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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Continuous maintenance of dead organizational aspects in a volunteer-organization as a defense against annihilation

We explore a volunteer-organization functioning as a vocal part-object (telephone calls) and the repercussions of this phenomenon on aspects of life and death in the organization. a. Background: We present our work with a volunteer-organization that was founded in 1972 for the purpose of helping people in distress. This help is provided by non-professional volunteers who answer emergency phone calls. Today this organization has ten branches all over the country and about 600 volunteers. Each branch has a board, manager and secretary. The manager and the secretary are fulltime salaried employees. The organization has a general manager and is governed by a general assembly whose members are board representatives from each of the branches. The organization is financed by donations from government, municipalities, industry and private individuals. However, donations do not cover the expenses. On the other hand the number of paid staff has been increasing in recent years. In addition, it is not clear how many of the volunteers are truly committed to the organization and are willing to contribute their time. It seems there are people who appear on the list of the volunteers but rarely do any work for the organization. We were asked by the two managers of the two largest branches to explore the process occurring in the organization, to identify the underlying problems and to come up with recommendations. b. Methodology: An initial diagnosis was followed by an intensive two-day workshop. This was followed by a second-stage diagnosis. Finally, on the basis of the diagnosis and the workshop, feedback and a consulting session were conducted and attended by the branch managers and all the volunteers who had participated in the workshop. This last session was conducted by way of an unstructured dialogue with the members of the organization. c. Working hypothesis: Volunteering emanates among other things from generosity and in a culture of generosity it is not suitable to be direct and aggressive. All aggression and discomfort have no channels through which to be expressed. These elements erode the structure within and contribute to the paralysis and death of some organizational parts. d. The workshop: The main events in the workshop were: Role Analysis in small groups, an Institutional Event, a Social Dreaming Matrix event (G. Lawrence method), and a plenary. In this way we conducted a multi-dimensional exploration that included the individual, the team and the organization as a whole. e. Main findings: Most persons operating as volunteers in this organization came to the organization trying unconsciously to 'save' dying internalized objects. Indeed in its first years, this organization was very active and bustled with vitality. It helped both volunteers and callers to find their own emotional vital parts, or 'living internalized objects.' However, our initial diagnosis revealed that in the last 15 years it has been in a state of continuous deterioration, has lost all its vitality and sense of direction. In the beginning most callers had acute problems which created a culture of immediacy and a sense of purpose for the volunteers, giving them the role of saviors. Now, most callers are mainly chronic patients, post psychotics, severe borderline and sometimes perverts. They call time and again, repeating their stories endlessly. There is nothing the volunteers can do to help them. In the meantime, competing organizations with similar objectives have been founded. These other organizations hold the libidinal aspects of the same task: They offer help lines for battered women, rape victims, survivors of terror attacks, etc. Volunteers in the organization are participants in a repetitive deadening ritual, but still cannot bring themselves to leave the organization. The volunteers who man the phone lines know that nothing new is happening and nothing new will happen. On the one hand there is a declared policy to limit the time for 'chronic' callers and the volunteers experience a rejection toward them. On the other hand there is a psychotic anxiety of annihilation stemming from the fear that if there are no calls from these chronic people, the line will go empty and this will signify the end of the organization. Thus the organization has been transformed from a vital lifesaving organization to one suffocated by busy lines and absent volunteers. In order to cope with this anxiety of annihilation the staff and the volunteers are unconsciously holding artificial, repetitive ritual parts in an attempt to continue existing. They are also withholding from the organization the ability to be more creative, libidinal, and to impart fresh ideas and elements in order to bring about change. References Green, A. (1990). The Dead Mother in On Private Madness. London: Routledge. Lawrence, W.G. (1994). The Politics of Salvation and Revelation in the Practice of Consultancy in R. Casement et al (Eds.) What Makes Consultancy Work: Understanding the Dynamics. London: South Bank University Press.'