Transitional Approach to Change

Organizations, Management of Change and Ethical Dilemmas

A brief outline of the concepts in the transitional approach to the management of change.  [quite a bit of this is summarised from Ambrose, A. Key Concepts of the Transitional Approach to Managing Change,  in Lisl Klein, ed. [1989], Working With Organizations, Kestrel Print, Loxwood, West Sussex.] Then, my thoughts follow as I believe this approach also has impact on the ethical dilemmas which appear as change progresses. I would also say that the paradigm shift created means the change is not just another surface reform, so that institutional social problems, like racism, sexism, disablism, etc etc do not remain under the surface, buried in the institutional structures.

The Transitional Approach

A paradigm shift can occur in organizations when management recognizes how personal and interpersonal values, attitudes and engagements make impact on the purposes strategies and plans which are essential aspects of organizational life and change.

The transitional approach to the management of change is a way of thinking. That is, the transition is in mind as much as in the external context. The approach acknowledges each person, a recognition of the whole self of each person, the differences each brings and the commonality or otherwise of issues regarded as central in the organization and its need for change. The approach supposes that each of us has an “organization in the mind” and that we see the external organization through the lens of this one, the one in the mind. The “transition”, like Winnicott’s “transitional object” the child’s teddy, is both ‘me’ and ‘not-me’, it is inextricably imbued with things which cross the boundaries of self and perception and what actually is.

Besides this over-arching concept of “organization in the mind” the following concepts help identify aspects of the approach, and all are necessary, entwined together:

  • Development potential: Difference will exist in the extent to which individuals are ready to change, and the ways in which they are able to change.
  • Open-system perspective: That is, the organization is not closed, nor made up of fully separable parts, but is exposed to uncertainty and unpredictability in the wider environment, and to internal confusions and conflations, as well as inter-dependencies.
  • Problem toleration: A consequence of adopting an open-system perspective, is that ‘change-agents’ are faced with complexity and uncertainty, so they will be subject to anxieties, confusions and dissonance as they assess the implications of change.
  • Potential space: Innovative thinking is akin to play, so potential space is the ‘play’ space in the mind. Ownership of ideas or imagination etc is not an issue, instead, the varieties of freedom and constraints allowed range through lateral and logical thinking, and produce new meanings and new patterns in the mind, before an objective is identified.
  • Transitional learning: Like play, this is active not passive, as one is not shown what to do. It is however more than just experimentation as it contains the idea of ‘working through’ that is, at each step, consequences and effects on the real space, outside of the mind-space, are also held in mind. The ‘game’ becomes more complex as learning proceeds. In this respect it is different from trial and error, or design process methods of reaching a solution.
  • Double task: If the work of organizations, that is many people, and the work of individuals, are both to flourish and be effective in the long-term, then ‘the work’ can be conceived of as two intertwined and interlocking tasks, like a double helix. The double task looks at the wood and the trees and the whole, which is more than either.
  • Transitional space: Notice that if this is not both sanctioned within the system and provided for, with e.g. time, or place, and possibly facilitation, minds have real dicfficulty in changing. Imagine how the mind of a child is hurt when a parent throws away the teddy bear, rather than knowing the child will at some time replace it by her own developmental growth as opportunities open.
  • Transformational situation: This is the direct correlate of the ‘transitional object’ in the early life of an infant. In an organization, the transformation may not come about even when transitional space is provided as participants may not know how to engage with transitional learning; indeed may seek other more traditional engagements. The transformational situation changes the boundaries, or lifts taboos, in a way in which security is maintained. It may be likened to a catalyst, and is in some sense similar as it is a temporary enabling situation, which is seen insightfully, so that defensive or traditional ‘log-jams’ can be dispersed. Then, new forms of interaction will be initiated by the participants themselves and transitional learning can happen.

This transitional approach to change is an intervention of a peculiar kind. It does not impose the change, nor does it attempt to meet the problems of a change head-on. Instead, it works with the realization that each and every person, and each and every part of the system, are, as living parts of the system both experiencing ‘issues’ as themselves, and as responders to the system they are in. It could be said that everyone has a “double task” and some are better placed to work through this, by chance of the position they happen to be in, as well as by personal capacity for reflection. Attention and insight regarding how each issue belongs to the system within which individual(s) experience it, and how each individual has effect on the system through their response will create the conditions within which an evolution to a different kind of system occurs.

Ethical Dilemmas

As change progresses, ethical dilemmas are experienced in which the characteristic of the dilemma is that all choices appear to have “rightness”, or deep value, yet it appears that these choices preclude each other. There are four classic paradigms of such Right/Right dilemmas in which the choice to be made does not centre on an analysis of “right” versus “wrong” where choosing is simple if the analysis is well done. Right/right dilemmas are paradoxes and can be paralysing. Some can turn into “double bind” where any action brings loss. Consider:

  • Individual versus community or group – instanced by examples where the needs of particular individuals are in conflict with the needs of other ‘stakeholders’.
  • Truth versus loyalty – as for example when the desire for open and free communication is clearly at odds with issues of confidentiality and privacy
  • Justice versus mercy – as when the need of a victim cannot be reconciled with the hope that the perpetrator of harm could be enabled to learn for the future
  • Short-term versus long-term – this can apply in relation to each of the above, but is often particularly relevant when considering ecological issues

The transitional approach to managing change provides a means by which these paradoxical dilemmas can be held. Instead of reaching toward the “successful outcome”, the management of “failure” is part of the transitional process.  In other words, in transition, the effects of the point of view not chosen can be taken in. There is room for contradiction and disappointment to be experienced, even grief or resentment, as feelings are worked through. The child gives up the teddy bear when she learns to play with princess dolls or skateboards. Development is more interesting, better fun and learning is just as good a place to be when need for transitional space is granted. The final outcome contains more of the whole, of people who are lively and eager to engage.

Yes I know that last sentence is idealistic, but the probability of a successful flourishing shift taking place is a lot higher than when change is assumed to be possible through only rational persuasion, or through stick and carrot types of behavioural rewards. Transitional change pays attention to human values like ethics and justice. These are not incompatible with other aims, such as profit or economic viability. Though more mercenary motives may be modified, they do not disappear. The transitional approach is not an ideology, nor is it an idealists dream. It is a process, using situated knowledge, in real contexts, affected by and affecting real people.

Will: what is it?

WILL – a noun, something we have. Dictionary definitions stress the consciousness, and this is a puzzle for those who understand that we are human with our unconscious not the opposite of consciousness but the deeper unknown dynamic states of emotion, impulse and body, from which our separate consciousness arises. So – is ‘WILL’ any of these?
  1. the faculty of conscious and especially of deliberate action; the power of control the mind has over its own actions: the freedom of the will.
  2. power of choosing one’s own actions: to have a strong or a weak will.
  3. the act or process of using or asserting one’s choice; volition: My hands are obedient to my will.
My definition: Will is indeed an outcome of conscious deliberate action, but not any old action, a very particular one, that has effect on all the other subsequent choices we make, consciously and unconsciously determined. We can make a conscious decision to attend to the self and observe what we can of its impulsive reactions.We are being willing to look at and distinguish two processes in our states of mind, that affect both inner and outer world view: the processes which Bion called “truth” and “lie” (the first primarily interested in what is actually there, the second primarily interested in gratification of what is wanted, as if it would be there). This willingness to look increases the probability that unconscious urge and conscious intent are in tune with each other, or indicates when and how they may not be. Then, to me, the notion of deliberate action in other spheres of decision making and choice makes sense. We have WILL because we have been willing in a particular way that is more interested in ‘truth’ than in ‘want’.
I find that this definition addresses problems of unconscious determinism, as though we could not be consciously responsible for our actions, and also addresses the problems of relativism: if everything is in part subjective how can anything be consciously willed?
It is of course an act of being: what is now called “mindful”. I have written about it previously as “use of self” an everyday use of the psychoanalysts’ “transference and counter-transference”.
If one is not mindful, then unconscious force, reactivity to circumstance, takes the place of willed aware intent. “Willy nilly” – what a really good word for this unhappy process. Willy nilly we are in it whatever it is, up to our necks, fooling ourselves that we know what we are doing. This is the state where “the road to hell is paved with good intention” because the mindful intention is not present.
In mindfulness, Will is taking a risk on the future, deliberately trusting interaction with the world. Truth will out, whatever I want. It is a promise. I will.


Ressentiment – unjust suffering

Ressentiment is an effect of detriment that is unjustly suffered, by an individual or group, or by labeling a person as ‘group’ (like black, or disabled, or mentally ill) and thus denying their own experience of how they do and do not belong. Anyone who thinks they, and not the sufferer, can decide on the quality of “detriment” is not able to learn the nature of what is suffered. The sufferer, as well as experiencing damage, however tiny that damage may seem, also suffers RESSENTIMENT (coined by Nietzche, no less).

This is cousin to the better known resentment. They are both affects, or feelings, arising from human emotional process. We think we know ‘resentment’ – the angry feeling a person or group has when it feels it has been wronged. This feeling is directed towards the source of the wrong, or the injustice. The sufferer of wrong may not be able to get redress, or revenge, but they do know they deserve better. They can voice something, even if they cannot act, and their sense of self is valid. This happened, I experienced it.

Ressentiment arises when people react to a perceived injustice by repressing their feelings of resentment and revenge. The feelings, the facts, can be inarticulate, the person can be without the verbal capability to own knowledge of what is happening (too young, too shocked, too oppressed, too bullied…). The repression occurs because of the impotence of those not only holding, but also unable to express their feelings openly, out of fear of the powerful, the authority of the oppressor. They remain passive and powerless… an abiding affect … a lasting mental attitude … ressentiment … becomes a pronounced dimension of social suffering  … that is lived experience of domination and repression and the feelings of humiliation, despair, shame and resentment … that are hidden injuries internalised because they cannot be expressed.

Well, quite. What is damaged is the core of the self. Later, even much later after changes in society may have happened, how is such a person (or people within a social suffering group) to know if they can now trust their own feeling or perception of the context that others believe – rightly – has changed? It is a nameless constellation of ??? something feeling ??? not right. NOT RIGHT. Damaged. The self’s capacity to repair has also been damaged (that follows if you can’t trust self feelings).

The politics, the authority, culture and  context change. Thank goodness it sometimes does. Then, if a sufferer is told that ‘it is all right now’ or ‘get over yourself’, insult is added to injury. How can people trust themselves to express the previously nameless and inexpressible?

Try to imagine how you would re-establish a validity in your soul, in yourself. Maybe anger and tilting at any windmill in sight helps, I do not know. I do know one thing that helps:

Acknowledge damage is done.

It is present, in the present, activated by a word or act. Compassion honours this reality.

To imagine how to re-establish validity, first see what people do. Observe, try not to think.

Get curious about what is it that is happening. Are those parts of a person that have been denied, that have had no voice with which to speak finding space? Or are they being shut down …again?

Can parts that have ‘felt they feel what they should not’ and ‘not felt what they feel they should’ reverse their enfolding into experience? (think child abuse, brutalised soldiering, victim of domestic violence, groups experiencing discriminatory treatment, etc.)

First, see what people do. Let yourself see, and be touched by what is then felt.

Twist, or, psychopathy

This post is made up of excerpts from a paper “Making and Mistaking Reality” written 2003.

Systemic thinking can be defined as not looking for statements about a situation, but for provisional and partial explanations (or images) which illuminate the here-and-now. The idea of being inside or outside a system is recognised as being itself a thought construction. In systemic thinking, the need to decide inside or outside disappears. Accepting that the whole is discernible in each part and that each part is influential in the whole, the experience in the here-and-now is of a tension between separateness (e.g., personal identity) and relatedness (e.g., belonging to a group). Freud’s methodological discovery, now encapsulated in the concepts of transference and countertransference, was that this tension could itself be attended to. Expressed as here-and- now, the multi-layered dynamic experience of the present is the crucial material for thought and thinking. In the present, the concept and practice of “Mindfulness” is a clear expression of this focussed, but freethinking awareness.

I am indebted to Anne MacDonald (2002), a forensic psychiatrist from Glasgow, speaking at a conference on “Counter-transference” for her representation of the effects of different kinds of breaks and joins, using a simple ring or a mobius strip, though she is not responsible for the following.

Beginning with the ring, there is an inside and an outside, a blackknot1
and white say, two surfaces connected only by whatever is in the depth between them. A ring can turn into a mobius strip if it breaks and is twisted, so that when rejoined the separate surfaces have become one. Different breaks and joins, with or without the twist, make all kinds of knots and tangles, or helices, depending on what is found as the broken ends seek a rejoin.

Whatever the complexity, there are essential differences between the single surface of the mobius strip, the double surfaces of the ring, or the multiple dimensions, and connections in the helix. On the strip, like Escher’s (1963) ants forever on one surface, living has no tensions between different worlds, only stop or go, following the rules. escherantsOn a ring, or more complex knot, ants on the different surfaces might continue forever in endless parallel worlds. However, they might also, through trial and error, like Popperian conjecture and refutation, learn slowly.
Recall again that in the notion of systemic thinking, one is oneself a part of the system. McDonald (2002) described the profound differences in her own feeling and sense of herself which occurred when she worked with disturbed and dangerous others in prison. People with “two surfaces,” however hard to reach, had strong passions and black and white views. They understood the rules, and why they had broken them, and why they were in prison. In out of prison terms, these people are moralistic, rather than moral, and in thought terms, they make mistakes of ignorance and assumption. These in the moment reactions in people, are emotionally immature, and so is the thinking process happening at that moment, however complicated its content. In spite of this, Anne McDonald said she found it relatively easy to work, even when individuals were wholly immature or violent, as she did not feel her own sense of self in danger of being overcome.

She declared the one-surface model (formed by making a twist) much more difficult, both to see, and to influence, because in making a relationship of any kind with such a person, or the twist part of a person, one had to join them on the single surface, whatever it was. One is sucked in to the existing system, drawn in by ones own ordinary needs in contact with others (e.g., assuming trust, making a living, etc.). Instead of being able to take part in a dialogue, one loses ones own vision or perspective. McDonald (2002) said it was essential to find other people who related differently, and get out of such a system, otherwise one would be seduced. A twist in response to a break includes the manipulative, the emotional blackmailer, the con man, and the abuser, as well as the workaholic portrayed by Escher (1963), because no other way of being can be seen. The idea corresponds to hegemony of belief which distorts everyone’s experience. Institutional and cultural examples are those firms like Enron where a profit motive divorced from value existed, or the evidence of the Macpherson report (1999) of institutional racism, and the Stevens report (2003) of institutional collusion in murder in Northern Ireland. To work well in such a context, one needs a sense of ethics, as ordinary response (especially rational response) will itself become twisted, and, more importantly, in emotional terms, our sense of self is betrayed by our own need for interaction with others.
McDonald’s comment was that the only way out was to see the break and twist for what it was, a distortion which seemed like a good idea at the time, and what one really needs is the totally uncomplicated view of someone ordinary with no axe to grind (e.g., the child who saw the emperor naked, or, in real life, the chat with the secretary at the photocopier). She purposely makes time for such ordinariness, so that there is room for seeing yourself as others see you, from a distance, as well as for relationship, dialogue, and understanding (2002). Then, the distortion which seemed like a good idea at the time can be finding the break, re-breaking, and trying a different kind of join. In therapeutic understanding, counsellors know that to help someone, they often have to be seduced into failure, so they are in the kind of failure this person has previously experienced. They, unlike their client, may know the way out, and, unlike most professionals, they have supervisors who are as interested in the process of failing as they are in the process of succeeding. From emotional education experiences, it seems to me that the twist is more difficult to find in organisations, as day-to-day experience of authority, especially that of hierarchy and tradition, hide its effects within what seems like good practice at the time.

So, that is the idea of the Twist.

Now, I want to combine this with previous ideas on thought process, to develop a notion of psychopathy that helps us to see how psychopathology infects organizations and cultures. I expect this will be closely related to Paul Hoggett’s concept of as- if cultures, or perverse social structures.

Most important in my aim is to explore the idea of the twist in ordinary everyday experience, that is indeed damaging, but is far from the perversities of paedophilia or criminality that have been the subject of MacDonald’s and Black’s work.

Mental Patterns: Creativity and Psychopathy 1

All the possible sounds of the world’s languages are available to babies, but some atrophy as they do not belong to the particular baby’s cultural world. Consider the chinese “r”, essential in saying “ren, 人”  which is the word for person, and the mess made of this sound by westerners learning chinese. Or hear the tones of tonal languages, or the th of English, speakers who have not used these sounds as babies will be forever marked as having a foreign accent however language proficient they become.

Suppose that similarly all the possible processes of mental development are available to babies, but the circumstances of their interactions allow some to atrophy, some to strengthen. Some become “templates” or fixed patterns of mind. Within individuals some unconscious patterns are so strongly set that the neuroscientists have referred to them as “hard wired”. However we now know (neuroscience, psychoanalysis, psychiatry, socio-cultural studies, anthropology) that, possibly, hard wiring is changeable, the mind and its patterns have more plasticity than was thought earlier in the exploration of this complex science. (Nature/nurture is of importance in learning how to make development better for individuals and for society, but does not affect what can be understood about the characteristics of different states of mind nor the mental processes that brings these states about.)

I am interested in thought process. Or, the states of mind that lead to categorically different kinds of thought process, and different kinds of thinking. Further, I would like to understand why so many mistakes in thought flourish and influence the communities and organizations we live within. Why is change for the better not easier to achieve? Why is destructiveness, of people and planet, apparently so evident, not stopped?

The Nature of Thought is fraught with the complication that what we have to think with is the mind itself, the thinker is thinking about itself. To examine thought is to be by default subjective, and to know this as one thinks. There is no either /or in this study that allows rational to be separated out from the unconscious emotional origins of the thinking. (Panksepp et al). To be authentic, the work has to be both emotionally aware and rationally explored. Neither can take precedence.

For now, I am using the word “thought” to indicate the whole variety of mental patterns that end up as a ‘thought’ that can be articulated, or an idea, or impression, in consciousness.

Freud’s great discovery was the identification of a way in which this dilemma could allow moving forward. By acknowledging that one is IN the system one is in, and also that one can perceive parts of that system  by feel, by reaction, by bodily and mental sensations, one can then at the same time observe oneself as a subject to the system and begin to tease out the characteristics that belong to it. Solms and Turnbull (2002) say that the mind is knowable (though certainly not yet known) in two different ways: as experienced by itself as subject, and as a physical organ, an object viewed from outside.

Applied to analyst and analysand, the “system” is the two people in the analytic relationship, and the result is understanding of the nature of each. Applied in any other field, the same principle of exploration brings partial knowledge of the truth of the system. If this knowledge is accepted, new thought can emerge. (See history of science,  a Faraday or a McClintock, and many others. These two to my knowledge, gave credit to emotional awareness. See psycho-social studies of organizations, or politics, etc.and everywhere that “systemic thinking” is now acknowledged).

My work in Emotional Education was based on Wilfred Bion, who, following the insights of Melanie Klein, developed a theory of thinking. I have written about this elsewhere.

Basic**: PS ->D stands for “paranoid schizoid position” can move to “depressive position”. I have referred to this often as two different kinds of thought, the PS kind that might be benevolent prejudice or paternalism or other forms of ideology, akin to “Super-ego” thinking, using patterns that have gone before, so cannot be new. I have thought of this as Bion’s “lie”, the person in this state of mind cannot be open to new thinking or perception (see also Waddell, Inside Lives ). Or, as Faraday for example did when he experimented, observed and brought forth the wave theory of electricity and magnetism, the state of mind for thought can be in a depressive position, able to bear uncertainty, as Keats’ definition of negative capability. The mind is open to revelation, this is Bion’s “truth”, and the scientists capacity to discover.

But, when I am trying to explain, especially as in Emotional Education power point presentations, I refer to PS-> D as a process in itself, consisting of parts that are necessary for both survival and development. Martha Harris considered the process a dynamic spiral in which one endlessly traversed a) perception of other, b) split to cope with perception, c) feedback of split off item d,i) if feedback has become bearable, it is accepted and proceed to e) the depressive position and knowledge of ‘other’, d,ii) if feedback is still unbearable, splitting is maintained and knowledge of ‘other’ cannot be accessed.

I am just now thinking of a new to me thought. Coming from Will Black‘s work on psychopaths, one question is “how can people not know?” (is the answer not d,ii above?), Also from my own previous thinking around the idea of ‘twist’ or the person who is like the ‘mobius strip’ with only one surface (Anne MacDonald*), I am thinking there is a different reaction if the PS splitting has NOT coped. Suppose the perception has impact resulting in a break, rather than a split, and survival in a break forces a rejoin without feedback from ‘other’. Such a rejoin would have to twist so that there is no other existing in the mental state. The template for future development is that everything perceived is claimed for the self, and interactions in the world are always first brought in to the claustrum where the mind exists. To an outsider, it looks as if the person interacts, but for this person, there is no interaction, no other. [Is this is that Black calls “psychopath”?] Here instead of PS-> D the process could be PS -> T where T is this response to splitting that did not work.  From psychoanalytic writers such as Steiner or Meltzer and their concepts of psychic retreat and claustrum, I start to see that I have indeed seen this process but not recognized it, as I thought of it as being a reversal, or a being stuck, a sort of D-> PS or PS standstill. My daughter-in-law calls it “living in a bubble”.

And, I have written about it before!! At that time I was thinking about ideas like “institutions in the mind”.

Now I want to write a post: Develop the idea of The Twist, a kind of mind set where “other” is never real, so the person floats through the world as if – always as if – in a bubble. Will update when I have written it!

*referenced in this previous paper, p. 62

**Process described here, also in a previous post that now seems a bit muddled:






Can I do better?

I began this blog with enthusiasm. However that did not match the results. My other blog has had some serious thought on it, but not a lot. I know and still want, that blog to be my story for myself and others who are interested – a kind of Diary of the family and friends and the communities and places where we live. Many of those family and friends know well that I am often serious, some would say too serious.

This blog began with good intentions, to enable me to sort out my thinking and my knowledge, regarding our emotional world, our communities and cultures, our politics and government, our good and bad ways of being. I wanted to create some focus and learn to express better my views on why it seems to be so difficult to create a more wholesome and fairer world. It is enough to say that most agree that the current inequalities and distress of many is utterly dire, and that is just talking of the humans, without looking at the mess being made of ecological systems that are irreplaceable.

So today I thought that maybe I could do better.

Can I do better?

How? I still like its name: transitional space. But I do not like that I have used it so seldom. I do not like the reason for this – that writing for it seems too complicated.

I will treat it more like a ‘serious diary’. See how that goes, at the least it may help my mindfulness.


This is my scribble of thought over breakfast

So – what has come to mind today?

The lightbulb experience for my own change from muddle of giving getting having regretting forgetting etc etc to a simple live in the present BEING who I am happened a long time ago, and has to be re-done over and over, as I believe it does for everyone. It is a serious piece of thinking, it embarrasses me, it comes from Wilfred Bion‘s psychoanlaytic work where he made a comment that [from my memory] said that the learning from psychoanalysis was incomplete without attending to thinking from the philosophy of science, and likewise, vice versa, that philosophy was incomplete without the insights of psychoanalysis.

WOW (as my grandsons say).

In other words, the trouble with thinking, is that we only have our mind to think with, so thinking about thinking is going to be ??? what??? Certainly not true. Certainly not accurate. etc. We all know there will always be subjectivity and whatever bias it brings. Ways of thinking, attitudes or states of mind, affect all our disciplines, not just scientific thought or psychoanalysis. BUT SOME PEOPLE MANAGE TO DISCUSS THE IMPLICATION FOR HUMANS AND THE WORLD BETTER THAN OTHERS.





One reason this mattered so much to me was that at the time I was doing a PhD in history of science, studying the thought of Michael Faraday. And I discovered that Faraday himself, in 1854, among all his many many scientific breakthroughs, had reflected on and later published his own version of THINKING ABOUT THINKING. He call ed it “On Mental Education” a title from which I took the words I have often used since: Emotional Education. I have had little enough regard from various sources too busy with other kinds of education, if I had followed Faraday and called it “mental” I think I would have been a bit mental myself. But my words carried their own dilemma of perception – most people think it is something to do with therapy, or worse touchy-feely ways of engaging, or better, helping children and some adults with self-esteem and confidence.

Emotional Education is about THOUGHT and the nature of our thinking process, whether that is then applied to science (Faraday) or poetry or farming or childhood troubles or anything else that people engage in. I want to see it applied to politics and governance.

Now, we also have discovery from neuroscience that tells us about mind.

I keep trying to catch up. I do not seem to get anywhere, never mind ahead.

Emotional Education is related to a more popular notion, that of Emotional Intelligence. there are many criticisms of EI – some on the wikipedia page. I dislike that it is mainly used as a something to HAVE or NOT HAVE as a something similar to the other kinds of intelligence. It is commodified – as in “leadership Quality”. Emotional Education is about Learning, and more particularly, following BION, it is Learning from Experience.

The next post will have to clarify the distinction I learned in my Faraday study days about kinds of thought: what is at least partially true, and can be trusted as a basis for acting, including making possible theories? and what is a “Lie”, Bion’s word, a prejudice, a dead end for progress, the kind of thought that leads to stultification, even when it sounds good at the time?




Interventions for change and development: an important difference

An Important Difference in intervention practice.

This post grew out of one on my other site, which was inspired by a prompt: How something appears is always a matter of perspective.

Looking from a different perspective is not always easy to do, even when one intends to try to do that. a perspective, a world view held, is predominantly unconscious. The good news is that unconscious patterns can change, can be changed, to some extent. Whether the major trends in its patterning have been laid down by ‘nature’ or ‘nurture’ we now know that there is more plasticity in the mind than was previously thought.

Change can happen. The questions now become: What kind of change? How can the change be brought about? Is the change we get one which is wanted? Who wants this change? I am thinking about children and ADD or ADHD diagnoses and treatments here. However, this post is not going to go far into the debates about treatment and theory of mental wellness, illness, medications, diagnoses, psychiatry, talking cures etc etc. Any or all of these, maybe especially medications, can cause shifts in neural circuits. Afterwards, will these circuits return to more or less where they were, or will the change be permanent. More important, will the change be good? At the moment, what happens is frequently trial and error, with some hope and fear and attempts to monitor what is happening. Hope and fear, like all feelings, are active in the unconscious and may create change or its opposite, solidify a pattern. Treatment and monitoring, like all interventions, take time and expense. When are they worth it?

With so many variables, I hope all those involved are thinking about “do no harm” and about the ethics of what really amounts to EXPERIMENT.

This post addresses this aspect of ethics, by outlining a little mentioned difference between Medication, psychiatric intervention, even ordinary cognitive education processes etc. and therapy, counselling or emotional education which is psychoanalytically based. (In this I include all the many psychodynamic perspectives which have developed from psychoanalytic thought and insight, not just therapies, and not just psychoanalysis itself. I can’t comment on whether the difference exists in other forms of ‘talking cure’ as I do not know enough about their practice, but I think it does not, as non-psychodynamic practitioners are differently trained. They understand ‘psychodynamic ideas’ as aspects of a theory, not as lived practice.)

Question: Where does the intervention for change take place?

One of the greatest fears commented on by those wondering about trying ‘psychoanalysis’, or any of its little sisters, psychodynamic counselling, psychodynamic consultancy to work roles or to organisations, a psychodynamic education class etc. is the thought that someone is going to get inside my head and guddle about in my mind, mess with my psyche, my self. It is terrifying. Is it paranoid or real? They (the analyst types) will interpret, I will be helpless, I will be faced with an authority telling about my own unconscious world.

Real fear: I don’t want anyone in here inside my deepest self.

PARADOX: Psychoanalysis is possibly the ONLY place where this is precisely and exactly what does NOT happen. It does happen as a result of medication, as listening to anyone who has had that experience can tell you.  It even seems to be the intention of medication – make a change inside the psyche and then see if the person is OK with it, better or worse than before, certainly different.

[I am now just going to use the word ‘psychodynamic’ for all of the psychoanalytically based notions, and the shortened word ‘psyd-practitioner’ for the analyst/counsellor consultant etc. I will use the word ‘person’ for the person who is seeking change, so many of the other terms (patient, client, analysand, etc.) having unhelpful connotations. I will use ‘practitioner’ for other sorts of professionals, non-psychodynamic, who intervene to help change, and the same word, ‘person’ for those they work with.]

In present-day psychodynamic encounters [more than 100 years since Freud’s first adventures and discoveries]

the person seeking change ‘borrows’ the mind of the psyd-practitioner

[one of Freud’s insights, the recognition of unconscious transference/counter-transference but greatly developed in practice and theory since then.]

The psyd-practitioner allows the other person in. In a full psychoanalysis, this is even encouraged, as the often derided practice of presenting a ‘blank screen’ does encourage the person to unconsciously try to enter. This is technically called something like ‘developing the transference’. Developing transference is not always appropriate when the psyd-practitioner has other roles, but some transference will always take place anyway. This is seldom acknowledged outside of psychodynamic practice, but it is what people do, all of us do, all of the time. We go in and out of each others’ minds, or at least bits of us do, mental emotional activity is exchanged. How else would you have a relationship? This everyday, every moment, interaction with mother father sister brother child teacher doctor priest friend stranger … is happening as we live and act and are acted upon. Their trace is monitored by our unconscious, which is so very much more organized than a big bucket full of stuff. Defences was the name given to some of the processes or mental structures developed to monitor and manage these comings and goings, and maybe, seen from the perspective of “whose mind is going into whose”, it is the right word to use.

To put it the other way round, the person seeking change goes into the psyd-practitioners mind and ‘guddling’ or ‘messing’ or ‘staying inside’ happens in there, not in the person’s mind. From the strength and length of the psyd-practitioner’s training, s/he works consciously to be aware of what is going on inside herself (counter-transference) works to let her own defences be lowered (putting own feelings on hold) and thus generates an understanding from a different place, even a new understanding. This is offered: only sometimes through interpretation; sometimes through empathy or the silence which speaks volumes as unconscious communication takes a more central role. The person actually has a different experience, which happens within the mind of the psyd-practitioner, and can choose to take it or leave it.

Others besides psyd-practitioners, let their minds be borrowed so another can develop, but it is seldom a conscious process. One prevalent example is reciprocal mothering (caring). How does a mother sense the unique need of this baby at this moment? She knows the need because she feels it in the depth of her own mind (which also contains the support, advice and help she has available to her).

In many of our roles, we know that someone has ‘got in’. We dream, re-arranging or recovering the patterns of our experience. In some contexts (nurses, teachers, other carers, managers, emergency responders, etc etc) people cannot shake off the stress or the despair, highly professional people become drained or burnt out. (I wish they all had some psychodynamics in their trainings.) Psyd-practitioners do not say going in and going out should happen, or should not happen. They accept that it will happen. In the space of the sessions with the other person (most often deliberately and protectively kept to a specifically agreed time) they work as well as they can to make this transfer of mental ‘stuff’ ONE-WAY ONLY. They say ‘welcome’ and ‘come in’. They may then say, or simply allow it to become known in unconscious process, ‘this is the way you are, and unlike you I know other ways to be’. Or, they could say ‘now I see/feel  the experience which has put you where you are, in this corner. Unlike you, I can see a way out’.  Trainings are often long and expensive. They are imperfect. People are imperfect.

This is however a huge and important difference in the manner of intervention. Other interventions, particularly medication, are directly applied inside the mind of the person, the practitioner can remain (relatively) untouched. They will however have experience of the person, and to avoid draining or burn-out many practitioners work in ways which maintain or even raise their personal defences, and work organization can also reflect this necessity to maintain defences. Hence – the important difference between psychodynamic practice and other sorts of intervention asks a different kind of question from the one about ‘outcomes’. To find this difference, ask:

Where does the intervention for change take place?

Or, you could ask: Whose mind is being guddled in?

A psychodynamic practitioner consciously allows his/her own mind to become a place where change happens.

The other person can live in less fear, that alone creates a space for change that can be the change wanted.

Would all those who apply medication or other kinds of advice/help, those methods which push change into the other person, please think about how they too could work in this way.

As the song says “Be the change you want to see…”

Psychodynamics – one take on it

My take on psychodynamics is interest in thought, and thought process, which absolutely involves feelings, or emotions. It is often more associated with therapy. I happen to believe the ideas are far too good to ‘belong’ to one field only. So here goes, from my perspective.

Psychodynamic theory now has a public understanding:
* we wonder if behaviour, decisions and actions might be motivated by hidden personal agendas, e.g. by unconscious patterns from past or present;
* we know that many words: ego, self-esteem, idealistic, paranoid, defensive etc., have definitions concerning mental emotional states, even if we do not know the particular definitions, nor what kind of inner world they represent;
* we know it is important that people (babies, children, adults) are offered human relationship as well as physical care and mental stimulation, even if we argue about who or what kind of offering;
* we know that there is something some people do, the ‘talking cure’, counselling or psychotherapy or psychoanalysis or whatever, which is supposed to get people in touch with parts of themselves they had not consciously known about before, and create an actual change in their well-being;
* we know we have feelings: hope, fear, trust, doubt, curiosity, scorn, interest, disinterest etc. or an ambivalent mixture of many feelings

However, psychodynamics also has a public distrust, which might be well-founded in the “if it aint broke, don’t fix it” model, as well as fear of madness. People, including me, know we have got to where we are by cobbling together ways to survive emotionally as best we can. We do not take kindly to the instinctive realisation that changing those patterns would leave us adrift for a while and further, adrift without knowing where we would end up. The devil you know is better than the one you don’t know.

This reminds me of the Irish joke about the visitor who asked the way to Ballybeg. The local replied that of course he could tell the visitor the way, “but if I was going, I wouldn’t be starting from here“. Distrust is neither wrong nor stupid. It knows the field called ‘psychodynamics’ is about going to the unknowns of the ‘psyche’ and the dynamics of change within a self, and unknown effects on others. It might be more sensible to stay where one is, rather than ask the way, especially as when one does ask, each of us hears that it would be better to have started differently somehow. The information received is somewhat ‘Irish’. Psychodynamics is about ‘being human’, accepting ‘not-knowing’ and ‘not being in the best place to start’. Psychodynamics is evolutionary, moving and changing from the place one is at. It involves RISK, not an idea of risk, but really stepping out of the frame which has been what one knows already.

Psychodynamics is mutual, not outside something objectively, looking into it with words and ideas, but inside it as a whole self, with feelings and emotional processes, phantasies, observing this as it happens. The effect is that a sorting out of ‘your response’, ‘my response’, ‘the way we interact’, can take place, at least partially, a view of the present moment we are in. This is a change in thought perspective, analogous to the change in perspective on motion offered by Galileo when he found a way to consider instantaneity, studying velocity rather than speed. We are in the dynamic we are studying, rather than looking at consequences of the dynamic from elsewhere. This is the essence of psychodynamic practice, the place where we begin is here and now. (If the ghosts of the past are there, if personal intrusion or need or greed is there, it is because we bring these with us, into now.)

We realise that human beings have an ongoing unconscious conflict as they need to bond with others to survive, and they also need to establish themselves as individuals. The dilemma cannot ever be resolved but instead forms the impetus to maturation, that is to the ability to relate dynamically and dialogically with ‘other’, without being permanently taken over by other or permanently taking over and using other as an extension of oneself. Paradoxically, health and continuing to grow happens when we can bear this internal ambivalence about dependence and independence without trying to resolve it. The processes of identification (two-way communications between self and other) and the present-day understanding of the Oedipus Complex (three dimensional relations, self and other and their relation to other others) describe what happens, and give a way of understanding the processes of thinking, or of learning to think..

This is a "thought bubble". It is an...

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The psychodynamic way of regarding creativity or difficulty in thought takes account of dualities and dialogues expressed in epistemology, philosophy, or education, say, yet it is of a different order. Bion put this difference into words when he declared that the thought came first, before the thinker. The mind of the person, baby or adult, takes something in (is impinged on by the environment, or by something more physiological, say), then, thinking is a process which has to develop to cope with the thought. A variety of such processes are possible. Some will link the thought with TRUTH, that is thinking will be in relationship with reality of self and other. However, some will LIE, which is not the logical opposite of ‘truth’, but just a different process, one which has no regard for reality. For example, a ‘lie’ would protect a phantasy of self, such as omnipotence. A child might learn to read to keep this phantasy, not to understand or enjoy what was in the book. An adult might research a doctorate thesis to keep this phantasy. Whether the phantasy is omnipotence, or some other narcissistic need, for emotional purposes the intellectual discovery is secondary and split off from caring for the truth.

Thus the inner motive of the thinker matters. Although it is quite possible to create considerable cognitive achievement and/or technocratic skill by amassing ‘knowledge’ through the ‘lie’ process, such knowledge cannot develop or adapt in use. This sort of knowledge might be arranged and rearranged, trotted out to please parents or appointments boards, but the meaningful connections with something other are missing. New discovery cannot be made. Understanding thought in this way is in agreement with findings regarding more conscious cognitive processes of strategic or deep thinking, and with findings that learners who are emotionally attuned learn in ways which enable critical and creative thought.

This is a very brief survey of some wonderful ideas. The background – notions of symbol formation, say, or Winnicott‘s ideas on play and culture in the ‘in-between’ space, or Christopher Bollas‘ distinction between Fate and Destiny,  and the whole range of how people form pictures of their world and the world – bring life, value and hope into dark and dreary spaces. Daily news bulletins are often despairing, or worse, destructive of human good, but perceiving thought and play and culture and science together as ‘truth’ activities makes meaning and hope re-emerge.

Negative Capability

John Keats- in a letter to his brother 1817

I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke on various subjects; several things dovetailed in my mind, and it at once struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement….. I mean Negative Capability, that is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.

NG was taken up by Wilfred Bion and me, following Bion. I used it to illuminate Michael Faraday‘s scientific creativity – see my emotional education webpages or the first paper I had published way back in 1985, a chapter in Faraday Rediscovered [edited by David Gooding and Frank James].

Robert French has written a good paper on negative capability and leadership

Splitting, and Thought Process (1)

Object Relations theory (another post not yet written! Sorry, getting there.) describes an unconscious response to the experience of distress, called “splitting“. Psychotherapists, analysts, often write about babies and being fed, which is like a template for the experience being talked about (see for example this useful article which does not use the term ‘splitting’, but describes emotional processes in children, both the splitting into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ process and the process of integration which can follow). Splitting happens at any age, when what is perceived, input from outside the self if you like, impinges without an immediate way to make sense or comfort from whatever the experience is. Maybe poetry is a better form of writing to enable the expression of what is meant, as in this post on one of my other blogs.

In Object Relations speak, the subject, the “I” who is experiencing something, is not OK, the input is too much or too little for the felt need. Mental pain, from discomfort to chaos or madness threatens, and “I” (the self, or, the ‘ego’, me, myself, etc.) splits. This is an involuntary, unconscious, mental process: it keeps a part which can function, a “good” part, and gets rid of the “bad” part which is deemed to belong to the ‘object’, that is, the “not-I” which is also present to perception. As described in the article referred to above, the kind of continued and continuing relationship offered by the ‘other’, is crucial to the quality and the severity of the splitting.

Survival by splitting is a so-far, so-good process, a short term answer to unconscious emotional difficulty. Remember, unconscious emotional reaction comes first, before rational, mature and conscious response. “I” survived, my ego can continue its job of managing inner/outer complexity, but there have been some costs. The “bad” is lost as experience which can be ‘thought’ about, unless it meets an ‘other’ who can empathise and return it to me in a form I can cope with. The ‘good’ is assumed as an unqualified state. The cost is: “I” do not actually know exactly what is down to me and what belongs to the external environment, and I cannot by myself challenge my faulty view. It seems likely that problems of conscious thought, however rational or however based on firmly held belief, have roots in this emotional process. There are many problems in conscious thought, such as a too narrow focus of attention (tunnel vision), or insisting that a model or ideology encompasses reality, or mistaking or misallocating the range of adequacy of a method, etc. Words are inadequate, so it is easy to pick holes in any conscious argument, as newspaper response comments frequently show. It is harder and takes more emotional courage to discern the spirit of an argument and find the way in which it holds a truthful aspect, especially if that is not in line with ones own previous thought, that is, re-integrating is another process, and may require ‘others’, or resources outside the self to be enabled.

The likelihood of mistaken thought is why evidence based knowledge is not just important, but crucial. A frequent thought mistake made even when referring to evidence based knowledge itself is to think that it means the end knowledge comes from a logical maybe linear sequence of cause and effect, or, because what has happened justifies the belief, that the belief is ‘evidence based’. OH NO, A DIRECT LINE IS NOT AN EVIDENCE BASE. IT DOES NOT MEAN THIS. Evidence based knowledge means that what is known (always partial knowledge) has been seen from more than oneindependent viewpoint. Thus one lot of evidence is affirmed by something else in a multidimensional real world, not just by a linear chain. There is a beautiful quote from Michael Faraday, courageous and truthful scientist, who perceptively realized (in 1833) that the problem was not a matter of intelligence or hard work:

……..the more acute a man is, the more he is bound by the chains of error;  for he only uses his ingenuity to falsify the truth which lies before him………..

Splitting is however a necessary process. If the emotional mind is to contain the tensions between ‘good and bad’ in a creative way, it is crucial that the splitting is embedded in a much more complex emotional dynamic, that splitting is only the first part in a sequence of mental events. The experience of a child illustrates this more complex development, the containment and working through to integration, at first, and maybe always, only gained through ‘other’.

Father and daughter, with mother following, are striding out on an adventure. Something happens and suddenly an adventurous little girl is alone on a rather large beach. However, Daddy is not far away, so this ‘split’ does not last long. What has happened? Possibly, for a moment the world contains tension between safety and danger. Just possibly, Daddy has held that, as well as holding his daughter, as she is not overwhelmed, and what she hears with her emotional heart is not just “I am loved” , but, “my world is both safe and unsafe”. The paradox, “a risk is OK”, is perceived, and, psychologically, she grows, so that another time, she may hold the tension for herself.

She learns that an anxious state can even be a welcome way of finding out something new about the big wide world.

As a consequence, this child may be safe by the sea, because she neither trusts it nor fears it excessively, but knows that to find out about it, she has to see different aspects of what she is looking at. Bearing tension, containing, integrating, is a more involved process than splitting.

Of course this particular sequence is all a guess about what this child experiences. It is informed by many many observations and reports of feeling states and changes in mind from which unconscious process is inferred.

One conscious act anyone can make to enable ‘holding’ can be the decision to talk and listen to other people, in dialogue which includes emotional sensitivity. Even though ‘other’ could be a reflective aspect of oneself acquired through previous working through (counter-transference is another ‘big ideas’ post not yet written), we need all the help we can get. Adults can, and do, split. They can also decide to listen to emotional states of mind. Look at many many references from the psychoanalytic world, and from other disciplines also. Try Dan Siegel’s “Mindsight”, or Margot Waddell’s “Inside Lives”.