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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

The Bereaved Consultant: At the Intersection of Personal and Professional Loss

The genesis of this paper comes from my own personal tragedy: the death of my husband in March, 1996. At the time of his death I was doing role consultation work with senior executives of a division of a major pharmaceutical corporation. This work was commissioned by the CEO, Claude, and had his strong support and endorsement. This consultation -- which began in 1994 -- became seriously threatened when, in 1997, Claude suddenly announced his retirement and the re-structuring of the organization. Since my husbands death, this work had been my primary source of work and professional identity. In the midst of my own personal bereavement, I was facing the prospect of another major loss. As a bereaved consultant, I was particularly sensitive to the nuances of endings -- an inevitable phase of our professional lives often taken in stride. I began to think of my experience as having the potential for learning. The many ways in which my bereavement process intersected with the termination of this consultation forms the raw material for this paper. In some cases, my bereavement experience made me more sensitive to termination issues, and in other cases I think it pushed me to deny them. In deepening this exploration, I have concluded that in a world where loss and change are a way of life, the psychoanalytically informed perspective provides enormous benefit to clients in helping them to work through and resolve the often traumatic and largely out-of-conscious termination events in their organizational lives. First, however, we need to understand and manage our own termination experiences. The goal of this paper is to provide some guidance and understanding for ourselves professionally when we are faced with endings of working relationships with clients. I will briefly track the history of the consultation, provide some reflections on termination issues and their implications for consultation, and suggest some concepts for managing consulting terminations.