Systems-Psychodynamics and the Internet
July 3, 2007
I’ve just returned from Stockholm where I attended the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations annual symposium. The symposium is an opportunity for those of us working in a psychoanalytic way with organisations to meet and share knowledge about this area of practice.
There were numerous interesting papers and one in particular on a group relations conference conducted via the internet caught my attention. I have to admit to being mystified by how a group relations conference that didn’t deal with the territory (i.e. cyberspace) would work. The consultant presenting the case paper bravely stepped into the project and fed back his experiences of how it was managed and conducted. The detail of that isn’t of particular interest here. But what did interest me is how systems-psychodynamics needs to be applied to working on the web. There is a whole body of literature at this stage (particularly from psychology and systems thinking) about operating and working on line which I think systems-psychodynamics needs to attend to and build on, not merely replicate. Working on the web seemed to be a very new idea to many people who were at the conference and to some extent mirrors my experience of therapists and consultants who work psychoanalytically, many of whom have a sometimes neurotic attachment to being “in the room” and privilege this as the primary way of generating the transference. (As an interesting aside, of the 14 people who attended this workshop only 2 of us were women…I’m not sure what that means but the gender imbalance was more pronounced here than at any other event I attended).
Some of the thoughts that occurred to me about this..
1. The web doesn’t exist – it is a wonderful manifestation of the collective unconscious – everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
2. The web is a boundary less space and many of the conversations (particularly in the wake of the Kathy Sierra incident) about placing boundaries on it have resulted in strong reaction and an acknowledgement that formal rules simply won’t work in this space which means it’s ripe for persescutory experiences and a regression to primitive drives.
3. The only thing that stops any of us committing an “offence” online is our own conscience or sense of what is right and wrong. So our internalised boundaries and how those boundaries are negotiated and made meaning of, are of primary importance in this space.
4. The absence of the social clues that assist us make meaning of, and interpret, relationships offline are absent online so this heightens the transference and counter-transference in a way that can be persecutory. This is why I’m mystified as to how a group relations conference that doesn’t address the territory can operate with integrity in this space.
5. When a conference finishes we have our experiences of the people who attended and how we entered into relationship. When contact online ends we have that, minus the physical presence of people but we also have the written correspondence. What happens to the text afterwards? And how are boundaries around text negotiated? We all know that once something is out there in cyberspace it is never coming back so the archiving function of the web is something that has to be looked at?
I’d love to hear from any psychodynamically informed practitioners working online about their own experiences of this area..