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Interview with Amy Fraher

Dr. Amy Fraher, 42, is the author of a new book, A History of Group Study and Psychodynamic Organizations, to be published by Free Association Books on 1 October 2004.

Amy researched and wrote her book while working as a Visiting Social Scientist at the Tavistock Institute in London, an experience which gave her useful insights into the work of one of the founding influences on group relations. We interviewed Amy to find out more.

How did you first become interested in group relations?

My fascination with group process dates to January, 2000 when I attended my first group relations conference as part of my doctoral studies. A three day experiential event, based loosely on the Tavistock model and influenced by A. K. Rice Institute traditions, was being offered for the first time at my university. My fellow graduate students and I jumped at the chance to earn "three-units-in-three-days", as we jokingly announced. We had no idea what was in store for us.

For me, it was a life-changing experience.

During the course of this experiential learning event and the weeks and months that followed I felt energized and engaged with the world. It was as if I had found a new, liberating lens through which to view my life; and a place in which to speak the things I had often seen and felt in organizational life, but never dared say. I attended more group relations events including the Tavistock Instituteís Leicester Conference. As I gained experience in group relations theories and methods, I began to examine my individual assumptions and behaviours by recognizing and talking about group-as-a-whole processes.

The group enabled me to explore my valencies and challenged my phantasies as beliefs which were, upon deeper examination, less tethered to reality than I had imagined. I learned to recognize my own splitting and projections and how to fend off othersí projections. Now whenever I encounter conflict in my daily work life, I can separate better "what is mine" and "what is systemic" through the use of a group relations lens.

What made you write your book, A History of Group Study and Psychodynamic Organizations?

In 2001 Professor Theresa Monroe suggested that I examine the history of group relations as the topic of my doctoral dissertation. Under the guidance of Robert Donmoyer as chair, I completed The Development of the Tavistock and Tavistock-Inspired Group Relations Movement in Great Britain and the United States: A Comparative and Historical Perspective, which provided preliminary data for this book. My research led me to recognize that there was a genuine need for a book like this - an attempt to synthesize and make sense of the history of group study and the dynamics found in organizations that study behaviour.

What did you most enjoy about writing it?

I really enjoyed meeting and interviewing central people in the field of group study such as Eric Miller, Isabel Menzies Lyth, Gordon Lawrence, Wesley Carr, Anton Obholzer, Mannie Sher, Tim Dartington, David Armstrong, John Bazalgette, and Karen Izod in the UK; and in the US Larry Gould, Kathy White, Ed Klein, Charla Hayden, Arthur Coleman, Lowell Cooper, Robert Baxter, Evangelina Holvino, Diane Porter, Ed Shapiro, and Earl Braxton, to name just a few. I was also excited by my archival research process at the British Library, Tavistock Clinic Library, Wellcome Library, Copley Library, the Melanie Klein Trust and the Wellcome Trust Medical Photographic Library. I loved sifting through decades of archives preserved at the Tavistock Institute and the Grubb Institute, including many original, previously unexplored artefacts.

What do you see as the key points youíd like psychodynamic organizations to take away from your book?

In my book I develop the construct of idea organizations - organizations designed to generate intellectual concepts, rather than to produce goods or services. As examples, I examine the psychodynamic workings of the National Training Laboratories, Tavistock Institute and the A. K. Rice Institute, as well as early psychoanalytic societies to show how the innovatory forces that energize these idea organizations can become the focus of inter-group rivalries, creating a cycle that puts the organization themselves at risk. As a result, organizational restructuring and innovation, which idea organizations must accomplish to survive, often becomes a painful process for members. Since ideas themselves are intimate products of our psyche, closely attached to the image we carry of ourselves - criticism of oneís ideas feels like criticism of oneís self. Consequently, people may respond to the requisites of change with resistance and hostility, further intensifying inter-group rivalry. Yet, if members of idea organizations begin to understand and expect restructuring and innovation as regular features of the idea organizationís life cycle, they can prepare better emotionally, psychologically and financially for their changing role within the morphing organization.

What do you hope might happen as a result of people reading it?

A few things. First, I would hope that people gain an increased appreciation of the complex history of group study and the roots of theories and methods underpinning the field. I also hope for a renewed interest in group relations as an intelligible field of study as opposed to seeing it as some mystical phenomenon one can never attempt to explain. Of course, puzzling aspects of group life remain. But over the years many people have attempted to provide insights into it. I hope my book helps synthesize these contributions as well as pointing out areas which warrant further examination.

How can people contact you with comments or feedback about the book?

I would welcome all comments and feedback! Please email me at amy@paradoxandcompany.com

What are you planning to do next?

Iíve just accepted a position as Chief Pilot at Miramar College in San Diego and plan to take this aviation training program in new directions. Iíll also continue to build my consultancy business, Paradox & Company.

To find out more or order a copy of A History of Psychodynamic Organizations on Free Association Books' website.

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