Book Review: The Power of the Double Circle

I have recently read The Power of the Double Circle by Philip Springer, MD, and Shelby Havens, DNP.  It’s a small book (91 pages), but it sets out an idea that might have some value in support/self-help and other kinds of groups.

Dr. Springer is a retired psychiatrist, and Dr. Havens is a psychiatric nurse practitioner, but their position as set out in the book is something close to anti-psychiatry.

For instance:

“What is worth considering is that you may get more help from someone sitting next to you on a bus than from a professional.  At least you are assured that it is likely that you are next to a peer on the bus and someone who has some of the same experiences.  The professional, on the other hand, may only have faint recollections of a bus ride.  This is in part because of the dropping of the shield on the bus, while holding tightly to your secrets in the professional office.” (p xxi)

“What we can do is to set the record straight as to how we have come to trust knowledge from the experts too much and trust knowledge and experience from each other too little.” (p xxiii)

“In a 15-minute medication visit by a psychiatrist, nothing will be accomplished except that the psychiatrist must use words of caution concerning the medication because of fear of being sued.  He or she does not have time to concern himself with the patient’s true nature or true concerns but has plugged the patient into a diagnosis for which no real explanation is given to the individual.  It is a dreadful impasse to say the least.  It is not that there is or has been a true conspiracy but it turned out that the drug companies and insurance companies shared a common desire.  Both wanted to have a fixed diagnosis for which to render their brand of psychiatric servicing. As time has gone on, it has gotten only worse.” (p 19)

The book’s sub-title is:  “A Guide to the Supportive Person Group Process,” and this is the notion that was new to me and caught my attention.

The idea here is that small groups have enormous potential in terms of mutual support, learning, communication, encouragement, etc., but that sometimes individual members feel overwhelmed and find it difficult to participate or express themselves.

So, in a double circle group, each group member has a supportive person who sits behind him or her and is allowed to interject or clarify the individual’s position to a degree, and within parameters, agreed earlier by the two individuals.  “The outer circle person should rarely speak spontaneously, but may be invited to speak on behalf of the inner circle person.”

So there are two circles:  the group participants in the inner circle, and the supportive persons in the outer.

Then – and this is the interesting part – after a designated interval, the participants and the support persons switch roles.  The people in the outer circle move to the inner and vice versa.

Here are some quotes from the text:

“Although our stories and experiences are all different, people have many common themes that describe what it means to be human.” (p 36)

“Humans are naturally social creatures.  We’re hard wired for relatedness, and our energy comes from connecting with others.  When creating a connection, it can seem frightening at first, but it is our relationships with one another that help us grow and develop a rich, meaningful life.  We want to be seen, welcomed, and appreciated in an environment of safety, acceptance, and loving kindness.  We want to be able to speak our truth to one another.” (p 36)

“Each time the circles reverse, a new portal of perspective opens.  What had not been seen before is now seen with great clarity.” (p 38)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

In my view, the most significant development to arise from the anti-psychiatry effort is the increasing number of self-help/support groups. This is the great grass-roots movement that can ultimately make psychiatry redundant.  In that context, it occurred to me that the ideas set out in The Power of the Double Circle might be of interest to some groups.

Besides the Supportive Person idea, the book contains a range of related and tangential issues, which will inevitably elicit varying degrees of agreement from readers.  But the Double Circle and the Supportive Person are the core concepts, and are definitely worth examining.

The book is available from or from Amazon.

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I have no financial interests in this book or in any books or products that I mention in these writings.

  • Cledwyn Rembrance of Pus Past

    “It is our relationships with each other that help us grow…”

    Sod relationships. They are the source of almost all our problems.

    People are like water; we need a certain amount of them, but too much is poisonous. It is little wonder so many people are topping themselves; it is to escape the people plague, and the sickening spectacle the presence of so much fallen flesh affords.

    They’re everywhere. You try to escape them, to find some place that isn’t polluted with people, but there’s no escape; directly you find somewhere, they appear.

    Everywhere there are faces, smug faces, faces contorted into a look of sneering malice, faces spreading like a cancer in the endless conquest of faceless space bypassed by the fall into the face.

    (People are so enamored of their own faces, they even take photographs of them, and thus commit violence against photographic film. And they actually show these obscenities to you.)