Back to Groups and Institutions

For many years, back to the early 1980s when teaching young psychiatric trainees, I had encouraged them to take off their white coats and stethoscopes and spend time on the wards with no role – no role other than to see what goes on. I took as a model for the method that of infant observation. It was surprisingly successful and eventually became a book describing a number of illustrative observations. At this time, having settled into University life as a Professor in the Centre for Psychoanalytic studies, University of Essex in 1997, I developed old papers and old research on social science topics from a psychoanalytic point of view; and I published two more books, one co-edited with Marco Chiesa who, like Wilhelm Skogstad, had been a colleague at the Cassel Hospital, and a book that developed my thinking from therapeutic communities and the 1987 book, in new directions on institutions, notable healthcare ones. These three books represented not just a concentrated experience of institutions at the Cassel, but was a sort of culmination of much work over the years, trying to fathom the deeper dynamics of organisations which psychoanalysis can make visible. Observing Organisations is a bit of a landmark because it is a kind of fruition to the organisational work that had fascinated me. It did not bring the fascination to an end, since at my new workplace, the University of Essex, I could eventually establish a similar facility for academic students to gain observational experience and formed one module n a degree in the joint study of psychoanalysis and organisational management.

2000 Observing Organisations.
RD Hinshelwood and Wilhelm Skogstad (Eds.) (London: Routledge)
This book reported a method of observation of organisation, based on the infant observation method widely used in psychoanalytic trainings. It represents a dual perspective that is thoroughly psychoanalytic. The observer trains to notice what is happening in themselves as they observe the field before them. Despite originating as a training experience for non-psychoanalytically sophisticated psychiatrists, it has blossomed as a research method as well, to identify aspects of unconscious culture influenced by anxieties and phantasies inherent in the organisational task. It is rooted in the constellation of primary task, anxiety, and distortions of practice. In some ways this method is not so dissimilar from the approach to organisations by Consultants trained in the Tavistock Institute approach. However it is different in that the observations themselves are not contaminated by the instrumental demands made on Consultancies, and thus pure observation retains a clear field of observation, uncluttered by the observers’ motives to change things in the organisation.

2002 (with Wilhelm Skogstad) Irradiated by distress: observing psychic pain in health-care organizations.
Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy 16 110-124.
The observational method reported in the previous text has attracted a lot of interest and therefore a range of further papers. This one was written by my co-editor of the book, and given initially to the British Psychoanalytical Society, and it summarises the main points of the book

2002 Applying the observational method – observing organisations.
In Briggs, Andrew (ed.) Surviving Space- Papers on Infant Observation London: Karnac.
Like the previous paper, this describes the observational method in a book that celebrates the centenary of the birth of Esther Bick who pioneered the method of infant observation on which the observation of organisations was based.

2002 Organisations, Anxiety and Defence.
RD Hinshelwood and Marco Chiesa (eds.) (London: Whurr Publications)
This is the publication of a long-standing project to try to give an overview of the various psychoanalytically oriented ways of understanding organisations. In other words a central issue is to determine the range of psychoanalytic concepts that have been used as, a kind of bridge from the individual (discovered in psychoanalysis) with the organisation as known by business scools and social science. One of the main results of this investigation was the finding that different psychoanalytic concepts appear to have been prioritised for this bridging work, in different national and linguistic cultures. The specificity (or not) between cultures and the adoption of psychoanalytic ideas has not been followed up in a systematic way, and urgently awaits that more systematic investigation.

2001 Thinking about Institutions: Milieux and Madness. RD Hinshelwood (London: Jessica Kingsley)
The third of the books published in this short period, also had a long gestation period. It is a return to the attempts to understand organisational and institutional cultures. It thus contains many of the ideas of the range of papers from the early 1970s on therapeutic communities, through those emerging from my experience of the large mental hospitals I have been acquainted with, to the work of the Cassel Hospital, which might itself be characterised as a ‘thinking’ institution. It is equally based on my passionate view that the unconscious processes going on in organisations are of great importance, and that the individuals’ psychologies are not independent of each other in a working environment. People communicate and co-ordinate unconsciously while at work, and any attempt to get an overview, or to intervene or manage at an organisational level, is foolish to neglect these unconscious processes