The Balint group is a group method of training doctors, generalists or specialists, in the doctor-patient relationship. This method was developed by Michael Balint and Enid Albu starting in 1945.
A dozen practitioners are brought together once a week for two hours under the direction of one or two analysts who receive honoraria and ensure the rules under which the group functions. A doctor reports, as spontaneously as possible, a case from his practice that poses a problem. Participants and leaders then help the presenter, by means associations, questions, and interpretations, to elucidate the difficulties in the presenter's relation with the patient.
The aim is to sensitize the doctor to transference and counter-transference in the "retroactive action" of the consultation, to give the doctor psychotherapeutic qualities, and thus to achieve a "considerable though limited change in the doctor's personality" to enable the doctor to better understand and help patients (Balint, 1957, p. 121).
Between 1949 and 1954 Balint and Albu elaborated and tested the method, by trial and error and by reminiscences, at the Tavistock Clinic in London, after Balint took up the Family Discussion Bureau seminar directed by Enid Albu (whom he would later marry). This seminar of case discussions trained social workers treating cases of marital problems. To define the link between client and social worker, Balint modified the case presentations, doing away with written and read reports in favor of oral presentations without notes, in order to maximize the conditions for counter-transference. This method, applying the fundamental rule, but always referred to a third party (the patient), was similar to Hungarian supervised analysis, centered on counter-transference.
The results were so impressive that when the National Health Service wanted to give doctors training in psychology, Michael Balint proposed the "Tavistock Method." Tested from 1950 to 1953, with volunteers recruited by The Lancet, it became a training and research method. French analysts who went to London to be trained soon renamed it the "Balint group."
The Balint movement, launched in the 1960s, is organized on the institutional level. Several national associations have been created: The Balint Medical Society of France (1967), The Balint Society of Great Britain (1969), and others in over twenty countries, including Italy (1974), Germany, Belgium, and Russia (1994). On the international level, the European Council recognized the Balint Federation as a nongovernmental agency. As of 2004, the work of the Balints continued, with training in Balint groups, colloquia, and national and international conferences.
Michelle Moreau Ricaud
See also: Hungarian School; Main, Thomas Forrest; Raimbault,Émile.
Balint, Michael. (1957). The doctor, his patient, and the illness. New York: International Universities Press.
Balint, Michael, and Balint, Enid. (1961). Psychotherapeutic techniques in medicine. London: Tavistock.
Balint, Michael, Balint, Enid, Gosling, Robert, and Hildebrand, H. Peter. (1979). Le médecin en formation: La sélection et l'évaluation des résultats dans un programme de formation destinéà des médecins de famille. Paris: Payot. (Original work published 1966)
Moreau Ricaud, Michelle (2000). Michael Balint: Le renouveau de l 'école de Budapest. Toulouse, France:Érès.