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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

A fractured landscape: a systems psychodynamic investigation into the experience of a partially distributed team of therapists in an Australian child protection system

Using a systems psychodynamic stance, this research employs a qualitative case study based on interviews, observations and reflective inquiry to investigate the experience of a partially distributed team. By partially distributed it is meant a team where not all members work in the same location, and communication is a blend of face-to-face and online. The case study team provides therapeutic services to clients of the child protection system in regional Australia. Services are provided as outreach, and team members work autonomously and independently with children who have experienced significant trauma and neglect, their carers and care teams. Data is collected on the team member's experience of their work, organisation and environment. At the team level, the focus is on the referral of children to the service, the experience of therapists and consideration of the outcomes for their clients. At an organisational level, the relationship between the place-based, relational nature of the work and the organisation's centralised management structure is studied. At an environmental level, the analysis delves into authority and accountability in inter-organisational relations. A key finding of the analysis is that, for this particular partially distributed team, a lack of an explicit, shared task, together with the difficulty of engaging with each other online, geographic dispersal and a structural separation of decision-making and service delivery, results in stronger identification with a sub-team based on location, rather than the team-as-a-whole. These dynamics are further explored through a drawing process which surfaces a desire for maternal holding in response to vicarious trauma; not adequately held in the current arrangement. Following the analysis, consideration is given to the optimal organisational structure and delegations of authority and accountability which may be required to support the partially distributed team, extending systems psychodynamic thinking in this area.