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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

AM23-QC-PP13: Reconstructing Meaning: A Psychoanalytic Exploration of Implicit Organizational Trauma

Parallel Papers Session 3
Saturday 1 July 15.15am-16.45 SAST - ONLINE

Reconstructing Meaning: A Psychoanalytic Exploration of Implicit Organizational Trauma

Presenters: Dr. Bryan McNutt, PhD & Dr. Joseph Duggan, PhD


This paper symposium will explore the phenomenological experience of organizational trauma and loss among several members from a Protestant liturgical church in the North American West, which extended over a period of ten years following the closure of their congregation. A semi-structured longitudinal interview process was utilized, while applying a descriptive phenomenological analysis of the members’ experiences. The collective trauma endured by the congregation included the traumatic death of a beloved member, repeated violations of relational trust and betrayal by congregational leaders, as well as intergenerational child sexual abuse perpetrated by various clergy members. Considerations of psychodynamic theory were applied to provide a more in-depth contextual understanding of the members’ experiences of organizational loss and adaptive grief. A qualitative review of the data revealed the critical function of shared mourning to support adaptive grief recovery, as well as the importance of a spiritually oriented narrative to assist with reconstructing a sense of meaning. The results from this research reveal relevant insight into the individual and collective experiences of grief over a period of several years, which are associated with the phenomenon of organizational loss in the context of a religious congregational closure. Psychodynamic functions of collective splitting and affective dissociation, as well as identification and idealization of the members’ relationships with the organization are explored within the context of collective grief. Further considerations of applying a systems psychodynamics approach within consulting situations involving organizational loss will also be discussed.

Keywords: Organizational loss; collective grief; congregational closure; systems psychodynamics; phenomenological research

Learning Objectives

Participants will be able to:

  1. Identify primary features indicative of implicit organizational trauma.
  2. Recognize organizational dynamics of splitting and affective dissociation through the lens of a traumatized congregation.
  3. Apply organizational consulting approaches that help facilitate members' narrated experience of shared mourning

Biographical Summary

Dr. Bryan McNutt is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PhD), Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), and Certified Employee Assistance Counselor (CEAP). Dr. McNutt currently serves as an internal employee assistance psychologist and consultant with the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), where he specializes in providing psychotherapeutic services for faculty and staff members of the UCSD community, in addition to critical incident debriefings, management consultations, and behavioral threat assessment and management support. Dr. McNutt has several years of professional experience within a wide variety of clinical settings, including inpatient and outpatient psychiatric care (intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization), substance abuse and rehabilitation treatment, short-term acute residential psychiatric care, hospice care, military installation support, and private practice work, where he specialized in traumatic stress, grief and loss, occupational mental health, as well as working with sexual and gender diverse clients. In addition to his primary work in employee assistance and organizational consulting, Dr. McNutt also serves as an Adjunct Faculty Professor in clinical psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, CA, while also maintaining ongoing research interests in organizational trauma and loss.