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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021



Parallel Papers Session 3
Saturday 6 July 11.00pm-12.15 pm, EEST
Paper Code: PP4

“Not alone in the trauma”
Researching the design and impact of the Social Photo-Matrix and Social Dream-Drawing Methodologies on groups and teams in disturbed times

Presenters: Irina Brazhnikova, Dr. Rose Redding Mersky & Ekaterina Shapovalova

The Social Photo-Matrix (SPM) and Social Dream-Drawing (SDD) are two socioanalytic methodologies that have been used internationally in a variety of organizational and professional settings. Participants generally find these methods deeply relevant and helpful in coping with difficult personal and organizational transitions and societal traumas. Because these methods are often unfamiliar to participants and the drawings and photographs can illicit strong emotional responses, it is critical that they are organized and facilitated in such a way that participants feel safe and learning can take place.

The authors of this abstract are researching these two methodologies. Our two-fold goal is for future hosts to be aware of “best practices” in implementing these methods and to expand their capacity for emotional containment when working with participants experiencing deep uncertainty.

We have interviewed participants in 4 different workshops, held in 2022 and 2023. All participants are native Russians, some of whom no longer live in Russia. Our research question is: What factors need to be considered in order to host these methods effectively and to ensure emotional containment and learning?

Some of the issues we are exploring are:

  • How to determine an appropriate theme.

  • What are the ideal number of sessions and the space of time between them?

  • How does one manage the role of host when one is also a member of the group of participants?

  • What is the advantage of having an “outsider” as host?

  • What methods of communication and design decisions are needed to contain the emotional impact of the experience and to foster learning?

Initial interview data from 10 participants has confirmed that these are powerfully meaningful methods. Interviewees well remember the workshop experience, even months later, and especially well remember their own photos and dream drawings. In a SPM with the theme “What is Home?”, participants described it as a transforming experience, which had a profound influence on them. As one participant put it: “It was an experience for me to put myself back together piece by piece. This kind of experience makes your picture of the world broader when you are at the peak of feeling and can't see it for yourself. I moved from feeling drama and chaos to longing and then to perspective”.

On the other hand, student participants in an SPM with the theme “What stays when everything falls apart?” were so overwhelmed with the first session that some left altogether, and others organized Zoom sessions with one another for mutual support.

SDD workshop participants reported that the experience helped them to organize a diffused anxiety. It helped to make it more understandable, easier to face and to bear. For one, the images became a coherent story.

The major overall finding was the power and value of the group experience. Differences evolve into commonalities (“Each participant has something different, but the group still incorporates some common thinking”). Self-reflection takes place (“it gives you the opportunity to look at yourself differently through the eyes of others.”). And isolation diminished (“I realize I am not alone in the trauma.”).

We are proposing this paper with particular respect to this question in the Call for Papers: “How can our psychoanalytical conceptual frameworks, methods and tools support leaders and other clients to engage assuredly in groups and organisations in the future?” From our experience in these workshops and in light of the interview material, we see that these two methods help individuals to arrange massively disorganised, disappointing and lonely experiences into a more coherent story that can be shared and talked about with one another. As one participant put it: “it makes thinkable the things difficult to think”.

Biographical Summary

Irina Brazhnikova is a psychoanalytic coach and organisational consultant. Having more than 20 years of business background and governing of transformational projects, in 2018 Irina started to work with teams and individuals in psychoanalytic approach and researches application of psychoanalytic methods in organisational context.

Dr. Rose Redding Mersky has been an organisational development consultant to a wide variety of private, public, non-profit and professional organizations for over thirty years. Her many publications have focused primarily on the practice of consultation and the utilisation of socioanalytic methodologies in both organisational and research practice. She is a Distinguished Member of the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations, and she served as its first female president. She is an honorary professor at the National Research University: Higher School of Economics in Moscow, where she teaches master classes. Her new book, The Social Dream-Drawing Workshop: A Handbook for Professionals has just been published by Routledge. She is an American citizen living in Germany and can be contacted at:

Ekaterina Shapovalova holds degrees in MSc Management (Leeds University Business School, UK, 2006) and MA Psychology (Higher School of Economics, Moscow, 2014) and works as a psychodynamic coach and business consultant with private and corporate clients for over eight years. She is also the managing partner at Subcon Business Solutions – a consulting company specializing in helping business tackle people management issues and enhance top-team performance in the formats of corporate training and education programs, team coaching and retreats. Ekaterina’s previous professional experience includes strategic consulting at PwC and Roland Berger, corporate mergers and acquisitions expertise and own entrepreneurial projects. Ekaterina is also a Senior lecturer for the Master’s Program ‘Psychoanalysis and Business Consulting’ at Higher School of Economics and teaches Psychoanalysis of organisations and Neuropsychoanalysis. She regularly takes part in Group Relations Conferences around the globe as a member and as a consultant since 2019. Ekaterina is a member of ISPSO (International Society of Psychoanalytic Studies of Organisations) and Neuropsychoanalysis Association. She is a board member and Certified Professional Business Coach of Association of Psychoanalytic Coaching and Business Consulting based in Moscow.