07-09-2016 at 22:32

The use of group analytic concepts in understanding and working in and on organizations.

Hanne Larsson
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Short text:
Using psychoanalysis to understand and work with groups has taken different ways, where group analysis building primarily on S. H. Foulkes is one, psychodynamic organizational theory and praxis building primarily on W. Bion and the Tavistock tradition is another. Both use ordinary words from English language to describe psychic phenomenons, which makes it difficult to assess if they are used stringent and in the same way or not. Some common concepts and some comparisons of concepts are made in the text.

When English authors of literature on psychodynamic understanding of organizations refer to a theoretical basis, they most often refer to psychoanalysis in general and more specific to group relations building on W. Bions description of group processes (Ex. D. Armstrong 2005).

In Danish literature also S. H. Foulkes and group analysis is mentioned as a basis for understanding organizational processes (T.Heinskov & S.Visholm 2004 and 2011).

The essential use of psychoanalysis in psychodynamic organizational theory is to understand individuals, groups and organizations as containing both conscious and unconscious processes, inside the individual or the group and in the communication between individuals and between groups (L. Stapley 2006).

Both W. Bion and S. H. Foulkes talks about anxiety, psychological defensive processes and unconscious communication. These are general psychoanalytic terms, not specific for groups. Group specific concept like mirroring, exchange, socializing, resonance are most often implicitly used, as when it is stated that group analysis is a way of dealing with small group processes, sometimes they are used as general terms without reference to group analysis but they are also explicitly used by authors who are building on Foulkes understanding of groups (ex. Bech, 2009).

An interesting question is how Foulkes concept of the Matrix can be compared to the concept used by organizational theorists, “The organization in the mind”. Matrix is a concept describing the psychological processes in the small group, between the members but also what the members share unconsciously, i.e. about to be human, nationality, language ect.

“The organization in the mind” (Armstrong 2005) or “The workplace within” (Hirschorn 1988) refers to conscious and unconscious mental constructs and emotional resonance to the organization (Armstrong 2005). This might refer to an individual, to a group or to “The organization as -a-whole”. As a shared imagination or fantasy, it resembles the concept of Matrix although it is not dealing with the same basic level.

The two concepts are not identical, but deal with like phenomenon’s, and both may develop by a further study of similarities and differences.

If one include W. Bions theory of groups way of working as part of the theoretical foundation of group analysis, one will see a close connection to psychodynamic organizational thinking. Understanding how anxiety and psychic defenses work in groups, W. Bions theory of work group and basic assumption group dynamics are common concepts.

Another two concepts worth to compare and study further are the group analytic  “ego-training in action” and “learning from experience”, widely used by organizational theorist. Both stress, that learning or development happens through intellectual and emotional experience in relations i.e. in analytic groups or in group relation conferences (A.K. rice) or consultancy work in organizations, not to mention in all kind of societal groups, in the family, at workplaces and so on.


Armstrong, D.: Organization in the mind. Karnac Bokks 2005.

Bech, U C.: Psykodynamisk coaching. Hans Reitzel 2009.

Heinskou, T. & Visholm, S.: Psykodynamisk organisationspsykologi, bind I og II, 2004, 2011.

Hirschhorn, L.: The Workplace Within: Psychodynamics of Organizational Life. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Rice, A. K.: Learning fir Leadership. Karnac Books 1999.

Stapley, L: Individulas, Groups, and Organizations Beneath the Surface. Karnac 2006.

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