|1. Theoretical Formulation
The purpose is the theoretical development and empirical testing of the protomental system concept, originally proposed by Bion. This concept postulates a direct connection between social interaction and the mind-body balance. It aims to be applied in the theoretical and therapeutic conceptions of psychosomatic/somatic-psychic and behavioral disorders (psychogenic illness, substance abuse, eating disorders, and auto/hetero aggressive acting-out). These disorders are considered as group diseases, i.e. diseases where the psychical and biological components are indistinct, and are a function of the individual’s participation in specific group dynamics.
The protomental system concept denotes a psycho-physiologic matrix, which is supposed to originate the basic emotional phenomena characteristic of social interaction. Bion identified a primitive group mentality and its three sets of basic emotional phenomena, representing the atavistic motivational forces of the human aggregation, to which he called basic assumptions (ba): Dependence- feeding and parental care, Pairing - sexuality and breeding, Flight/Fight - competition, predation and self-preservation.
The protomental emotional expression is understood as being contained and interactively regulated by the human group so that the mutual processes of psychogenesis and socialization can evolve, at first in the relation with the mother figure/primary environment. These containment/regulation functions are seen as correspondent to a sophisticated psychosocial function to which Bion called work group function (w.g. function).
The deficits in containment/regulation of each basic assumption are hypothesised as being causally related to the occurrence of ‘group diseases’. These diseases correspond to the protomental expression of the basic assumptions that remain indistinct from, and relegated to, an individual, somatic and non-symbolic expression.
The association between deficits of emotional expression – known as alexithymia - and psychosomatic/somatopsychic and behavioural disorders has been fairly studied. However, the concept of protomental system aims at differentiating specific links between the deficits of expression of each set of basic assumption emotions and particular disorders. It also aims the integration between the findings in biological systems, individual and group/social psychology and psychoanalysis, representing a bio-psycho (analytic)-social model.
2. Empirical research
The general hypothesis is that deficits in containment/regulation of basic assumptions cause psychosomatic/somatic-psychic and behavioural disorders. The specific relations hypothesized are:
1) Substance misuses, and eating disorders, are caused by deficits in the Dependence ba
2) Psychosomatic and immunity system disorders are caused by deficits in the Flight/fight ba.
3) Life-risk behaviour and suicidal tendencies are associated with deficits in the Pairing ba.
2.2. Quantitative research
Realisation of a Quasi-experimental design, using a basic assumption’s work group function questionnaire as dependent variables and groups of patients’ disorders as independent variable.
2.3 Qualitative research
The objective is to assess qualitatively the work group function of the subjects in order to understand it more deeply. It also aims to assess retrospectively the work group function immediately before the onset of the problem, and so its causal effect in the beginning of the disorder.