'Psychoanalysis Today: Implications for Organizational Applications'
A Paper for the ISPSO International Symposium
July 7-9, 1995, London
The idea for this paper came out of last year's meeting in Chicago. I was struck by a gap between the use of psychoanalytic theories applied to organizations and the actual experience of being a practising psychoanalyst, at least my experience. Concepts like psychic structure (id, ego and super-ego) or drives or regression seemed to be applied with a kind of confidence and certainty about their meaning that, frankly, always eluded me in the consulting room but also increasingly, to my mind, seemed out-dated in the dialogues among my psychoanalytic colleagues in which I engage. It seemed timely -- and possibly even useful -- to attempt to speak about this gap.
I should make clear at the start that this paper comes from my experience, which is of course an American one. The issues may look somewhat different over here, and I am sure that any English or continental psychoanalyst would cite different texts and emphasize different points. But that being said, I feel there is sufficient commonality to warrant this effort.
The gap I experienced last year between my clinical practice and the application of psychoanalytic concepts to organizations could be viewed dynamically as a projective process occurring within our own organization. The authority of psychoanalysis is established and reaffirmed at the price of reifying and idealizing it. The very title of our organization suggests this: What is the psychoanalytic study of organizations? It is as if organizations come and go as objects of scrutiny, or change and vary in being studied, but psychoanalysis -- the constant adjective -- remains an unvarying attribute, a fixed lens through which the varieties of organizational experience may be viewed. I think this represents a false hope of clarity or certainty. But the illusion of this hope is more apparent to psychoanalysts, I suspect, who are forced to grapple with the practical and political dimensions of our theories within psychoanalytic communities day by day.
In a sense, the purpose of my talk is to argue that psychoanalysis in any sense that could lend itself to adjectival clarity and consistency just does not exist. Certainly as an enterprise it exists -- vitally so, I believe, even if, in America, patients are in short supply. But what sort of an enterprise it is and what relevance it has to work with organizations remains to be clarified.
What struck me most was the implicit idea -- sometimes explicitly stated -- that psychoanalysis consists of a series of discoveries about reality. That is, for example, Freud discovered the drives and the Oedipus complex; Klein discovered projective identification; Winnicott discovered transitional space; and so on.
Such "discoveries" -- often, I think, still thought of as psychological equivalents of the revolutionary discoveries of Copernicus or Darwin -- lend psychoanalysis a particular authority. Thus psychoanalysis "knows" about the deep and most fundamental reality of individual human experience: the extensive literature of psychoanalysis delineates and articulates the complex web of motivations and conflicts that always underlie human behavior.
Historically, I think, psychoanalysis has not been without guilt in promoting this view of itself. Indeed, Freud argued that those who deviate from orthodox psychoanalysis encourage resistance to the unwelcome basic "truths" of childhood sexuality, and the family "realities" of incestuous and murderous wishes. Moreover, by adopting an arcane and pseudo-scientific vocabulary -- terms like "ego," "libido," "cathexis," "complex," "representation," and so on -- psychoanalysts encouraged the belief that they dealt with mental objects that had the status of real things.
Two historical developments, I believe, have contributed to the destruction of this stance. One has to do with upheavals in our notions of reality and truth, post-modernist developments in science, philosophy and language that have affected much more than psychoanalysis. Here psychoanalytic researchers or those with philosophical interests have led the way. The other has to do more particularly with developments in psychoanalysis itself, the proliferation of different schools.
We can start, of course, with the notion that no one any more believes that psychoanalysis is a science in the sense that Freud thought it was. The positivistic faith that patiently gathering data and skeptically viewing our conclusions from that data would gradually produce a body of laws about mental functioning or clinical practice is now decisively gone. That is gone for all of science, I believe, as the very nature of scientific knowing has undergone significant transformation (see, for example, Polanyi, 1962, Kuhn, 1970). Now a days, we are more familiar with the notion that all knowledge is contextual, probabilistic, and provisional. It is particularly the case that the so-called softer or human sciences no longer aspire to the form or degree of certainty expected of the hard sciences. Yet, if it is the case that psychoanalysis deserves to be considered a science at all, it is decidedly unclear what kind of science it is, what its core hypotheses are that require confirmation, and what relevance that has to its clinical practice. Grunbaum's book. drove a stake through the heart of any simple assumptions about psychoanalytic science (Grünbaum, 1984; see also Robinson, 1993).
The recently popular alternative view that psychoanalysis is a hermeneutic discipline has been promoted in the work of Ricoeur (1970), Habermas (1968), Spence (1982), Schafer (1983) and others. But this view -- that psychoanalysis is more concerned with the internal coherence of the narrative constructions put together by patient and analyst than with its correspondence with reality -- while more robust, is encountering difficulties of its own. The hermeneutic alternative is attractive because it puts the stress on meaning, the reasons for human behavior, treating patients as agents and subjects of their behavior, not as objects of scrutiny, the causes for whose behavior are to be studied and determined. Moreover, it allows for the fact that psychoanalysts are engaged in linking together actions, intentions, emotions, perceptions and events into richer and fuller stories that replace the restricted and impoverished narratives our patients have carried around with them as expressions of their selves. But attractive as the notion of narrative coherence has been, nagging questions about "reality" or "truth" persist.
Most of us think it does matter what really happened in the lives of our patients, though we will never know for sure. Truth with a capital "T" is impossible to achieve, and the local and contingent particular truths we think we get at are always subject to revision. Yet it seems possible and valuable to discriminate some truths about the past as more true than others. And it does seem important to leave room for the observational work of infant researchers, biologists, neurologists, and others.
More important, though, is the increasing belief that we must respect the stubborn particulars of experience and memory and not fold them into the contours of our newer, better stories. Coherence cannot be the ultimate goal of analysis if it slights actual experience. Moreover, the idea of narrative coherence presupposes a single subject of experience, a unified protagonist, that analytic experience never completely identifies. If psychoanalysis has taught us anything it is that the person or the self is not so simple and is not likely to have a single story.
Philosophers of language have moved into the gap between the hermeneuticists and the hard scientists to help sustain the legitimacy of our contingent and provisional knowing. Psychoanalysis is about mental phenomena and, as such, is tied to language with all the opportunities for expression and imprecision that implies. As Cavell, working in the tradition of Wittgenstein and Davidson, put it recently: "Knowledge is . . . held in place by the very contingencies it takes for granted, as are one's mind and one's existence as a self. Neglect these contingencies and we lose a grip on the very idea of meaning." (1993, p. 41)
But, then, consider what has been stripped away from our historical stock of psychoanalytic concepts by these developments. Of course, we have lost the idea of the analyst as a neutral observer of the patient's experience and, along with that, the notion of the blank screen onto which the patient's transference can be projected and observed. Instead of a notion of objective reality and a subjective observer of that reality, we now have the two-person field of analytic space, what Greenberg in a recent article called the "interactive matrix." (Greenberg, 1995). The data of psychoanalysis is now seen fairly widely as co-constructed, the analyst as an implicated participant in the reality he or she seeks to analyze Paraphrasing Winnicott, Theodore Shapiro observed in stepping down as editor of the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, "Now there is no such thing as an analysand without an analyst." (Shapiro, 1993, p. 926; see also Hoffman, 1983) We can no longer think of psychoanalytic facts (Tuckett, 1995) emerging out of the patient's experience being subject to the disinterested expert interpretations of the analyst. Interpretations have been downgraded to the status of hypothetical, provisional constructions.
Worse, we need to revise the notion of primary process and the id as the cauldron of wishes that precede experience of the world. If our capacity for experience is fundamentally tied in with language, then there is no pre-linguistic "process" at least of the sort that Freud imagined in his "Two principles of mental functioning" or the kind of psychotic phantasizing Klein postulated. To be sure, there are "unformulated" experiences or memory traces of bodily sensations; there may even be early mental images that are retained. There are important memories of experience lying on the borders of linguistic competence, and there are, of course, early experiences that are encoded in crude and -- from the perspective of adult experience -- distorted or misleading terms, perhaps in the form of Piaget's concrete or pre-operational learning. Certainly we have the phenomena of enactments and dreams to account for, as well as what Bollas refers to as the "unthought known." (Bollas, 1987) But there is no coherent pre-linguistic sub-stratum or processing of experience that functions dynamically in competition with rational or secondary process, on the analogy of, say, a "primitive" culture pre-existing, and co-existing with an "advanced" civilization -- if, indeed, even that analogy itself has any validity remaining to us. That is, such a concept is just not consistent with current philosophical views of development and knowledge.
Other consequences follow from this, unsettling to many traditional psychoanalytic concepts. The concept of repression has to be thought about differently, without the notion of a dynamic unconscious pulling memories out of awareness. It is more difficult now to hold onto the notion of representations, that is the idea that our mind contains more or less accurate images of external objects, on the one hand, or imagos, on the other, that represent past or current experience (Friedman, 1978). If all experience is mediated by language, we have to be cautious in the deductions we make about the direct experience of things, the "representations" we encounter in the discourse of patients. They are not the raw data of experience we once thought them to be.
The net result of these developments is that, as Robert Holt put it: "For the foreseeable future, psychoanalysis is in the awkward position of having to abandon metapsychology without having any equally comprehensive and more tenable substitute ready at hand." (Holt, 1989, p. 215)
This is one revolutionary development affecting psychoanalytic thinking. I am sure that most of you who are not practising analysts are familiar with the larger intellectual developments from which these implications stem. But if you are not practising, you may not have had the opportunity to witness from within the discipline the impact these developments have had and still are having. I am not suggesting by the way that most currently practising analysts are fully informed and following these developments. It is more a matter of the ground shifting under analytic theory. Some are working at this frontier directly. Most, I think, suffer a loss of confidence in the concepts with which they still continue to work.
The other revolutionary development -- more important, I believe, in its direct impact upon psychoanalytic practice -- has come from intellectual and political developments within psychoanalysis itself. As Wallerstein observed in his presidential address to the 1989 International Congress at Rome: "The structure of psychoanalysis has by far burst the thought boundaries set for it by Freud, boundaries which he had intended to be enduringly maintained by the famous committee he created, of the seven ring holders." (Wallerstein, 1990, p. 3) The proliferation of so many schools of psychoanalysis, Object Relations, Ego Psychology, Self Psychology, Interpersonal, Lacanian, etc. -- each one of which has become securely established or entrenched somewhere in the world -- has led to a situation of some confusion and embarrassment. This is particularly so, I believe, at a time when psychoanalysis is under attack from so many directions. The old institutional defences of authoritarian control on the one hand or splitting and schism (Eisold, 1994) on the other clearly no longer serve to begin to cope with this situation.
Wallerstein's position is to discriminate psychoanalytic metapsychology, the general theories that differentiate different schools, as "explanatory symbols, i.e. the metaphors, which embody our intellectual commitments and values and to which we differentially adhere," from the more experience-near "clinical theory" implicit in actual practice, a testable theory "which binds and unifies us as psychoanalysts." (Wallerstein, 1988, p. 17) Holding out the hope that greater experience and research would eventually lead to a new conceptual clarity and synthesis for the larger theoretical framework of psychoanalysis, he explicitly rejected the hermeneutic alternative. His key point is that he thought it possible to discern in clinical practice the common ground in all schools -- in effect, the defining experience-near ideas, the operational beliefs that all psychoanalysts rely upon in their clinical work.
Wallerstein's conclusion about the common ground is that it consists of "a shared clinical theory of defence and anxiety, of conflict and compromise, of transference and countertransference." (Wallerstein, 1990, p. 11) But as many have pointed out in response, each of these ideas refers to a potential multiplicity of meanings: defences, anxiety, conflicts, transference -- all these mean different things to different analysts (see, for example, Schafer, 1990). In short the effort to shift to "clinical theory" as a way out of the impasse has moved the debate but in no way has it solved the problem.
Wallerstein is by no means alone in his effort to find in the actual clinical practice of psychoanalysis a unifying "clinical theory." The very term refers to the pioneering work of George Klein (1976), to which he prominently alludes; more recently Merton Gill (1982) has sought to find the central thread in transference analysis, Fred Pine (1990) has sought to systematize the different "psychologies" with respect to different orders of pathology, Edgar Levenson (1983) the relationship or algorithm of practice that produces therapeutic benefits. Here in England, I could point to the pronounced clinical emphasis in the work of Patrick Casement, Adam Phillips, and others, and to the more creative and metaphorical theorizing of Bollas.
I could go on, but the point is that there has been a profound shift away from theory and into practice. Not all such efforts to stress clinical practice present themselves as solutions to theoretical pluralism; indeed currently there is a great deal of emphasis on examining the actual clinical effects of different theoretical orientations. A frequently encountered format today at professional meetings is to have a clinical presentation followed by comments from members of different schools aimed at discovering what if any practical consequences in treatment flow from their larger theoretical differences. In effect, one might say, psychoanalysts today are becoming somewhat more skeptical themselves about their theories and the meaning of their differences, at the same time as they are becoming curious about the actual clinical effects of holding different positions.
Wallerstein's effort to find the common ground, paradoxically, has had the effect of hastening the demise of metapsychology. Trivializing the defining differences of divergent schools, to stress the role of psychoanalytic theories as constructs, models, metaphors, etc. primarily useful in capturing or characterizing different aspects of experience, he suggests that the grounds for contesting important theoretical differences simply do not exist. Thus metapsychology has slid further into disrepute.
All of this takes place against a background in which, over the years, some of the basic Freudian notions have been discredited (Holt, 1985). The death instinct, of course, was always problematic. But, then, experimental evidence has undermined the theory of libido and instincts in general. Child development studies have pretty much eliminated the notion of primary narcissism as a developmental stage, or "infantile autism" as Mahler called it. The recent upsurge of interest in victims of child abuse together with the discovery that the incidence of incest appears to be much greater than we had thought has called into question Freud's abandonment of the "seduction theory" of hysteria, an event that had always been seen as pivotal in the history of psychoanalysis. Perhaps more important has been the impact of statistical studies that demonstrate that no psychoanalytic school had a particular advantage over any other in producing therapeutic results. As a result, the whole notion of the authority of psychoanalytic beliefs has been eroded and, with it, the presumption that because a key tenet of metapsychology has been held to for many years, has in fact been made into a shibboleth of orthodoxy, that is no guarantee of its continuing endurance, its truth or utility. If one looks at recent journals or books for a respectful reference to metapsychology -- indeed, for almost any reference at all -- one looks in vain, an implicit acknowledgement, I think, that the old ambition of psychoanalysis to achieve unity and hegemony has been abandoned.
Nowadays, we psychoanalysts are more commonly inclined to recognize that we are "adrift in the fog of reality" -- to use Jon Stokes evocative phrase -- and that the various "discoveries" we were taught are, in fact, mere metaphors or models that may or may not apply to particular clinical situations. Moreover, we have to scrutinize why at any particular moment in our on-going relatedness to our patients we are inclined to think any one particular theory may apply and what that inclination in itself may be telling us. That is, the new stress on the clinical situation and the process of interaction between two subjects, the analyst and the analysand, compels a deepened introspection on the part of analysts into the very role of theory as an aspect of counter-transference. If theory is not mandated because it is authoritative and true, it becomes a possession of the analyst, and the analyst must wonder why he chooses to think of that theory at that time to account for his experience of the patient. In effect, the roles of theory and experience have been reversed.
To put this another way: psychoanalysis no longer seems to be an organized body of knowledge, a single or coherent discipline. With the metapsychologies faded into the background, the current stress on clinical practice and efforts to observe, define and compare various forms of clinical practice is an interesting, useful but, I think, temporary condition. One can still discern within the current "discussions" the old competitions and rivalries. The intolerance is muted, suppressed, viewed as a form of bad taste. But it still exists. A few extremists have emerged to represent the old differences, but they are ambivalently viewed.
What I think will inevitably emerge out of this current situation -- although the time is not ripe -- is the notion that psychoanalysis is a domain of study or exploration: the domain of irrational behavior that cannot be accounted for by consciously understood motives, the domain of the unconscious. I am using "unconscious" here not in the orthodox sense of a drive suffused system or, even, of a mental region. More simply, I mean it as the domain of motives that operate irrationally, or, more precisely, the domain of behavior that does not make sense in terms of the patient's self-interest or developmental needs: to put it in personal terms, it is the domaine of what Rorty has called the "sensitive, whacky, backstage partner, who feeds us our best lines." (Rorty, 1984, p. 150) Psychoanalysis may come to be thought of as defining an area of inquiry.
I mean this inclusively: transferences, displacements, projections, defences, identifications, basic assumption behaviors, etc. -- these are all hypothesized mechanisms that describe and to some extent account for the behaviors that put us at cross purposes with our consciously articulated goals, whether in the realms of personal relationships or work. This is to take seriously Wallerstein's suggestion -- perhaps more seriously than he intended -- that all the paraphernalia of metapsychology has now become a treasure trove of images and metaphors that may or may not be useful in any particular case but which certainly as a whole needs to be maintained. Each analysis is a unique encounter between two subjects where it cannot be clear ahead of time what is being sought or, even, how to proceed. No explanatory construct can be ruled out a priori.
What are the implications for working with organizations that stem from these developments? What is the relationship between psychoanalysis as it is now and organizational consultation? In one way, of course, this way of looking at psychoanalysis simplifies things, freeing it from connection to any particular body of theory, any school, as well as from the encumbrance of any particular method: free association, the couch, the analysis of transference, etc. Psychoanalysis, then, is not about what takes place between two persons, or in a consulting room, or as the result of psychological abstinence. It is an area of investigation that is defined by the limits of the rational, an instrumentality for probing problematic experience.
A number of our colleagues have already arrived at such a position, albeit sometimes somewhat apologetically. I note, for example, in a recent wonderfully clear and helpful paper on the topic by Hunt and McCollom (1994) the following comment: "Since a definition of psychoanalytic knowledge is beyond the scope of this paper, we will take as a starting point the idea that psychoanalytically grounded organizational consultation has as one of its goals the illumination of unconscious processes." (p. 2) Elileli, noting that the field of psychoanalytically oriented organizational consultation is in the process of creating itself, says: "These creative analysts . . . will seem bizarre to their analyst colleagues and different from all the organizational consultants. They will, however, find a common language with the client who can make good sense of the process they are undergoing and can see how this process is connected to the organization as a whole, and to the individuals within it." (Elieli, 1994, p. 81) Similarly, these sentences by Jon Stokes: "Knowing about the unconscious is very different from knowledge obtained from a book or a teacher. It is knowing through acquaintance, through being in a particular state of mind." (Stokes, 1994, p. 318) Organizational practitioners -- like psychoanalysts -- have been driven to take up such sensible, pragmatic positions I believe by virtue of the practical demands of their work.
So what can we say about the general features of a practice that addresses the realm of irrational experience in organizational settings and draws upon the treasure trove of psychoanalytic observations, practice and theories?
On the whole, the more one knows about the various theories and practices that have been developed within the psychoanalytic tradition -- and the more experience one has had applying them -- the more one has to work with. Much can be said about what constitutes clinical skills and how to develop them, but that seems a somewhat different topic. What seem specifically relevant here are two points: one is about the nature of psychoanalytic knowing, the other about complexity.
What strikes me as most useful about psychoanalytic knowledge is that it is about not knowing and not understanding: being able to recognize the gaps in what we think we know and tolerating ignorance and uncertainty. Psychoanalysts may be primarily useful in this endeavour not because they know about the unconscious but rather because they are more familiar with the dilemmas of not knowing, more practised at discerning the discrepancies in narratives that are designed to appear seamless or normal, and more acquainted with the variety and weaknesses of the models that have been proposed to account for irrational behavior. Thus they may be able to see problems where they were not perceived and ask questions that were not thought (see Menzies-Lyth, 1988). This aspect of psychoanalytic knowing -- knowing how knowledge can be used as deception -- has been beautifully written about by David Armstrong (1992).
The second point, about complexity, has to do with understanding the multiple levels on which irrational behavior can be understood: I discriminate the three levels of individual, group, and organization, but perhaps others may be discriminated as well. This too is a point that others have made, but I don't think it can be stressed enough because one does not find much interest or support for this in the traditional psychoanalytic literature. Indeed, I think most analysts are somewhat phobic about what goes on outside the consulting room.
In appreciating the complexity of levels I am drawing upon my experience in group relations which provides unparalleled opportunities to experience and study first hand irrational processes on the group and institutional level. My point here is that in approaching irrational behavior we cannot assume in advance that we know even the proper frame of reference.
Let me provide a few brief examples from my own work. These are deliberately intended to be limited, coming out of my effort to reflect upon what I think I bring to my consulting work as a psychoanalyst. One example is of a situation where interpretations were never offered.
I have worked for several years with the director of a professional organization for academics that sponsors a series of retreats for department chairs. In that time we have devised several roles for me to play at some of these retreats, some of which have worked out better than others; but it does seem to both of us that we are getting better at figuring out how best to use me and that that in turn has been helpful to him in thinking about how to make the retreats more effective. One role has been to consult to a workshop for newly appointed or elected chairs at these retreats, providing some introductory thoughts on some of the dilemmas inherent in the chair's role as well as process observations on the course of the ensuing discussions. Another role, which I took up last year, was to comment in a closing plenary on what I took to be the underlying themes of the retreat. And so on.
Last spring, as the retreat I was at drew to a close, I told the director -- with whom I felt I had an extremely cordial relationship of mutual respect -- that the press of other commitments would make it extremely difficult for me to be available the following year at the times these retreats were usually scheduled. His reaction surprised me. He took the news, which I thought would disappoint him, with what seemed like mild relief. That is, he spoke of his disappointment but didn't press me for my reasons or wonder aloud what he would do to replace me. I wondered to myself: Was he relieved for budgetary reasons? Did he feel an unconscious competition with me? Had members of his board complained?
Several months later, in the course of a follow-up meeting with him, I brought it up. He was intrigued and thoughtful about my observation, saying he had been unaware of it at the time; but as he thought about it more, he realized that indeed he did feel some relief. What emerged was his own conflict between wanting to experience these retreats as recreation and relief from his professional burdens and his wanting to make them more and more effective means of intervention into the profession. My being there to help him, thus, had intensified his conflict, making him resentful in ways of which he was not fully aware. He then linked this to a series of public outbursts that had puzzled us at the time in which, in effect, he scolded members of the retreat for failures to take some issues seriously enough.
This made a lot of sense on the personal level: he had a kind of missionary zeal which he brought to his work; at the same time, he was struggling to relax in his role, feel less urgency about saving the profession, and also find more space for a daughter who had been born the year before. But after we explored this, I suggested that perhaps this had meaning on the institutional level as well. Perhaps the members of the retreat were also torn: on the one hand, they had the opportunity to get away from the pressure of their departments, to relax, compare notes, network, and enjoy the usually very beautiful surroundings which were thoughtfully chosen; on the other, they had the opportunity to face their professional dilemmas and contribute to building the organizational competence of the field. This conflict was built into the retreat: members wouldn't be induced to come unless it offered relief; on the other hand, they couldn't justify coming if it wasn't work.
Recognizing this dilemma helped us as we proceeded to think about structuring the event we were thinking about, where it became increasingly clear that the director had to relinquish control over the outcome, allowing the members to find their own balance between competing needs and wishes.
My other example is from a consultation I am doing with a colleague, Marvin Geller, to a group of faculty members at a graduate school. We were called in because the faculty has been beset by a series of rancorous conflicts in the wake of the departure of a powerful dean, conflicts that have virtually paralyzed their ability to make new appointments or approve new courses. The working hypothesis we have developed is that in the course of being dramatically transformed by the dean -- who brought in new money for programs, established important new links with the local community, and funded several new endowed professorships -- the faculty had failed to develop any sense of a common corporate identity. On the contrary, their links were all to the departed dean upon whom they had become dependant. His departure not only left them bereft in ways they could not recognized because they felt so angry but also helpless because they had no links to each other.
My purpose here is to describe a recent meeting of the senior faculty to which we consulted. I choose this because it is not only fresh in my mind but also because I think it provides a good and appropriately modest example of the way in which I believe our analytic skills in discerning unconscious processes helped to move things along. I want to identify what seem to me in retrospect three critical moments
Asked at the end of the previous meeting to prepare a document for discussion based on proposals the faculty members themselves had advanced, I introduced the document by reiterating that the "proposals" it contained were their suggestions and adding my impression that a number of members of the group at the previous meeting had not expressed their true feelings of mistrust and skepticism that such proposals could be effective. This was based, in part, on several telephone conversations Marvin and I had had since the previous meeting with members of the group, conversations that members of the group themselves had suggested we have.
My introductory comments were greeted with a kind of sullen, embarrassed silence, broken finally by an angry accusation by one member of the group that we had put them in an impossible bind. He demanded I tell them what we were withholding. My reply was that I didn't feel we could; the problem they faced was finding the way to talk to each other. We then remained silent -- our first important strategic intervention. As I see it, we refused to be coerced into continuing as the objects of their dependency, though we had gratified their dependency up to that point in providing the document they requested and following their further suggestion of talking with members. In that sense, the faculty member was right about our having put them in a bind. At the same time, we implied that their anger was really with each other.
The effect of this was to produce a long silence, finally broken by a faculty member who had been most outspoken in objecting to the presence of outside consultants and who had boycotted the previous two meetings. He said he doubted he would stay at this meeting unless he could see some action coming out of it, and that as far as he could tell our proposals simply called for more talk which had been a great waste of time. Marvin then replied that indeed this member of the faculty had been outspoken all along about the importance of action as a solution, that he had earlier made a proposal along with others for reorganizing the school into departments, and that in this he represented a significant difference in the group. This was our second strategic intervention: again, instead of rising defensively to the challenge, we recognized his contribution to the discussion. In effect, we placed him within the debate. The result was that he continued talking -- and the others responded.
From this point on, the group needed very little from us. Having gotten them started talking to each other, our job was to stay out of their way. What eventually emerged was a consensus that they needed to talk freely with each other about the competition between divisions and programs for faculty lines, and they agreed to address this head on at their next meeting.
Our third strategic intervention came near the end, as they were at the point of commiting themselves to this topic. Suddenly afraid of the hostility and suspiciousness they were about to publicly surface, I think, they turned to us to ask if we felt they were ready for such a test. Our reply was. in effect, that this was the topic that had emerged in their own discussion; any other would necessarily be evasive and inauthentic. In this instance, we responded to their dependency, and they proceeded with their plans for the next meeting.
Psychoanalysis here was present in our own private assessment of their unexpressed unconscious motives on the group level and our understanding of the need for a psychological process of joining to occur. Frankly, I am convinced that an explicit interpretation of their motives -- psychoanalysis of the classical style, or group relations training of the old school -- would have been counter-productive: gladly and unproductively would they have banded together against us.
I am far from making the point that only a psychoanalyst could have handled this situation. But I am making the point that it requires clinical skills to make such judgements. And I am linking to the point that psychoanalysis today is essentially a clinical discipline.
It may seem that we have come a long way from the topic with which I started, the death of metapsychology. But this is precisely what the loss of psychoanalysis as a coherent body of theory has left us with: skills in groping with the irrational and baffling elements of human behavior. That may finally be worth a lot more.
I would like to close, though, with another point: our potential contribution to psychoanalysis. Those of us who work in organizations see things psychoanalysts working in their consulting rooms do not see: the impact of unconscious motives having to do with group and organizational membership. Edelson has made the point that this is every bit as revolutionary as Freud's initial discovery of the power of unconscious motivation -- and far more difficult for psychoanalysts to grasp (Edelson, 1970).
There is much about this to explore, but I think the key point is that it raises fundamental issues about how to think about persons or selves. I find myself, for example, frequently resorting to the idea of identity in trying to account for the importance of the affiliative or membership needs of people in organizations. But identity has not been a central concept in psychoanalytic thought, and it is not easy to relate it to current notions of the self. There is a small literature on the subject, and, of course, there are Erikson's writings on the subject of identity crisis. Psychoanalysts frequently use the term informally: they apply it to themselves in raising questions of their own professional identities, for example. It strikes me that we could make a significant contribution to understanding identity, especially given the vantage points in looking at human behavior we frequently take up on the boundaries of organizations where identities are so frequently assumed and altered.
This is an exciting time in the history of psychoanalysis. As Kernberg recently said: "I see the proliferation of alternative theoretical models -- the British object relations, self psychology, the hermeneutic approach, interpersonal analysis, the Lacanian school -- less as a threat and more as a spur to psychoanalytic development, a potential enriching of theory and research, and as a stimulus to research." (Kernberg, 1993, p. 47-48) We belong in there too!
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