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The Tavistock Learning Group

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In The Tavistock Learning Group: Exploration Outside the Traditional Frame, authors Clive Hazell and Mark Kiel attempt to expand the heuristic, theoretical, and applied dimensions of Group Relations paradigms by pairing classical Group Relations concepts with typically non-Tavistock psychology paradigms and social sciences concepts. Under the broad domain of psychologically-informed constructs, Lacanian psychoanalysis, existential philosophy and bioenergetics are applied. Under a somewhat broader range of social science conceptualization, the capacity for abstraction is linked with anti-work in groups, the large group is re-imagined as an extension of community dynamics and dysfunction, and the role of symbol systems, symbology and semiotics are examined in relation to sophisticated work groups. Lastly, non-Tavistock models of group development and conceptualization are re-interpreted and explained using a group-as-a-whole framework.Much work in this field has been based on one or two paradigms, notably stemming from the work of Rice (Learning for Leadership), Bion (Experiences in Groups), and Klein (Envy and Gratitude and Other Works). While these models and their extensions are indeed useful, the authors argue that it is time to introduce new paradigms to enrich the interpretive possibilities of this field and to increase its applicability to modern and postmodern contexts.

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Chapter One - On learning groups

ePub

Mark Kiel

The impetus for this book is that the co-author and I are Tavistock group enthusiasts. We teach, consult, and spend a great deal of time thinking about these kinds of groups. Over the past fifteen years, we settled into a pattern of running Tavistock groups and then processing the events that transpired. That left an impression on us. Letting a significant amount of time pass between the groups’ events and the discussion of them seems to have afforded us both a certain intellectual distance and flexibility. Over the years, we further fell into an informal habit of spending our time less processing our subjective experiences and more time offering very specific working hypotheses about what the theoretical and applied learning of a given group or group interaction might belie. We tended to focus on the extremes—groups that went especially well, groups that went especially poorly, and groups that performed especially curiously. Our “working models” of these notable events made their way into the courses we taught, our future group work and permeated our psychology world views. I took to writing shorts essays for my classes about the phenomenon in question and attaching vignettes about group interactions that seemed especially illustrative. Clive had done similar work previously in a more formal manner, culminating in a number of books on topics ranging from Imaginary Groups (2005), to Alterity (2009), to The Experience of Emptiness (2003). It is the intention of this effort to share some of our thoughts on these Tavistock-related sub-topics: at times revisiting established ideas, at times partnering the Tavistock model with other aspects of psychology or social science, and to along the way offer vignettes that we believe captured these conceptual ideas.

 

Chapter Two - The Hill interaction matrix: A Modification and Elaboration

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Clive Hazell

Semmelhack, Hazell, and Ende (2013) present seventeen years of quasi experimental studies that demonstrate the therapeutic effectiveness of Tavistock style groups with those diagnosed with severe mental illness. In these studies, significant improvements in anxiety, depression, coping, and group cohesion were found in members of Tavistock style groups. In addition, Semmelhack, Ende, Freeman, and Hazell (2015, pp. 187–211) describe in more detail the dynamics that took place in these groups. In this section, it is our aim to further explain the reasons why the Tavistock group can promote such growth. Such an explanation seems apposite because the Tavistock group is not intended to provide therapeutic benefit and groups in this tradition are usually regarded as not having especial therapeutic potency. Hill, for example (1965) ranks the “group/confrontive” intervention as eighth on a one to sixteen scale of therapeutic effectiveness. The above-cited studies by Semmelhack Hazell, and Ende (2013) call this rating into question. In this section we will attempt to show why the Tavistock style group has such effectiveness. We will do so by using Hill’s three vectors of therapeutic action (1965), namely: member centeredness, interpersonal threat, and therapist role taking in addition to positing several other dynamisms that could have therapeutic impact.

 

Chapter Three - Gibb’s Trust Model: A Modification and Elaboration

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Mark Kiel

In 1964 Jack Gibb presented an elegant and generative model of group development using the concept of trust formation as an explanatory cornerstone.

In short, the model was as follows:

Gibb claimed that at the beginning of a new group these questions have to be addressed and dealt with before any realistic work can be done by the group.

Gibb’s model is also useful as a tool for helping to understand what is blocking a group’s progress.

Stage:

Unresolved:

Resolved:

I. Acceptance

Fear, distrust

Acceptance, trust

II. Information

Hidden feelings, caution

Spontaneity, sharing

III. Aims

Competition, apathy

Creative work and play

IV. Control

Dependency, power struggles

Role distribution.

The key to this matrix is that if a group is having difficulty at one of these levels, then the cause will be found on the level before it. Thus, before the group can effectively move on, it needs to go back and resolve or work on the previous level’s task.

 

Chapter Four - Existentialism and the Tavistock Learning Group

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Mark Kiel

The group-as-a-whole/Tavistock methodology is firmly rooted in psychoanalytic theory, especially the British School of Object Relations psychoanalysis of Klein (1975) and Bion (1961). Yet, as one of the primary theses of this book, the Tavistock model has heuristic value and power that transcends its psychoanalytic beginnings and current center. This extrapolation has previously included the topic of organizational transformation (Obholzer & Roberts, 1994), the study of multicultural dynamics (Hofstede, 2010), social psychology (Menzies-Lyth, 1960), and society/global phenomena (Volkan, 2014). This chapter seeks to demonstrate how the theory and practice of a Tavistock group has implications and applications for existential psychology and matters related to existence.

Existential psychology, like the study of existentialism in general, is broad and because of its connection to the philosophy of humanism, is hard to unify and define. That said there are several topics that fall within this category that readily apply to Tavistock work and concepts. They include:

 

Chapter Five - Lacanian Discourses and the Learning Group

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Clive Hazell

The purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate the applicability and utility of Lacan’s scheme of discourses (2007) in group-as-a-whole work. First, I will outline Lacan’s theory of the four discourses. Following this, I will address some applications of Lacan’s ideas that have been dealt with by other writers and finally I will provide examples of discourse theory as it might be applied to group-as-a-whole work.

Lacan identifies four discourses and diagrams them as below.

Master              University

Analyst              Hysteric

KEYS

In addition, each of the corners of the quadrant has a fixed definition as diagrammed below.

Thus we can see that each of the four symbols (S1, S2, a, $) rotate, one quadrant at a time, over the four positions of Agent, Object, Product, and Truth. This rotation creates each of the qualities and attributes of each of the four discourses. Thus, in the discourse of the Master we have the agent as the master signifier (S1) who produces desire (objet a, Jouissance, surplus production) in those who are the targets of the action. Such desire is barred from complete awareness by a signifying chain (S2). The truth of the matter is that the master signifier is him or herself, a divided subject ($). An example of this might be the cult leader who speaks with absolute certainty and mastery as if has a hold on the ultimate truth, as if he has “the word” (S1). This “truth” is manifested in signifying chains (sermons, dictates, proclamations). The followers are a flock who follow and worship the master, creating for him a surplus value that the master enjoys but of which they are largely unaware (a). The master, guru or cult leader is unaware, as is everyone else, of their “feet of clay” of their secret divisions and uncertainties, symptoms, fetishisms, and neurotic conflicts ($).

 

Chapter Six - I’ll Disappear: Data and the Absence of Data in the Learning Group

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Clive Hazell and Mark Kiel

The use of the term “data” tends to conjure up dry rows of numbers rather than the close contact with emotions, fantasies, and impulses that is often part and parcel of Tavistock group work. This section aims to examine the types of data that the Tavistock consultant may use, examining situations that may lead to overwhelming floods of data and deserts of absence of data. Finally, ways of coping with data floods and droughts will be suggested. A thread running through this will be the openness to data that comes from ideas beyond the traditional frame.

When training to become a consultant in Tavistock learning groups, I was frequently asked, upon describing a consultation I had delivered, “What is your data?” Often, when consulting to a group, members would respond to consultations as if they came out of the blue and would ask, in one way or in another, “From where did you get such an outlandish idea?” I soon developed a habit of attempting always to have fairly reliable answers to such interrogations. I even developed a “rule of three,” that is, that before I would deliver a consultation to the covert processes operating in a group, I would have at least three data points to substantiate my offering. Thus, for example, a consultation having to do with the group’s boundaries might be backed up by my observation that the door had been left open, that someone had mentioned that they had found something in their purse that was not theirs and yet another had wondered if the group had the same start and end times every time.

 

Chapter Seven - Anti-work and the Capacity for Abstraction

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Mark Kiel

Given that a primary lens of Tavistock learning groups is a focus on the irrational, unconscious, and covert barriers to group functioning, it is no surprise that there is extensive literature on the phenomena of “anti-work” leaders, subgroups and group cultures (Bion, 1959, 1961; Edelson, 1970; Ganzerain, 1989; Gould, 2006; Hazell, 2005; Hopper, 2003; Hill, 1965; LeBon, 2002; Lipgar & Pines, 2002; Obholzer & Roberts, 1994; Yalom, 2005). As a common working definition, anti-work is a broader term, more expansive then simply the opposite of “group work.” Anti-work can apply to any group activity that is not in the service of furthering the primary task of the group or system. Thus, a range of neutral actions or inactions, novel or banal contributions, convergent or divergent experiments or endeavors may qualify as anti-work. Indeed, the differentiation of such phenomena as work or anti-work is at the center of much of Tavistock theory and practice.

 

Chapter Eight - Trauma, the Group, and Remembering with the Body

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Clive Hazell

It is the aim of this section to connect thinking about the group-as-a-whole to some of the latest thinking on trauma. This, we believe, inevitably leads to connections to the body in the group since trauma is a biopsychosocial phenomenon.

In the book, What Happens When You Touch the Body (2011), Hazell and Perez argue that body workers often activate repressed traumatic memories in their line of work. Often, the body worker does not explore the source of the feeling with the client but simply allows for the expression and sharing of the feelings and memories as they surface. The following gives a fairly common experience.

Many people who work with the body report experiences like the following. They are palpating a muscle, or asking a patient to perform a certain action when, out of the blue, the patient has a powerful emotional reaction. They might start to cry, or become angry, for example. The patient themselves might be puzzled and frightened by their response. Often the body worker is also taken aback. The following case vignette gives an example of this.

 

Chapter Nine - The Body and the Group

ePub

Clive Hazell

Linkages between the body of the individual and group dynamics have been part of psychological thinking since the work of Cannon on Voodoo Death (1942) and the work of Selye (1978) on stress. In this mode of understanding the body is related to the group via perception, the hypothalamus, the sympathetic, and parasympathetic nervous systems. Since the human is a social animal whose well-being relies upon positive engagement with a supportive social network, disruptions in this network will activate the well-known stress cycle in the human body. The field of psychoneuroimmunology (Daruna, 2004) elaborates these impacts into the immune system and other subsystems of the human body that regulate physical health. This way of thinking about the relationship of the group to the body of the individual has important implications in terms of the health of the individual and of society where social relationships can be shown to have direct measureable impacts on physical health. In addition the relatively new field of interpersonal neuropsychology (Leiberman, 2013) examines and establishes important connections between physiological processes and interpersonal and social interactions.

 

Chapter Ten - The Large Group, Community, and Therapeutic Potential

ePub

Clive Hazell

Introduction

In what follows we will describe some of the many ideas regarding large groups and problems encountered when attempting to use the large group or a community meeting as a therapeutic tool. We will argue that many of those preconceptions are unnecessarily negative and have led to large groups being under-utilized especially as a therapeutic modality. We will then describe and develop a novel theory of community. This will lead to a set of ideas on the important functions of community as defined herein. We integrate this with Edelson’s theory of social systems (1970). We then outline the components of community based upon the preceding arguments. We argue that the community function as we define it is of vital importance in any socio-therapeutic effort and in the psychological well-being of the individual. We end the section by describing practical ways in which the community function can be enabled, facilitated, and supported. Throughout, we shift back and forth from the terms “large group” and “community.” “Large group” refers to the number of individuals present in the group. Usually a group starts to be considered “large” when it exceeds twelve in number of members, “median” when it reaches about forty-five and very large when it approaches about 120 members. “Community,” refers to a function that is either absent or present, to a greater or lesser extent in a group. A further definition of that function is, in part, the purpose of this section.

 

Chapter Eleven - Fears and Wishes on Partnering and Working as a Team

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Clive Hazell and Mark Kiel

This section is an exploration of the dynamics of our work together. This book is a product of a pairing, a pair attempting to come to grips with some problems in group dynamics. We both strongly believe that it takes a group to understand a group and therefore endorse group projects aimed at this important task. Perhaps an examination of some of the processes involved in our collaboration might be helpful to others endeavoring to pursue similar projects.

The section is structured as an open forum.

Clive Hazell

I think it will be helpful to think through the fears and wishes of our work together by following loosely the FABART template.

An important feature of our pairing is our age difference. I am sixty-seven at the time of writing. Dr. Kiel (Mark) is forty-two. I first met Mark as a student some twenty years ago when I was teaching at the Illinois School of Professional Psychology. This combination of age difference and authority difference at the outset of our relationship contributes to fantasies on my part. Over the years, Mark has increased in authority and has, at various times had authority over me as a conference leader or as the leader of extended group weekends held under the auspices of the school. It was my perception that these shifts in authority were accomplished with relatively little anxiety or acting out. To some extent this may have resulted from my being extra careful to play the role of what I considered to be a good mentor, namely one that is heartened when the mentee outstrips the mentor. This satisfaction of seeing Mark “do well” and carry the much-valued torch of Tavistock knowledge and practice into the future far outstripped any diminution in role and status I may have experienced. In some ways I think I was prepared for this transition by my father and father figures I have had who were not narcissistically injured by my accomplishments. In addition, the culture of “British understatement” which discourages seeking the limelight offered assistance in this regard. My role as “immigrant” in the USA somewhat prepares me for the role of supporter as does my arrival into psychology via another discipline, geography.

 

Appendix A - Why Tavistock Groups are Well-Suited to the Learning Task

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Graduate students

The utility of the Tavistock experience as a training method has been written about by Ganzerain (1989) and Semmelhack, Ende, and Hazell (2013). Several training programs have the participation in a Tavistock conference as a focal element in their educational program (footnote, Northwestern, Argosy and Teachers College). The writings above focus on the usefulness of the Tavistock experience in helping practitioners become aware of transference/countertransference issues, the dynamisms of projective identification and the related process of scapegoating or repository and the encounter with primary process thinking and primitive emotional states. The argument is that the Tavistock experience can provide practitioners with an educational exposure to these phenomena in a safe environment where there is adequate emotional and cognitive holding to be able to make use of them and potentially transfer them to other clinical settings. At the time of going to press, we are unaware of any empirical studies to demonstrate the potential validity of these assertions. This section, while it does not seek to provide such empirical findings (which would be more than welcome) does aim to provide a description of several other ways beyond those covered in the above-mentioned writings in which experience of a Tavistock group might be a good educational tool for psychological practitioners.

 

Coda - Notes on an Uncertain Future

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We hope it is apparent that both traditional Tavistock theory and practice as well as the extrapolations and augmentations posited in this book capture our passion, belief, and utility for the paradigm. The concepts collectively at the center of the model—projective identification, group-as-a-whole analysis, repository functioning, and social defenses—serve as a Swiss Army knife or multi-tool that is indispensable for our work as psychologists, for our functioning as people and are necessary for our understanding of the groups, cultures, and societies we find ourselves part of. Rarely does a psychotherapy session, class, meeting at work or family get together go by without dimensions of the model coming to the aid of understanding interactions, either mundane or extraordinary. The model guides us as people, professionals, and citizens trying to make sense of the world around us.

This all said, it would be disingenuous to not speak of pessimism. At a time where Tavistock theory and application could be more relevant than ever, the world at large and the psychology profession specifically, appear less and less interested and motivated to utilize the Tavistock tool set.

 

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