Applying Systems Psychodynamics: Enhancing Leadership in Organizations

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The goal of this seminar is to introduce students to the analysis of unconscious dynamics in group life, using the conceptual tools of systems psychodynamics along with experiential learning and case examples.

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10 Sessions: Wednesdays, Mar 20, 27, Apr 3, 10, 17, 24, May 1, 8, 22, 29, 2019

7:00 PM - 9:00 PM

BPSI, 141 Herrick Road

Newton Centre, MA 02459

This program will be of interest to non-practitioners and practitioners at intermediate and advanced levels of training. Continuing Education credits are offered for physicians, psychologists, and social workers.

Applying Systems Psychodynamics: Enhancing Leadership in Organizations


Effective leadership or consultation in an organizational context requires an understanding of such powerful factors as leader-follower dynamics, social defenses in response to primitive anxieties, tensions between work groups and basic assumption groups, and the interplay of roles, tasks, and boundaries. The goal of this seminar is to introduce students to the analysis of unconscious dynamics in group life, using the conceptual tools of systems psychodynamics along with experiential learning and case examples. Systems psychodynamics, first articulated by Bion in the early 1960’s, is an interdisciplinary approach that draws on insights from group relations theory, psychoanalysis, and open systems theory. From these vantage points, we will examine the forces, conscious and unconscious, that shape behavior in groups and organizations, and that facilitate or hinder effective leadership or consultation. This seminar is open to participants from multiple disciplines including scholars, clinicians, management consultants, and organizational leaders and practitioners.

To provide a rich experiential component, we strongly encourage students in the seminar to participate in the weekend Group Relations Conference*, sponsored by the Center for the Study of Groups and Social Systems (CSGSS) on April 26-28, 2019, in Brookline, MA.


*Seminar participants will receive a reduction of the registration fee for the conference.




James Barron, PhD -- Chair, Board of Trustees; Faculty, Psychoanalytic Training, Fellowship, and Explorations in Mind programs; Former faculty, The Levinson Institute for Executive Education, and Director of Executive Education for Innosight; Private practice, Brookline, MA.


Harry Spence, JD -- Trustee Member, BPSI; Former Professor of Practice, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Doctor of Education Leadership Program; Lecturer, Harvard Kennedy School of Government; Deputy Chancellor, New York City School System; Receiver, City of Chelsea; Receiver, Boston Housing Authority; Commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Social Services; Court Administrator, Massachusetts Trial Court, and other public and private sector leadership positions. Long time staff member for group relations conferences.


Learning Objectives
After attending this course, participants will be able to:

  1. Discuss the impact of role, authority, and primary task on organizational performance.
  2. Describe the conceptual origins of the systems psychodynamic perspective.
  3. Explain what Bion means by the terms ‘work group’ and ‘basic assumption group’.
  4. Explain how focusing on the organization’s primary task can reveal important aspects of unconscious organizational life.
  5. Apply the concept of social defense to explain how organizations use seemingly rational strategies to manage primitive anxieties.
  6. Employ the group-as-a-whole perspective to examine groups as multi-level systems.
  7. List three goals of participants in Balint Groups, and define the role of the Balint group leader.
  8. Examine how unconscious fantasies pressure individuals to step out of their authorized roles.
  9. Examine the ways in which powerful projective processes operate in large groups.
  10. Link the concept of the basic assumption group to the paranoid-schizoid position.
  11. Analyze and discuss the interaction of organizational culture and organizational change.


Fraher, A. L. (2004) Systems psychodynamics: The formative years (1895-1967). Organisational and Social Dynamics, 4 (2). pp. 191-211.

Rioch, M. J. (1975) The Work of Wilfred Bion on groups. In Colman, Arthur D; Bexton, W. Harold, eds. Group Relations Reader. pp. 21-34.

Shapiro, E. (1985). Unconscious process in an organization: A serendipitous investigation. In Group Relations Reader 2, 353-362.

Armstrong, D. (1997). The 'institution in the mind': reflections of the relation of psycho-analysis to work with institutions. Free Associations, 7(1):1-14.

Menzies, I. (1960). A case study in the functioning of social systems as a defense against anxiety. Group Relations Reader (1975), Colman, A. D. and Bexton, H., editors, vol. 1, 281-312.


7:00 pm - 8:30 pm: Discussion of theory and applications; 8:30 pm - 9:00 pm: Reflections on Group Process.

Continuing Education

Physicians: This activity has been planned and implemented in accordance with the accreditation requirements and policies of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) through the joint providership of the American Psychoanalytic Association and the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. The American Psychoanalytic Association is accredited by the ACCME to provide continuing medical education for physician. The American Psychoanalytic Association designates this Live Activity for a maximum of 20 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. IMPORTANT DISCLOSURE INFORMATION FOR ALL LEARNERS: None of the planners and presenters of this CME program have any relevant financial relationships to disclose

Psychologists: The Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. The Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute maintains responsibility for this program and its content. This program fulfills the requirements for 20 hours of CE.

Please note: Per APA requirements, psychologists must attend 100% of a course in order to be eligible for continuing education credit.

Social Workers: Application for social work continuing education has been submitted. Please contact us at or 617-266-0953 for the status of the social work CE accreditation. 

Please note: Per NASW requirements, social workers must attend 80% of a course in order to be eligible for continuing education credit.

Licensed Mental Health Clinicians: NBCC credits are not available for this course.

Please note: Licensed Mental Health Clinicians may request continuing education credit on an individual basis from NBCC, through their Continuing Education Credit Verification process.

Cancellation Policies & Procedures
Any program participant requesting their individual program registration be canceled, must submit their request in writing via email to Drew Brydon at For fee-based events, a request for cancellation (and refund using the original form of payment) must be received no later than 48 hours in advance of the event. Requests received later than 48 hours prior to the event will not be processed or accepted. All approved refunds are subject to a $10.00 administrative fee.

If BPSI cancels an event, all registrants will receive a full refund of fees paid (no administration charge) no later than two business days following the scheduled date of the event, using the original form of payment.

Grievance Policy
Please address any questions or concerns about your experience at this or any program or event you have attended at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute to the Program Chair, via the Senior Administrator/Director of Continuing Education, BPSI, 141 Herrick Road, Newton Centre, MA 02459;; 617.266.0953.

The Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, Inc., 141 Herrick Road, Newton Centre, MA 02459, does not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, sex, age, sexual orientation, national origin or handicap in the admissions, administration of its educational programs, scholarship and loan programs or employment.





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