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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

AM22-PP15: Traveling through Time: A Group Intervention in Northern Ireland

Parallel Papers Session 4
Saturday 2 July 2.45pm-4:00pm (14.45-16.00) CEST
Paper Code: PP15
CE credits available

Traveling through Time: A Group Intervention in Northern Ireland

Presenter: Gerard (Jerry) Fromm


This presentation reports on an intervention into the traumatized community of Northern Ireland. A few years ago, several members of the International Dialogue Initiative (IDI) were invited to design and facilitate a set of meetings to address an outbreak of violence in Belfast. Over the course of thirty years, a period known as The Troubles, sectarian violence between Protestants and Catholics had led to more than 3,500 deaths, and any new flare-up was cause for serious concern. This particular intervention brought together high level representatives from all five of Northern Ireland’s major political parties as well as civic leaders from various segments of society. Organized by an ecumenical group, meetings were held over two days at a remote Retreat house, where all participants shared meals and engaged informally outside the sessions. The agreed-upon task was to explore and diagnose the underlying psychological obstacles to a more peaceful and stable Northern Ireland. Participants in this kind of meeting – because they are embedded in the identity of their groups and because the immediate group dynamic pushes for it - inevitably function as informal spokespersons for the groups they represent. By listening to personal stories and observing interactions among the participants, the team tried to understand, name and describe various emotional processes that occur within and between large groups in Northern Ireland. The presentation reports on the structure of the Retreat, emerging themes (for, example, the search for leadership, intolerable emotions like shame and grief, and the mythic origins of the conflict) and progressions within the process.

Learning Objectives

After the session participants will be able to:

  1. identify the task and structure of the intervention.
  2. identify how the intervention was managed, including the management of potential aggression.
  3. identify effects of societal trauma on participants, including the effect of collective shame.
  4. recognize recognize the difference between grievance and grief.

Biographical Summary

Jerry Fromm is a Distinguished Faculty member and former Director of the Erikson Institute of the Austen Riggs Center and a Fellow of the American Board and Academy of Psychoanalysis. He is President of the International Dialogue Initiative, an interdisciplinary group that studies the psychodynamics of societal conflict, and a past president of ISPSO and the Center for the Study of Groups and Social Systems in Boston. He currently consults to organizations and leads training workshops. Dr. Fromm’s most recent book is Traveling through time: How trauma plays itself out in families, organisations and society.