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Multimedia Archives of the A. K. Rice Institute


Dialogues II

Authority – Is it a new Scarlet Letter?

Yours, Mine, Ours and Theirs: How did we get Here and Where do we go Now?

May 1 - 3, 2015

Chicago, IL



Keynote Address

M. Gerard Fromm, PhD, ABPP

M. Gerard Fromm, Ph.D., is currently Senior Consultant to the Erikson Institute of the Austen Riggs Center and Assistant Clinical Professor, Yale Child Study Center. He was the first Evelyn Stefansson Nef Director of the Erikson Institute from 2002-2013, and directed the Therapeutic Community Program at Riggs for many years.

Dr. Fromm is certified in psychoanalysis by the American Board of Professional Psychology, is on the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute for Psychoanalysis, and has taught at a number of psychoanalytic institutes, including the Berkshire Psychoanalytic Institute, the Emory Psychoanalytic Institute, the Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis and the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California.

He is also the current President of the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations and a past President of the Center for the Study of Groups and Social Systems in Boston, where he served for three years as Director of CSGSS’s residential Group Relations Conferences. He has also served on the staff of Group Relations Conferences in the United States, Europe and Israel, and is a member of the International Dialogue Initiative, in which he works closely with Dr. Vamik Volkan on the psychodynamics of societal conflict.

Dr. Fromm has presented and published widely, including the edited volume, with Bruce L. Smith, Ph.D., The Facilitating Environment: Clinical Applications of Winnicott’s Theory; Lost in Transmission: Studies of Trauma Across Generations; Taking the Transference, Reaching toward Dreams: Clinical Studies in the Intermediate Area; and A Spirit That Impels: Play, Creativity and Psychoanalysis.



Learning From the Director's Role

Edward R. Shapiro, MD

An AKRI member since 1974 and one of the founding members of the Boston Center, Dr. Shapiro has been on the staff of 40 conferences in this country and abroad, including two stints as Director of AKRI's  Residential Conference (1989-90 and 2012-2015). He has devoted his career, including his writings, to the applications of group relations work illuminated by his 20 year role as Medical Director/CEO of the Austen Riggs Center. In this presentation, he will focus on the applications of "learning from the (conference) director's role."



Are We a Sentient Wreck or a Normal Tribe?
Exploring Our Stories of Leadership, Power and Authority in AKRI

Earl Braxton, PhD, Solomon Cytrynbaum, PhD, Howard Friedman, PhD, Charla Hayden, MA, Janice Wagner, MSW, & Nancy Wilson, PhD

Assuming our history over the past half century reflects who we were, are, and may be becoming, this panel will examine key events over the history of the A.K. Rice Institute and its Affiliates, and try to discern the meaning of the stories that have grown up about them in an effort to chart our identity as an institution over time. We will consider the impact of external forces like culture, politics, the economy, etc. on AKRI and possible parallels between events in our organization and events over time in the larger environment. Themes related to authority, leadership and power will be emphasized. We will place a particular emphasis on how regional or Affiliates’ experiences have interacted with the national organization and each other.

This panel is made up of people who live in widely separated parts of the U.S., have been members of different Centers/Affiliates over decades, and who have a variety of perspectives on the impact of events in AKRI’s history. It is our hope that this will provide a wide angle lens to see and understand the meaning of stories told about sentinel events in our histories. We also expect that examining our shared history together will help us learn more about our collective unconsciousness as expressed in the life of AKRI.

During the session we plan to engage those who attend in an inquiry into what’s being presented here: Is this OUR story? Are there multiple variations of the same story? Why and where do they come from? What can we understand from that? What has our history cost us? What have we gained? Where do we go from here? Should we continue to examine the stories we tell ourselves in the future? And is our story connected to the regions where we live, society at large, or global developments? How do we think about these questions?



Organizational Learning and Change:
From Collaboration to Implementation in a Partially Defined Authority Structure

Richard Lewis, PhD, & Patricia Kummel, PhD & Other Training Collaborative Members and Conference Staff

AKRI’s Training & Certification Committee and the Training Collaborative (itself consisting of representatives from each of the AKRI affiliates and from the T&C) jointly proposed a pre-Dialogues, low-cost group relations conference to study issues of organizational leadership and change and to provide opportunities for trainees to gain experience and further their training.

This presentation will focus on two elements of the emergence of this conference. One part will focus on the progress and dynamics of the AKRI subgroups supporting conference consultant training. Authorization processes will be highlighted since these have been profoundly important to the continuation of our work. We will also explore how moving from coordinating work to taking action, i.e., adding to the focus of the group’s work, may have generated “casualties”.

The second focus will be the themes emerging from the April 27-29 Conference itself–what learning can be carried forward in the Dialogues and how the Dialogues and Conference themes intersect.



Re-visiting the Foundations, or Who is A. K. Rice and Why Should We Care?
A Look at Group Relations Theories Past, Present, and Future

Bernard Gertler, PhD & Ronald Sharrin, PhD

Want to learn more about the thinking of Bion, Rice, and other theorists who influenced our group relations conference model? What questions were these thinkers struggling with that group relations was the answer to? What are the foundations of our model for learning about authority, leadership and the dynamics of groups?

How has the model shifted over time, and how might we look at these shifts in the light of developing insights into what happens in present-day group and organizational life? What might the early theorists think if they could see us now? Are they still relevant, useful?



Discovering What Counts in Consultation:Exploring Authority & Identity

NY Center Executive Committee Members: Kristin Bakalar, Mary McRae, Howard Friedman; Frank Carson, Mineko Anne Legendy, Frank Marrocco & R.C. Whitehouse CTIWG representative

This panel discussion will include NY Center members who consult in various settings: organizational, education, leadership, clinical practice, and/or group relations. The intent is to open a dialogue about our experiences in consulting roles, and how the issues of authority and identity get played out.

Panel members will offer short vignettes about their experiences during a specific consultation, focusing on the intersection of authority & identity. Paradoxical, intentional and unexpected directions resulting from these consultations will be explored. What parts of our identity were revealed? What parts were kept covered? Why? What role does the client play in these situations, and how is their authority embedded into the choices we make as consultants? And more…

The program will be a participatory experience: the Panel Members will share their experiences Discovering What Counts in consulting, and will ultimately highlight the results – good or bad – of their consultation. Participants are also encouraged to bring brief personal examples that raise questions or have generated hypotheses about the intersection between authority and identity. The program will look at areas of overlap, lessons learned, questions, thoughts, reactions, hypotheses, and other reactions, in order to understand the practice of consulting, how these concepts relate, and what might become “best practices.”



Talking About Structural Inequalities in Everyday Life: 
New Politics of Race in Groups, Organizations, and Social Systems

Ellen L. Short, PhD & Leo Wilton, PhD

Much of the recent research on racism has focused on the influence of racial micro-aggressive experiences for people of color (Sue & Sue, 2013), particularly as related to theoretical and empirical work in this area. Significantly, current events, for example, involving Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Marissa Alexander, police brutality of an older African American attorney couple in the New York City, as well as other disturbing incidents, have illustrated the pervasive nature of racism in the United States and internationally. The purpose of this proposed presentation is to provide an opportunity to examine how the complexities of racism from a systems perspective can be difficult to talk about in a variety of societal contexts. Critical emphasis will be placed on how power relations structure organizations and communities within their broader socio-historical, -political, -economic, and -cultural contexts, as well as how race, gender, social class, and sexuality relate to these larger processes. More specifically, these domains will be examined based on an applied theoretical understanding of authority and authority relations within a systems context.

Within this context, the absence of an exploration of these cultural dynamics often leads to covert processes that are expressed interpersonally in the form of projections and stereotyping. In particular, suppressing talk about racism in the dominant culture has traditionally served to marginalize and oppress people of color in therapeutic contexts. The subtle, barely visible, and sometimes unspeakable behavioral practices around these cultural dynamics will be explored in the presentation, which will help individuals to think about how these processes have an impact on societal structures. Furthermore, a key emphasis will be placed on developing awareness to the dynamics of power, powerlessness, and authority that have an impact on these cultural dynamics.

Specifically, this proposed presentation will provide critical attention to contemporary, innovative, and cutting-edge issues in group, organizational, and social systems that address the complexities of racialized structural inequalities in everyday life.





Promoting Self-Authorization through an Expressive Therapy Systems Program for PTSD Veterans and their Families:

An Application of Group Relations Conceptualization, Design, and Work

John Patrick Bair, PhD, Ms. Kathleen McVey, Ms. Emily Sproule & Ms. Andriana Hamm

The Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center is the site of a robust and historic treatment program for Combat Veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and their families. The Program consists of comprehensive assessment and treatments for hundreds of outpatients each year. Over two hundred Veterans complete our six week residential treatment program annually. The Expressive Therapy Programs represent an innovative approach in the application of group relations to the societal challenge of addressing the tragic and increasingly common Veteran and civilian mental disorder of PTSD.

In order to apply group relations methodology to expressive therapy applications for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, we conceptualized an integration of the two models, Group Relations Conference methodology, theory, and the scientific and clinical applications in the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We propose to present literature, our applications and findings, discussion of treatment structures themes and issues, and our longitudinal data. Presenters will include several Veterans who will speak of their learning from our series of large and small groups and conferences. Finally, we will discuss the implications from our findings for future research and for related applications.

This presentation provides a rationale for and demonstrates how the application and structure of group relations along with expressive therapy systems of treatment, systemically promotes incubation of insight, learning, and engagement in new self-authorizing behavior among veterans with combat Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. This will include group relations and psychological theory as well as experiential demonstration, and discussion with Combat Veterans involved in treatment for PTSD.



The Beijing Group Relations Conference 2014: Cross-cultural Learning and Implications for the Future

Seth Harkins, EdD, Suma Jacob, M.D., PhD, Dannielle Kennedy, LCSW, PhD, Victoria Te You Moore, John Robertson, MD, Huang Xiaochang , MS, & Na Zang , MA

This session is an examination and critique of the Beijing Group Relations Conference 2014: Authority, Leadership and Recovery from Mental Illness and Addiction. This conference holds significance for AKRI and other group relations organizations and practitioners for several reasons:

  • The Conference was the first group relations conference in China. China is an untapped market for group relations, as this country further develops as a market economy in an era of globalism. A significant challenge was establishing the infrastructure to support this endeavor.
  • The Conference was conducted in English and Mandarin, presenting important cross-cultural challenges in learning about authority, leadership, and unconscious phenomena. Building on the training of Chinese group psychotherapists by Ruthellen Josselson, Molyn Leszcz, and Professor Fan Fumin of Tsinghua University, a model of cultural interpretation, rather than language translation, was employed to facilitate learning.
  • The Conference occurred within contemporary geopolitics and a historical-cultural context of imperialism and colonialism that shaped authority-in-the-mind by staff consultants and members. Within this context, Chinese society faces challenges regarding mental illness and addiction similar to other countries.
  • The Conference was an alternative experiential learning modality in a Confucian Heritage Culture. This contrasted hugely our group relations joining in here-and-now learning. Additionally, the integration of Twelve Step recovery meetings and Tai Chi provided further opportunities to examine these experiential modalities. The following questions provide the framework for this presentation:

    1. What did the entire conference staff learn about leadership and authority from the Conference experience?
    2. What did the Conference staff learn about unconscious phenomena?
    3. What hypotheses emerged from this learning?
    4. What are the implications of this learning for future conferences in China and other cross-cultural group relations conferences?



Replicating Reality: Using the Inter-Group/Institutional Event Model
to Simulate Societal Dynamics and Explore the Complexity of Working
for Change

Evangeline Sarda, JD

I teach a course in a US law school called Law, Leadership and Social Justice: The Public Interest Practitioner as an Agent of Change. The course is interdisciplinary, drawing materials, students and guest lecturers from different disciplines, with attention paid to the use of law as a tool for change and the inter-systemic role of the public interest practitioner. The leadership portion of the course draws heavily from Group Relations theory. To explore group relations concepts experientially, a colleague and I developed a simulation that is modeled on an Inter-Group / Institutional Event. The simulation is based on a common situation in local communities throughout the United States: the rezoning of school systems. Although common, the issue engenders impassioned debates, schisms within the community, and deadlocked discussions that impede selection and implementation of a plan. My colleague was brought into a local school rezoning debate in her role as an ACLU lawyer. Her continued questions (related to the experience and the capacity of law and lawyers to engage and truly represent the needs of local communities), coupled with our belief that this “fact pattern” brought to light several issues discussed in class, led us to conceive this simulation.

The simulation is based on real events and real people. A colleague and I will run at least an abbreviated version of the simulation at Dialogues 2. A discussion and debrief of the exercise will follow. During the discussion/debrief, participants will be invited to share their experience of the simulation, and make links to role, task, authority, representation, etc. Participants will also be invited to make links to larger group, systemic, historical and societal dynamics, and explore the usefulness of such simulations in our work.



What Is the “International” Piece in an International Group Relations Conference?

Ray Bakaitis, (US), Michelle May (South Africa), &Ugo Merlone (Italy)

AKRI’s annual conference is organized as an international conference. But what is the significance and effect upon the conference of its international moniker?

This panel will explore this question. Panelists have all attended international conferences in the United States and in other countries. Drawing from their experiences, panelists will address questions such as how international conferences differ from domestic conferences and how international conferences differ from country to country. How does membership and staff composition differ in different countries? How is authority exercised differently in an international conference compared to a domestic conference? What are some commonly occurring differences in authority dynamics that seem to emerge in international conferences in different countries? Suggestions for organizing the AKRI international conference will be offered.



The Tragedy of Commons:
What might it tell us about systemic issues in the World of Group Relations?

Ugo Merlone & John Wilkes

In this presentation we will explore the working hypothesis that when doing the business of Group Relations, those involved are being drawn into the Tragedy of Commons.

In 1968 biologist Garrett Hardin compared the concept of shared resources to the grazing pasture for use by all, often known in England as the Commons. Following this metaphor, everyone with rights to the Commons will graze as many animals as possible, acting in self-interest for the greatest short-term personal gain. Eventually, when all the grass in the pasture will be used; the shared resource will be depleted and no longer useful.

We will consider the following question: Should the fate of Group Relations be left to the power of markets? This question mirrors a similar one which has been discussed by Harvard professors Michael Sandel and Michael Porter at TEDGlobal 2013: Should the fate of our social values – healthcare, family, education and the like – be left to the power of markets?

In Group Relations our learning happens mostly by experience, therefore in this contribution we aim to take the participants through an experience involving this kind of phenomena in a collective activity in which they will be a part of the system.

Following this activity we will present our thoughts about how psychoanalytic thinking can help us understand the phenomena the participants have experienced. We will then invite participants to reflect together on their emotions and feelings as they move from the “here and a some minutes ago” via an input of theory to the “there and the tomorrow” of Group Relations.



Working Together Retreats:
A transformational investment in understanding unconscious contributions to experiences of leadership and membership in psychoanalytic institute life

Elizabeth M. Simpson, LCSW

For many psychoanalysts Institute life and membership/leadership on Committees can be imagined as a departure from their more isolative experiences in the consulting room. There is a need to be overtly recognized and valued in this “external world” that is appropriately suppressed with patients. Belonging is a powerful conscious and unconscious motivation to engage in Institute life – in the form of teaching, committee leadership and membership – all of which involve group life.

The Working Together Retreat Project was conceptualized in January 2011. Over a five year period 45- 50 SFCP members (in three separate groups) have participated in the group process intensive two day trainings (16 hours) with Sam Kimbles, PhD and Suzy Spradlin, PhD (SF Jung Institute) serving as facilitators. Members were selected and volunteered who are in positions of leadership, membership or curiosity about group process. The intent was to form a working group over the two days; this was not intended to be a process group. The Working Groups commit to meet only once for this weekend. However, all three groups have decided at the end of the weekend to meet again for a 1⁄2 day follow-up without paid facilitators. Ray Poggi and Elizabeth Simpson facilitate these follow-up retreats. Our first group members are five years into their work together.

We will present our model of Working Together which is a unique approach to group work within Institute life. We would also like to explore the assets and liabilities as we describe the project. We would like to explore if this is a model that may be used in other work contexts with analysts as the consultants. There is a felt experience of expressing a less conscious state of feeling, less regulated, while knowing that the investment is in developing deeper, more secure working relationships. What is different from Tavistock Style: we have a purpose which is “working together” in Institute life.



AKRICULTURE: Is there a “Common Core” for our Practice? A Code of Ethics?

Nancy Wilson, PhD

What is our culture, our “tribal identity” if you will, in AKRI? What defines, characterizes, and perhaps “boundaries” our practice? We have a body of literature, including significant work on describing theories, basic concepts, and methodology. We have developed and refined a set of competencies for working in consulting roles in AKRI group relations conferences – these presumably derive from a shared understanding of the necessary “ingredients” for AKRI group relations work.

But what constitutes the “common core” of our particular perspective and approach? Our organization has struggled, and continues to struggle, with how to relate to other entities. How do we decide which other “group relations” and related endeavors are similar enough to us to join forces with or to “count” as relevant training experience. We are on the cusp of introducing training in consultation to organizations – what will distinguish this as AKRI-based?

Can we make explicit what is necessary to our approach and practice? Can we further identify what might be incompatible?

Whether or not we can fully answer the questions posed above, we are still engaged in work with groups and organizations from what seems to be a generally shared, even if not articulated, approach and perspective. Most of us are in professions which have a code of ethics related to our practice. However, as “practitioners” of group relations work, do we have a set of ethical principles? Should we? What kinds of ethical dilemmas face us, and what tools do we use to think about and resolve these?



Remembering Systems: Consciousness and Boundaries, the Mother of Authority

Ronald Sharrin, PhD

This paper will focus on understanding systems as both a fundamental piece of Group Relations work and as the matrix from which authority emerges. Lacking the bedrock of systems experience, Group Relations as a unique approach to organizational study will inevitably drift away from its moorings and become no more than a theory among other theories. As it does so, the work transforms from an opportunity to encounter unpredictable learning in the conference to a didactic presentation of Tavistock dogma.

This trend is already evident, embedded in theme conferences that are losing or have lost the ability to offer members the opportunity to experience group and organizational life directly as it exists in the mind. Without this lived experience, the notion of authority’s function to align unconscious dynamics and to define reality is essentially meaningless. This presentation therefore examines the relationship between boundaries, consciousness and the self in human systems. The self is understood as a system nested within subordinate and superordinate systems, all of which are defined by boundaries.

Human systems exist in the mind and are essentially mental, which means that a crucial part of conference learning entails developing the ability to comprehend consciousness, its relationships to boundaries, and perception and perceptual systems: in other words, to perceive one’s perceptions. This is the radical learning that Group Relations can offer, one that will by its very nature always challenge naive realism, the status quo and collective assumptions about everyday events.

Conference learning is therefore operationally defined as learning to perceive one’s perceptions, a learning that entails developing a contemplative ability to ‘de-center’ and move between differing states of consciousness. In so doing, both members and staff can perceive deeper, non-personal dynamics that drive organizational life: the consciousness of the system itself. These dynamics are created and contained by boundaries that reveal the consciousness of systems, rather than the inter- or intrapersonal. This is the potential experience of the ‘work group.'



Brick and Mortar, Online and Hybrid Group Relations Conferences: An Invitation for a Dialogue about the Implications for BART

Solomon Cytrynbaum, PhD

In the last Dialogues I described the structure, culture and dynamics of a required brick and mortar/ live face-to-face course on group and organizational dynamics, which has been a part of the Masters Program in Counseling Psychology at Northwestern University for over 35 years. In particular, this presentation focused on the implications and challenges of having a weekend non-residential Group Relations Conference as part of the course.

Over time it became obvious that this on-line program and course with its embedded Group Relations conference present a new series of challenges. The purpose of this presentation is to invite and engage in a dialogue with colleagues and audience members who have some relevant or related online teaching or group relations experiences or are just curious because I need help thinking about some of the challenges and questions like those listed below.

1. How do we establish and study the richness of rational and irrational authority of the Director, staff and conference system given that the members of the on-line program will not be exposed to the mythology of Tavistock to which all the brick and mortar students are exposed?

2. What are the implications for the establishment of clear, firm and stable boundaries required for task and safety reasons in a hybrid or on-line conference experience?

3. One of the most powerful decompression and sense-making components of the brick and mortar course is the six face to face post conference class sessions-how will this work or not given the online contact? Assuming that this will be a different experience, what does a post-conference thoughtful student look like?

4. What are the most salient implications and challenges in thinking about and addressing the different teaching tasks, teacher authority, roles and competencies in the brick and mortar compared to the online situations?

5. What are the most interesting and important research questions raised by the opportunity to study and compare brick and mortar and on-line students exposed to Group Relations conference experiences?



The Challenge to Develop a Themed Conference on Disabilities with a Partner Outside the Group Relations Boundary: Taking Up Authority While Straddling Boundaries

Bill Loewen, PhD & Danielle Kennedy, PhD

One author has a vision to develop a new conference with the theme of diverse abilities in partnership with AKRI and AHEAD (Association on Higher Education and Disability). AHEAD hosts a fully accessible, annual conference for hundreds of people involved in the issue of disabilities in higher education which starts on a Sunday night. The vision is to add a group relations weekend conference on the theme of taking up authority in the midst of differing abilities to the front end of the AHEAD conference, using the accessibility supports that AHEAD brings to the conference location. AHEAD and AKRI would each supply half of the conference membership. Grant funds are available for this conference.

Dialogue with researchers inside AHEAD and the Society for Disability Studies (SDS, the research arm of AHEAD) shows great promise. It is anticipated that this conference might take at least a year of planning/negotiating to bring it to fruition.

Authority issues rising in this conference development:

  1. What is the funder/vision founder’s authority in shaping this vision?
  2. Should a Director be authorized early so they can manage intergroup negotiations, or only after negotiations are complete and a conference vision is clear?
  3. It is anticipated that AHEAD will not have certified AKRI consultants in its membership. An active presence of AHEAD researchers in the conference may be necessary for AHEAD to feel some ownership of the conference. Can researchers (who are not AKRI certified) be authorized in a research role within the conference?
  4. If this first conference comes to fruition and is successful, what is the container that holds it between conferences? Who initiates future conferences? Who holds funds generated by the conference that might carry over to future conferences.

Come participate in responding to these dilemmas!

 Group Relations Love: Finding, Freeing and Authorizing my Member Role

Ellen Short, PhD

This presentation will focus on the issue of self-authorization versus the collective authority of groups in GRC's with an emphasis on the experience of role integration in the member role after having taken up other roles, which in group relations seems historically to v=be viewed as more indicative of "authentic" authority roles (i.e., the consultant and director roles). I will also focus on the following questions: 1) After having taken up consultant and director roles in GRC's how does one integrate the complexities of the conference in the mind and the knowledge and expertise gained from these roles and authentically take up one's member role? and 2) How do strong "sentient" connections impact the exercise of authority?