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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

The roots of trust and mistrust in psychoanalytic organizations: Implications for leadership, management, survival and adaptability

The paper will begin with a review of psychoanalytic theories about the origins of trust and mistrust in the maternal-infant dyad and propose a model for how this dynamic may be manifest in organizational behavior. Two case studies of psychoanalytic organizations (a local center and a national association) will be used to illustrate the formation and progressive erosion of trust. Hypotheses about what forms of leadership, management strategies and structures might be employed to re-construct trust in such organizations will then be offered. Finally, interventions and outcomes based on these hypotheses that support a 'principle-based management' approach will be presented.Developmental theories (e.g., Erikson) suggest that the formation of an internalized object relationship of both trust and distrust is largely determined by the degree of alignment between the child's needs and the mother's response (e.g., the reliability of the mother's response to the child's hunger). At the organizational level, the infant role can be viewed as that of the individual member while the maternal role can be conceptualized as the organization-as-a-whole including its structures and leadership methods (e.g., governance, communication practices). As with the mother-child dyad, external (e.g., economic pressures, reduction in narcissistic supplies) and internal factors (e.g., array of skills, interests, and culture) can impact the development of trust and sensitivity to betrayal in the whole organization for better or worse. Declining economic viability of traditional psychoanalysis and diminishing idealization of psychoanalysts in the United States has produced heightened anxiety in analysts and their organizations. New practices like admitting non-medical analysts and relaxing standards, while imminently practical, increase group heterogeneity and accelerate anxiety. Reluctance to maintain transparent communication within and among sub-groups further entrenches anxiety and perceived separateness. Any group encountering such deprivation and disruption would be prone to re-experience infantile terror (the mother will never come) and fantasies of annihilation. Cognitive flexibility and the ability to trust others predictably decline and paranoid certainty increases. Ironically, psychoanalysts may be particularly vulnerable to such maladaptive reactions because of their unique training and professional role. Organizational life lacks the protective barriers provided by the psychoanalytic setting and challenges the analyst's capacity to work and communicate with the same empathy and fearlessness required for effective psychoanalysis. Moreover, psychoanalysts' idealization of their profession may inhibit them from employing their theory and skills in 'ordinary' settings. As psychoanalysis matures and moves beyond the consulting room, analysts need new capabilities and tools for the world of the organization.