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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

AM22-PP21: Leadership as a moderator of trauma: from regulation of group dynamics to engagement for the future.

Parallel Papers Session 6
Sunday 2 July 2.30pm-3:45pm (14.30-15.45) CET
Paper Code: PP21

Leadership as a moderator of trauma: from regulation of group dynamics to engagement for the future.

Presenter: Jürgen León


Experienced trauma freezes the individual both in space and in language. Limitations encountered by individuals are not only limiting to them but also affect the systems in which they are embedded. Organizations show great flexibility because they are subject to regular changes and have to adjust to continue to make the interaction of individual units functional (Yukl, 2020). Such adjustments are opportunities to stimulate individual innovative capacities. This is especially true in context of trauma, where the most important moderator is social support.

Leaders play an essential role in this, as they are the interface between employees and their organization. According to Yalom (2020), group leaders need to recognize and incorporate both the needs of the group and of the individual into their intervention.

The psychodynamic conception of trauma suggests that trauma plunges the individual into another world, that of the ineffable and the unspeakable, with no word to describe the experience that remains outside of language (Freud, 1920). Though individuals consciously know they are mortal, they have no representation of it. Thus, the traumatized person is excluded from the community of the living and finds themselves imprisoned in the community of the dead (Lebigot, 2011). Indeed, as in the myth of Orpheus, the world of the dead is forbidden to the living, to go there is to transgress a ban, guilt will then be born from this forbidden knowledge. Feelings of culpability for various faults that individuals have or have not committed will support this clinically.

It is then a question of reintegrating the subject in the community of the living, of leaving the nothingness by the language, which is the mark of the living. In this respect, the group makes it possible to facilitate this reintegration as long as a leader fulfilling certain requirements frames it.

Indeed, being with people who have experienced similar traumas and learning about their impact can reduce feelings of confusion and isolation. It provides an opportunity to demonstrate various coping skills by directly addressing the need for relationships. In addition, the leader's role can facilitate this effect by making the group a safe, trusting, secure and supporting place. To do so, Yalom suggests a series of four steps in the group setting:

  1. Assess the group setting – determine the immutable group restraints
  2. Formulate goals – develop appropriate and achievable goals within the existing group restraints
  3. Modify traditional techniques – Leaders must adapt to the situation and the dynamics of the group
  4. Evaluation of the work

We have seen that trauma is an experience that can be moderated by the group while the leader regulates its dynamics. Following this introduction, we will look in detail at the steps identified by Yalom in order to establish practical recommendations that can be used by group leaders. Specific techniques will be explored, integrated with a relational approach of leadership and balanced by the limitations of group programs.


Freud, S. (1920). Beyond the pleasure principle. SE, 18, 7-66

Lebigot, F. (2018). Traiter les traumatismes psychiques-2e éd.: Clinique et prise en charge. 2011. Yalom, I. D., & Leszcz, M. (2020). The theory and practice of group psychotherapy. Hachette UK.