A few weeks ago I went to what was supposed to be my final psychoanalytic conference. Tired of finding myself in the lavs trying to regain a grip on reality by counting methodically the perforations on toilet paper. I’m telling you that this was supposed to be the LAST TIME that I spend a weekend thinking about the unconscious and primal shenanigans involved in group relations. My tatty ol’ ego just wasn’t up for it this close to the work’s Xmas do.
So I arrived at OPUS late, with a heavy heart and sense of being slowly dragged along some dodgy lay lines.
This is no ordinary conference of falling asleep at the stroke of 3pm and flirting with marrieds. Oh no, it is a tight programme of experiential groups and uncensored reflections.
Doesn’t sound like fun.
So it was with some surprise that right from the get go I found myself in precisely in the right place for someone interested in how to survive work. The conference starts with Renate Bugge talking about her work with the Norwegian Labour Party following the tragic killings of 69 young activists in Utøya. A stunned group of people tearfully putting down their shiny professional veneers to expose the real stuff of how we feel about working in hard environments. What followed was two days of reflections of 100 hearts and minds about how we can live together in a situation of economic crisis and societal overwhelm.
Using the ideas of Freud and our shared craft of psychoanalysis, we did not move away from facing up to reality. Practitioners working in Therapeutic Communities in Italy, the psychology of whistleblowing and managing mental health services in crisis, this was a far cry from the embittered criticisms of psychoanalysis as a comfortable North London parlour game. These people are dead serious about work.
Using psychoanalytic ideas is an uncomfortable process because it doesn’t censor working life. It accepts the stuff that doesn’t appear in annual reports and 5 year strategies. Greed, hatred, despair, love and envy. Loss and limitations.
This attempt to understand the profound and complex stuff of group relations is often unwanted in a context where the primary leadership quality in the UK is made up of a determination to construct vertical lines and put up the barricades. A projective politics that tries to place hard realities outside our national and organisational boarders.
The kind of people that work within the psychoanalytic tradition don’t get paid for being clever, they get paid for being brave enough to say it as it is, precisely when our overwhelmed organisations don’t want to know.
As is the tradition at OPUS we end the conference by taking half an our to offer our reflections to this temporary organisation and the work of the last two days. I find myself in curmudgeon corner, no doubt by absolute and total coincidence. A man working in social care for several hard decades, an x-social worker now grief counsellor very far from the big city, and me.
Despite the brutal air conditioning and lack of day light, we were positive and giggling like goons. We’d moved from chippy to chipper because of a renewed love of a tradition that , when it addresses reality, is a radical alternative to the numbing mainstream stuff of employee engagement and psychological contracts. A collective gratitude to the thousands of practitioners who have built and developed a craft that digs deep.
As we head off I can hardly bear to say goodbye to my random motley tribe. Then they do possibly the worst thing imaginable.
They start morris dancing.
As someone who grew up in a sadistic country school system of compulsory Maypole (trust me, not remotely attractive) and Morris dancing this is borderline terminal to social cohesion and my sanity.
Staring at these two in disbelief I find myself taking a U-turn on a life long prejudice against grown men who like wearing ribbons and bells. And for the sake of our new bond I squeeze out a “See you next year”.
Belonging is nice. So today at work you can step away from the corporate cool kids and gravitate towards the people that you can believe in.
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