Erasure, intersectionality, and neutrality

The key question raised in this article is: What is the role of the group analyst in responding to societal injustices, othering, and negation as they arise within a therapy group? For our purposes we might ask: What is the role of the consultant, researcher, teacher, or manager in responding to the same? Further, can we have any role at all if we have not reflexively examined and fully articulated the intersectional nature of our own positionality? And, what is the cost if we don’t?

The author highlights the aim of group analysis as providing “a social context where relational styles that are problematic can be worked out in a context that sustains them, enabling an increased ability to socialize and to mature” (p. 504). This is something we cannot do, they might argue, if we defensively maintain the classical position of neutrality.

Instead, we must understand our position relative to the psychosocial unconscious, the position of the individuals within the group, and the position of the group as a whole. A key feature of this understanding is the intersection of multiple identities within one’s own, and others’, standpoint – and the subjective experience of “multiple othering” (p. 499). These twin ideas, positionality and intersectionality, form the basis for the author’s critique of analytic neutrality (p. 500). The argument is that “clinical positionality is inescapable” (p. 504) and our theories and techniques are necessarily value laden.

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Black Rage as a psychosocial experience

The construct of Black Rage is rooted in the notion of moral injury, defined as: “a betrayal of what is right either by a person in legitimate authority or by one’s self in a high stakes situation...[that] impairs the capacity for trust and elevates despair, suicidality, and interpersonal violence”. Further, it represents the “trauma that occurs when one’s actions have profoundly violated one’s code of ethics, when one has been a victim of such violation, or when one has been a passive witness of such violation” (p. 269).

Moral injury induces an internal struggle between expressing “indignant rage” and controlling retaliatory rage. Black Rage is a specific response to the moral injuries, the “collective unconscious store of transgenerational traumas”, experienced by African Americans. It also contains superego imperatives about “what is right”. Stoute postulates that Black Rage is an adaptive mental construct that preserves dignity, mitigates trauma, and promotes defensive sublimation. It shields the vulnerable self from devaluation and helps racialized others in their struggle “to withstand attacks on linking, in order to preserve the capacity to think” (p. 278), to love while being hated, and to remain calm while feeling indignant rage.

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The psychodynamics of bearing witness

We all see “bad stuff” that is toxic and traumatic in nature and harmful to others, animals, economies, and the environment. Those that bear witness are fundamentally injured in ways that are individualized and deeply personal. The fantastic nature of the witnessed event(s), such as the recent footage from Ukraine, is accentuated by unconscious dynamics such as fantasies, selective retention and recall, and mediated by rationalization and denial, transforming the moral injury to make it tolerable. What happened is manipulated in mind to minimize the stress of the witnessing and the anxiety about having “helplessly” observed. Bearing witness suggests that writing and speaking about the “knee on the neck” also helps to “process” what was witnessed.

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Toward therapeutic politics

Elizabeth Young-Bruehl (2011) explores the history of theorizing a Marx-Freud (socialism-psychoanalysis) synthesis. Of particular interest is “socialist psychoanalysis”, its practical aim of healing “social-political trauma”, and how it has evolved since World War II. The eventual aim of the paper is to apply psychoanalytic insights to understand and prevent prejudice.

The article invites us to (re)consider the dualities inherent in psychoanalytic thinking: private and public, individual and social, self and other. In doing so, a psychoanalytic perspective is offered for thinking about the psychosocial consequences of trauma at multiple levels: individual, family, organization, and society.

The article, though not explicitly, also invites us to consider the organizational realm in terms of “allowing for adult dependency needs”, the dynamics of caring organizations, and the dynamics of leading and following (see Howell & Itzkowitz (2018) on the social origins of psychopathy). As such, it connects to current conversations about social (organizational) psychoanalysis as a “pragmatic theory” concerned with ameliorating social trauma.

Ultimately, the article is a call to a politically active psychoanalysis. One that recalls the early years of working with the poor, delivering care to the injured, and maintaining a vibrant presence in communities and society.

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Reflections on the research pair

In this short post, we reflect on the fieldnote-writing method presented in our 2020 paper entitled "(Inter)subjectivity in the research pair: Countertransference and radical reflexivity in organizational research". While fieldnote-writing is often associated with a lone researcher in a distant land, we have found it useful as a collective process in both organizational and field research. The process we developed may prove especially useful to researchers and practitioners who already use a psychosocial approach to organizations. And, our fieldnote-writing method, when used in concert with organizational assessment, aids in making both the analysis and intervention phases of the work more meaningful. Throughout the paper, we share our ‘behind-the-scenes’ experiences, demonstrating “how a research pair working together in real time can become aware of their intersubjective processes, fold together multiple dimensions of experience (conscious and unconscious), and co-construct a shared understanding of organizational dynamics” (p. 1). We also share how we discovered that the research process can yield much more than we initially thought possible. Discovering those hidden possibilities is what reflexivity is all about - and it is at the heart of the psychoanalytic endeavor.