Thomas Ogden on three forms of thinking

Building from Winnicott’s notion of the capacity to play and Bion’s work on learning from experience Thomas Ogden (2010) outlines three forms of thinking:

  1. Magical thinking is an investment in an imagined reality that preserves a sense of self, but also prevents “real” learning. It protects us from, and prevents contact with, reality. It’s fantasy.
  2. Dream thinking is an iteration between the real and the imagined, thinking and feeling, sleeping and waking. It presents an opportunity for growth, which is achieved through contact with another mind. It’s learning.
  3. Transformative thinking is a leap in the way we perceive, organize, and engage with the world. It’s about new thoughts, meanings, and bodily experiences. It’s innovation.

Whether at work, or researching work, the defensive aspects of magical thinking, creative potential of dream thinking, and capacity to transcend the status quo in transformative thinking are always present. Knowing this aids psychoanalytically informed researchers in making contact with research participants and in moving from contact to insight. It is through persistent contact with the other, and with one’s self, that space for “radical transformation” (i.e. insight) becomes possible.

Where traditional approaches to social research may get stuck between magical thinking and dream thinking, psychoanalytically informed researchers have concepts that enable them to raise their self and other awareness such that movement across all three types of thinking (for all participants) is possible. It is this range of movement that realizes the promise of psychoanalysis for deepening, and enriching, the research process and its products.

The three forms of thinking discussed by Thomas Ogden offer a different way to approach clinical material. They also offer different ways to consider how we do research and generate insight in the research process.

What do you think? Have you observed these three forms of thinking in doing psychosocial organization research? Or, maybe just in organizations?

Read the article

Leave a Reply