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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Presidents Letter June 2022

Offenbach, June 2022

Dear friends and colleagues,

For all of you not attending the upcoming AM and/or the embedded AGM (Annual General Meeting) I am sending this letter as a shortened and slightly different version of my presidential report.

The last month have changed a lot for many of us – the war in the Ukraine with its cruelties and damages have shaken us, frightened us and have changed our view on the world significantly, on democracy and diplomacy – and it continues to do so.

However, I am enormously proud to say that we as ISPSO managed to stay connected and united together against the war. In addition, a significant number of members helped our Ukrainian colleagues to flee and start a new or temporary live outside of the Ukraine - especially Heiner Kottmann, Ute Bock, Kamila Wujec, Iwona Soltysinska did a lot of work, just to name some. Taking a clear stance, we also published a war statement (which you can find on our website). On our list-serve thoughtful and reflective postings were shared, full of mutual respect, solidarity and empathy, but also showing concern, worry and fear, and many personal stories and experiences. With a recent event presented by Halina Brunning and Sheila White we were striving to create a space for understanding our own emotions around the war and for trying to make meaning of what is going on.

As you all know, we had planned to hold our annual meeting in June 2022 in Moscow and our Russian colleagues had been preparing for this as a hybrid meeting. For obvious reasons we decided for a virtual only meeting. Despite their own personal, emotional and other difficulties, our former Russian AM team now living in many different countries organized and have prepared this AM for us. The usual format of PDWs, AGM, papers, plenaries, key notes and social dreaming was kept, and we are looking forward to a very rich AM. In addition, some of us will be meeting in Frankfurt to socialize around the AM despite some residing Covid issues. I hope to see many of you in Frankfurt. Important to add that the theme is as timely as we could not have imagined when we created it together more than a year ago. At that time my major aim was to focus on the healing after trauma instead of analysing trauma in itself. And although we are still in the middle of the war in the Ukraine not knowing when it will end, it is important to hold up hope and to think about how to create a more humane world and apply our knowledge for reconciliation – not only for this war but in a broader sense.

When I started last summer with my presidency I had of course no idea how this year would develop. At that time, I had declared my three strategic objectives. And despite Covid and the Ukranian war, which needed a lot of attention, time and containment, these objectives are still important to me, and I hope for you as well.

1. Integration

This is a strategic objective which is about us: ISPSO should be a place where our different theories, backgrounds, experience and practices are embraced and cherished.

It entails the important notion that our organization can only flourish when all members feel free and eager to engage and contribute to an environment where they can be heard and respected in their differences and similarities.

It also includes gaining new members from areas of the world where we are still underrepresented. The AM in 2023 will finally take place physically, close to Johannesburg in South Africa and a group of members will organize it: Rica Viljoen and Thabo Mofomme as Co-Chairs working together with Giselle Courtney, Michelle May and Adrian Parsadh. They will use a self-organizing team structure approach named holacracy in which they are all equal members without hierarchy yet with specific tasks such as leadership or organizing the venue – something new to experiment with. This event will take place in the spirit of this first strategic objective – creating and integrating different ways of psychodynamic thinking and working – it will be very different from our usual AMs since some traditional African (healer) elements will play a key role in that. We will talk more about this at the end of the actual AM.

Also, with the continuation of the first large Anti Racism event last year, we have continued to deal with this difficult subject. A new group has formed and organizes this meeting, Alexandra Gerny, Gilles Amado, Stan Gold, and Thomas Rieger. All kind of aspects of racism are invited to be voiced and discussed there. This is the main aim of these meetings.

The Monthly Membership Meetings, which were supported from board side by Jeff Axelbank and Pearl Tran, are also part of this overall theme: more transparency, engagement and integration for you as members and by that the integration of differences.

2. Connection with the outside world

The second objective turns directly towards the outside world: I would endeavor to develop ISPSO further into an international organization which is open and attractive to the outside world. Our ecosystem and network should not only contain likeminded societies but also the world of our object of study and work.

I can imagine an ISPSO that is seen and known in the world of organizations and politics as a group of highly competent people who have something to say about and for organizations, systems and networks – for outsiders it could be a mostly unusual but extremely helpful perspective. To serve this purpose the new website was developed as a starting point. Although it took one year longer than expected (the chosen provider overpromised and underdelivered, an awfully bad combination) I hope you will enjoy working with it and you will be proud to share it widely in your network. It should follow the notion of a platform for exchange, cooperation, sharing between us and with the outer world consisting of organizations (and systems) and their leaders as our focus of work. My next presidential year will focus mainly on this important objective.

As you might remember, I think it would be great to connect with our (actual and future) clients and objects of research directly – we will therefor create a 1,5-day meeting with some African and other leaders some months prior to our AM to discuss organizational trends, work trends and also larger themes together. As a role model it could be one of the first business meetings from ISPSO. I also hope to initiate these business days in Europe and in other ISPSO regions.

I would also like to hear what you think of what is going on in our client’s or research object’s world. Therefor we might go for a membership survey on this subject next year.

3. Governance

My third strategic objective is to work on our governance structure.

This is of course a continuous, never-ending subject, there is always something we could do better. On board level we developed a board charter for us clarifying how we want to work together and what kind of board culture we would like to have, knowing that this will be important for the overall culture of ISPSO. We worked on our roles and responsibilities in more detail and also defined clearly the role of the Executive Committee. But there is still some more professionalism needed in defining more clearer roles for all board members – this will help to ease the onboarding process for new members to the board. For this purpose, we have also established a buddy system, where an experienced board member supports the new one with advice and experiences. The board meetings changed in such that we always take an hour of our two-hour meeting to work on major subjects (Culture, Roles, Charter, Responsibilities etc). This gives us more space for thinking together.

In this context we will also have to develop our digitization strategy further. The board is eager to do so. The website is one piece of it, the incubator another, but with our newly elected incoming board member Nevena Jeremic we will hopefully take this one step further.

4. ISPSO is more than the Board work

With the new website we would like to share our members’ work with all of you and the outside world – which of course depends on how much you want to share your own work.

Since this has only start working recently, I would like to point your attention to a number of important books which have been written and/or edited by ISPSO members – which is a great achievement:

  • Traveling through Time: How Trauma Plays Itself out in Families, Organizations and Society.
    By M. Gerard Fromm (Past President)
  • Danse Macabre and Other Stories: A Psychoanalytic Perspective on Global Dynamics.
    By Halina Brunning and Olya Khaleelee, including stories in a story of other ISPSO members
  • Ruptures in the American Psyche: Containing Destructive Populism in Perilous Times.
    By Michael J. Diamond (Distinguished and founding member)
  • Family Psychodynamics in Organizational Contexts, The Hidden Forces that Shape the Workplace
    By Steen Visholm (Past President)
  • Der heißeste Wunsch der Menschheit (in German)
    By Moritz Senarclense de Grancy (AM Chair Berlin 2021)
  • Also to be mentioned is Simon Western‘s podcasts on Leadership under the name of edgy ideas. (Past President)

Congratulations to all authors, we are proud to have you with us as leading thinkers in our field.

5. Thanks, Farewells and Welcomes

Our annual meeting is also the place to farewell board members whose terms are ending and to welcome new board members.

Steen is finishing his presidency having been past president for a year, after two years of presidency and two years of president elect. He took the reins from Simon some month prior to Covid and many of his plans could not be fulfilled because of that. Unfortunately, he had to give up one AM, which is very painful and sad for a president since this is part of the footprint one leaves and also had to postpone thus another AM. Despite these difficulties and the emotional rollercoaster stemming from the pandemic he managed ISPSO through these difficult Covid waters, with his kind and relaxed leadership style.

Nicola took care of many things around online subjects and pushed us kindly and relentlessly to improve and work on these subjects, the incubator and the ISPSOzine as both her babies are now well established. And without her, to be honest, our ISPSO appearance on social media would not exist!

And Rob? A life as president of ISPSO without Rob as Administrative Director is unimaginable. His great and never-ending support, his relentless efforts, his willingness to discuss ISPSO questions any time, his integrative reflective stance, his kindness, honesty and comradeship, and much more will be very much missed, certainly by me, but also by many others. He has spent three years in that demanding and time-consuming position, and I can tell you, that a break for him is more than deserved.

Aaron Nurick’s term of being responsible for events had ended, yet fortunately he was re-elected again and will continue to focus on events – physical and online - and on building up the Online Academy together with other board members. The continuation in this position is crucial for ISPSOs future development, and I am glad and thankful that he is willing to support ISPSO for another term.

We welcome Nevena Jeremic as a new board member. We all know Nevena from her great support for the online AM in Berlin. Without her, I am sure, the conference would not have worked out that well. She has managed us through the Qiqochat jungle with energy, kindness and a lot of patience – all much needed in that process. I am already very much looking forward to working with her.

I would also like to thank all ISPSO members who have actively contributed to our society, e.g., the speakers and moderators of the different events, but also all others supporting the different projects and ideas we are having. And thank you to all members being part of ISPSO, supporting it and paying your dues and contributing to make ISPSO an enriching place for all of us.

And my biggest thanks go to my board colleagues. We have been going through this not so easy year whilst staying in role and task as good as possible. Special thanks to Rob Ryan and Jeff Axelbank who took over for three weeks I was recovering from my back surgery, they did a great job in a critical time. Together we achieved a lot as board, and it is a pleasure working with this board. Thank you all!!!

Dear friends and colleagues,
I am still proud and happy to be your president despite these turbulent times. If you see room for improvement (which is always there) or would want to share an insight, wish, hope or critic, do not hesitate to contact me under

I would like to end with one more sentence on the future: next year 2023 will be a special year – we will be celebrating our 40th anniversary and also honoring our founding members. So let us enjoy and celebrate this together!

All yours, warm regards

President & CEO of ISPSO