurance companies set about to establish a system to manage costs. But they failed to do so. The transfer of public services and consumer dollars to the administrative control and ownership of private insurance corporations have diminished the buying power of  both employers and consumers and led to the present impasse.

It is now abundantly clear that the corporate medicine-health insurance alliance must be dissolved, and the funds that keep it alive channeled to a single payer health insurance system that will adopt the skillful  and frugal policy that I describe above.  Although the cost of  technology and research are much higher in the delivery of medical treatment than mental health, the implementation of preventive care and capitation (health benefits guaranteed at a predetermined price per person) are powerful incentives to be creative and innovative in the delivery of both kinds of care. Indeed, the appropriate and timely delivery of mental health care to individuals in need can substantially reduce medical costs. The converse is also true: the appropriate and timely delivery of medical care to those in need can reduce mental suffering and expense.

The First Edition methods and recommendations for the delivery of mental health treatment of large populations still apply.  But now I am addressing a different audience.  Instead of corporate managers of  private behavioral health plans, I am now speaking to the managers of the single payer health plan that will emerge in the United States within the next generation.  I wish them well, and trust they will not ignore the common sense notion that has energized the prepaid , nonprofit health plans in the United States for nearly a century.

Look here for updates on how to access the contents of this book free of charge.

The Promise of Group Psychotherapy Blog

The Promise of Group Psychotherapy Blog

Sweetheart deal between Insurance Companies and Hospital Systems Concerning Group Therapy Reimbursement

Today I want to draw attention to the sweetheart deal that seems to exist between Insurance Companies and Hospital Systems concerning reimbursement for group therapy treatment provided for patients. This fact came to my attention recently when a patient was treated in group therapy for one month at Herrick Hospital in Berkeley, a Sutter Health Affiliate.  Blue Shield of California was billed for 20 sessions of group therapy at a rate of $ 1400.00 per group session for a total of $ 28,000.00.  Blue Shield reimbursed the Sutter Affiliate at that rate.

By contrast, the most Blue Shield has ever reimbursed me as a private marriage and family therapist for one group therapy treatment session with one of my patients on an outpatient basis is $ 30.00.  Must I have a degree in economics to know that there is something disproportionate in these comparative rates of reimbursement?

This indicates to me that there must exist some extremely preferential agreement between Insurance companies and the Hospital Systems they reimburse. I do hope some enterprising journalist will look into this phenomenon because there is a story here that ought to be told. And in that story the consumers and independent mental health professionals are the losers.

Bill Roller

The Promise of Group Psychotherapy Blog

The Promise of Group Psychotherapy Blog

Op-Ed that Phil Zimbardo and I are trying to get published

Here’s an OP-Ed that Phil Zimbardo and I have been trying to get published for some time. It concerns the need to use group therapy ethically and effectively with
prisoners in California Corrections. With the proper planning and management, group therapy can help prisoners become integrated into society after being released from incarceration. But the group leaders must have adequate training and the program must have excellent supervision and administration.

Download to read the entire document.


Bill Roller

The Promise of Group Psychotherapy Blog

The Promise of Group Psychotherapy Blog