An Interview with Arthur D. Colman, M.D.:
OD Consultant, Jungian Analyst, and Author
Arthur D. Colman, M.D. is an organization consultant, psychiatrist, Jungian analyst, and member of the teaching faculty of the C. G. Jung Institute, San Francisco, and a clinical professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of California Medical Center. He has a private practice in Sausalito, California and is a frequent lecturer. He is the author and editor of numerous articles and books including Up from Scapegoating: Awakening Consciousness in Groups, Group Relations Reader 1 & 2, Earth Father/Sky Father: The Changing Concept of Fathering, and The Father: Mythology and Changing Roles.
In his many writings about Analytical Psychology (AP) (also called Jungian Psychology), Colman has emphasized the importance of group and organizational dynamics to organizational creativity, accessing the human resource capacity of organizations for better performance, the importance of diversity and inclusion, and scapegoating in organizational contexts. In several of his written works, Dr. Colman discusses examples of AP related approaches to organization consultation. After reading quite a few of Dr. Colman’s writings over the past several years, I asked him if he would be willing to contribute to this special issue of ODJ. He consented to participate in the following interview.
The ODJ audience is likely mixed in terms of their familiarity with analytical psychology (AP) or Jungian psychology. So, as a foundational question, I thought we could begin with a question regarding AP’s founder C. G. Jung. It is clear that during C. G. Jung’s lifetime that he saw organizations as necessarily subordinate to individuals and individuation and that the individual personality should be the focus of AP. However, you have concluded that we broaden beyond the individual to include groups and organizations. What led you to that conclusion and your interest in applying AP to groups and organizations?
Arthur: I really became interested in Jung’s psychology from my work with the large group. I was involved in group relations theory and Tavistock theory in the late 1960s (see Lawrence, 1999 referenced below). I was one of the pioneer people in that field and helped in the development of the A. K. Rice Institute, which has promulgated Tavistock Relations Theory and practice in the U.S. … I was one of the founders and, later, the president of the A.K. Rice Institute and also developed that work in California when I came here.
Early on, I was busy in consulting to small and large groups in that model (Tavistock)—basically a psychoanalytic study of what is going on in the here and now of groups. When I started working more with large groups, I found my consultative stance unable to handle some of the “operatic” process that is so common. I found that working effectively in large group settings required thinking and feeling in metaphorical and visual images, using mythology, archetypal stories for example, in order to fully capture what was happening. And the people I found best able to consult to large groups were comfortable in that theoretical world. So, I saw a division between really good consultants in small groups and subgroups of organizations who weren’t comfortable in large group work and another group who really enjoyed it and had a language easily available. But what was that language?
It struck me that Jung’s archetypal world, his concept of the collective unconscious, his interest and erudition in the world of mythic societal stories and even his work with visions fitted very well into large group theory. And, so, that led me into studying his work. So I became interested in Jung’s theories as a way to enhance my consultation to large groups. Because my work is also as a healer, a psychiatrist and therapist, becoming a Jungian analyst followed naturally along.. . Most Jungians don’t follow this course; they typically begin with a devoted interest in the inner psyche and stay anchored to their individual work. They are usually not interested in examining the possibilities for AP in applications to society. Recently that is changing some and more Jungians are studying groups and culture with a practical and healing aim.
I think those OD practitioners whose interests in OD emerged around the same time that you were making connections with AP will relate to your identification of the potential for Jungian perspectives contributing to groups and organizations. Jung saw the “royal road” to the individual unconscious to be the complex. Do you see groups and organizations as having complexes that lead to the organizational unconscious?
Arthur: That is a really good question. There are two ways to approach this. The first is to say that the group itself is a complex for the individual psyche…that in the individual psyche there is a healthy or unhealthy, usually a mixed orientation, to the group. From this perspective, the group is viewed as an image internal to the individual. The way these images would form for individuals would be associated with early development and the kinds of experiences individuals had with groups as kids. These experiences would, over time, influence the individuals’ orientation to groups—so that, depending on earlier experiences, the individuals would feel comfortable in, excited by, inspired by, or even frightened or paranoid by group experiences depending on their earlier exposures to groups.
That’s one way to look at this issue of complexes in groups. A second way is to examine groups as an entity in itself, a collective consciousness as it were and study and work with groups as if I were working with an individual consciousness. In this models the individuals may hold the expression of consciousness but are not as a sum equal to who the group is. There are many study and work lines that follow from such a perspective. For example Kimbles (2003), is looking at the group complex within organizations from a variety of viewpoints more oriented toward cultural perspective. These cultural perspectives may include race or gender or other, what you might call varieties of group complexes.
I know most Jungians see the complex as the center of most therapeutic action, but my own interest in AP has never focused mainly on the multiplicity of complexes that are used in AP. I think that traditional orientation by Jungians may take too much of a one-to-one correspondence between the individual and the group. Another way of thinking, about complexes in groups is to consider the scapegoat complex as the basic archetype for all groups and, therefore, the critical complex for anyone dealing with groups. Exploring the scapegoat complex in a group is an extremely fruitful way of consulting to issues of change and creativity.
In order to more fully translate the concept of complex to the group, someone would have to do what your question suggests, that is, to look into the types of complexes that are potentially developed by groups and organizations. In other words, we all have individual complexes and some of them would relate to group structures. But the way I work is to think of the group as a whole, as a consciousness, with direction and movement that is felt within or among its members but is also a force of its own..
It is difficult for individuals to understand the concept of a group level of consciousness. But if many of us take that on, they could develop a group complex theory the way that Jung developed his theory oriented toward the individual.
You’ve identified your primary interest in organizations and groups to be the exploration of scapegoating or the scapegoat complex. How did you become interested in this area?
Arthur: I really do believe that the scapegoat is the central archetype of the group. If you want to work with group consciousness and if you want to work with the idea of the group having a collective unconscious and consciousness, a consciousness that individuates, then the royal road in working with that consciousness is through scapegoating. I wrote a book about that called Up from Scapegoating (1995) that goes into these issues in some detail.
If you sit in a group and ask yourself “what is going on?”…as, for example, Bion did. You can organize the group behavior into basic assumptions (Bion, 1991) such as pairing and fight-flight, and dependency. Another process you can see happening in every groups is a scapegoating process, a scanning by members, subgroups, for other parts that are perceived to be different. There is a continuous process in every group to homogenize itself, to take out its complexity and its difference,, to make it understandable and comfortable and easy. That makes sense at the individual level as well whereby individuals try to exclude aberrant or dangerous ideas or preferences that are unpleasant or dystonic. Freud saw this as an unconscious process, the basis of most individual defense mechanisms.
In a group, this scapegoating process is visible and may be conscious or unconscious. But you can see this process take hold, you can feel it happening. And you can easily prove that this (scapegoating) process exists in a group setting yourself by doing something outlandish, something perceived as too different, too scary, even too creative for a group. Upon doing this, you will see and feel the group wrath focus on you and, before you know it, you are a scapegoat. As a consultant, I am often asked to help increase the creativity of a group or organization. Scapegoating difference in a group is a major deterrent to its creativity; what scapegoating attempts to create. Homogeneity and uniformity is a major deterrent to its creativity because creativity almost always requires group and organizational diversity. I believe that consulting, in some way or another, to the scapegoating process is therefore critical for a group trying to achieve the goal of increasing creativity.
Now all groups do not need to be creative. If you are working with a group to dig a ditch or other non-creative task you need individuals with good strong muscles and some agreement about the task., probably the best people will be the strongest, but you’ll also be better off with homogeneity. That is, you don’t want fighting about different ways to do it. You want people who have done that before and who will get the task done. So, when a group gets someone who is very different or has different ideas and you’re trying to get a simple job done, they’re not likely to want that kind of person. For example, women may not be added to the group, even if they are strong, because their being incorporated may alter this very simple task. But, if you are trying to create a new kind of computer chip, a new organizational vision or a new structure for generating new business ideas, you must have diversity. You must have differences and dissension and outlandishness. Any force trying to drive out that diversity is going to be working away from the core task and objectives. And that force is a form of scapegoating.
Sometimes scapegoating can be good for a group; it may serves the kind of task it is doing , but most of the time scapegoating is bad because most groups work better with more complexity and for the complex and complex-creative tasks that we deal with as consultants, scapegoating. So, I am often brought into organizations to address that scapegoating process, that drive in organizations toward homogeneity and away for difference.
It is important to remember that for the individual, being scapegoated is almost always a negative. Jews in Germany or Blacks in South Africa. Sometimes even the majority can be scapegoated, by a well organized minority like in political dictatorships such as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. individuals who speak out or are different are excluded from groups, exiled, perhaps even killed and the majority group finds justification for doing so. From this, stereotypes emerge about the scapegoated.
So, organizations come up with a justification for their scapegoating behaviors that they then rationalize collectively?
Arthur: Right. And the important thing is that from the perspective of the consciousness of a group the individual is just a component, not the whole So, from the perspective of the group’s interest, it might not be wrong to scapegoat an individual, just functional.. It might be thought important to the group’s task or functioning. I think that is why someone like Jung or any philosopher oriented to the individual tends to see the group as very dangerous. This is because groups scapegoat often for reasons that have nothing to do with the comfort of an individual. Scapegoating can be very inhumane and debilitating for individuals. So, as a student of groups and organizations, one has to hold both parts—what makes the group perform well and the interests of individuals.
When I was trying to consult with groups early on, I kept seeing this process—scapegoating. Groups selected individuals or subgroups and excluded them, damaged them or even elevated them, which is also a scapegoating process. To get at those issues, I had to address the scapegoating process. And that turned out to be a powerful way of consulting and a powerful way to think about groups. This seemed to address another level of Bion’s work and the work of others focusing on group development and consultation. So, scapegoating emerged as absolutely central to groups and organizations.
Tell us about your consultation process.
Arthur: I have always been interested in group and organizational work, but I am limited in the scope of my work by my commitments as a physician and analyst to ongoing work with individuals. Often I begin my work with organizations because individuals contact me with an issue or challenge facing their organization—from loss of creativity to leadership crises, etc. I see some groups or organizations while they are in crisis situations. So, what I do depends on the circumstances presented.
Much of my work is confidential so will use an example previously described. A while ago, I worked with the Forest Service when it was struggling with the integration of women into their workforce, a policy mandated by the government. In this case, I gathered the leadership together for an in-depth consultation. My first step was to experience the dynamics of the group firsthand. Usually, perhaps because of the way groups work, some kind of scapegoating issue typically arises. And in this particular circumstance, the scapegoating dynamic was easily observable. Group members made such comments as “all women are incapable of doing difficult forestry work”; the group even had trouble listening to the women present. It was very difficult for the group when I pointed out this behavior and it was first denied or explained. After a while the conversation shifted. Why were the only women they were able to recruit and retain wives, secretaries, old friends, etc. why were they unable to bring in anyone who was “different?” In this case, women of color or women from urban areas who had different perspectives and were socially unconnected and uncontrolled were being excluded from the group. As they heard me talk about the scapegoating issue, they began to speak up and take some leadership on their own.
In working with the forest service group, it was easy to see that those persons who were representative of divergent viewpoints or background weren’t allowed to speak, were ignored, or rapidly made to sound silly. So, that process had to be confronted in the leadership group. And, when this was done by me and then others, with some difficulty and fear I might add, the group began grudgingly to see what they were doing to exclude a new perspectives in the group and largely because they had to change, and the large costs of their exclusionary behavior they were able to make many changes which lead to more diversity and the large influx of women that is assumed today.. So, I viewed this as a very successful consultation. Sometimes groups see what they’re doing and really don’t want to change it but, this group had little choice except to go along with that which was verbalized and identified as inhibiting their progress.
Perhaps there are better ways to approach this work than to do it in condensed time frames. But I have found my approach, in most cases, to have a long term impact. Doing this kind of work over a sixteen week period, rather than as an intensive workshop may be a better approach. At times, I might recommend that a group or organization find support for ongoing work on the issues that emerge from my consultations.
As I’ve said I provide consultation to organizations interested in creativity. In one way or another, the leadership comes to feel that they and their organization are not being creative. Sometimes that means my working with the leadership team on scapegoating issues seeing the, other times it means just consulting with a senior manager or CEO’s. So, I assess how well the organization is doing in terms of the talent they have available to them and how well perceive bright , innovative and different employees are being utilized. I sometimes work to support the leadership of the organization in helping to integrate creative persons or ideas, or work to support individuals who bring creative perspectives to the organization, but are experiencing scapegoating behaviors from organization members. From these discussions about the scapegoating dynamics in the organization, the notion of the group individuating often emerges. That is not just individuals, but the group which is evolving. Jung’s concept of individuation is very complex and offers a great deal in these consultations including adding a spiritual dimension to my consultations.
Yet, another way I consult on scapegoating issues is through providing workshops or seminars. I usually run a few groups a year that examine group dynamics from a modified Tavistock format. So some of my clients from organizations join into these experiences to get a better understanding of group process and what groups do. So, my way is both taking on difficult consultations or in supporting key individuals and helping them to develop.
Approaching organizational issues through elucidating the scapegoating issues within has been very useful in countries where sexism and racism for example are rampant but it is hard to talk about these problems from the inside at all. Courageous leadership when people are really may ask someone from outside the organization or from outside the country to bring in my perspectives, which can be very interesting. So, there are organizations in other countries who want to work the way I work, hoping that I will help.
Was this last approach the type of work you did in South Africa?
Arthur: That’s what turned out in South Africa and also in Latin America where issues with sexism are entrenched. Often with my scapegoating book, I got a lot of requests to work with organizations around the world. For example, in South Africa, an organization was having difficulty dealing with the transition from apartheid. Many of the people in the organization were complicit during the apartheid era. So, they’d bring me in to examine how to deal with the challenges brought to them by their pasts. And, in some cases, they were not ready to hear this perspectives. It was actually dangerous and the problem of consulting to such a group is very difficult indeed. The consultant in these cases is a natural scapegoat.
In one of your writings you say that the person who speaks about scapegoats often shares their fate. So, it sounds like consultants, or those internal to organizations that are asking organizations to face scapegoating issues, are risking a similar fate to those previously scapegoated.
Arthur: Two people in my family are consultants in large firms, so they are more business oriented and take their time developing business plans and planning on the income from their clients. So, they pace themselves in terms of observations they share, so that they will minimize the risk that they will be excluded or scapegoated. But consultants, are always potential scapegoats. Perhaps we have to be scapegoats if were are doing are job well. Whenever I make an interpretation that is right on the mark to a group, I create a depression or feeling of loss because whatever mechanism that was in place for the group has suddenly been uncovered. Sometimes there might be a feeling on the part of a group of excitement about the new insight. But, most of the time, especially in a group where most of the scapegoating processes are self-serving, to have a truthful and uncomfortable observation shared can lead to the group turning against the consultant in a variety of ways.
So, ideally I would create a safe, strong container, and an ongoing contract and a strong relationships going, etc. before saying the most truthful and difficult things in a group. Because of the way I am asked to work, I often don’t have these kinds of things set up. So, I often say what I see, being open and honest about the possibility that I could be wrong. Frankly, those working with groups on a regular basis may be able to do a better job with the scapegoating process or other destructive organizational processes than I do. Or they may get caught up in it to protect their work or themselves. If we are courageous enough to say what we observe—not worrying bout fees or being hurt by the group—then we are doing our job well.
Although the processes underlying the dynamics of the group are complex and take time to work through, the emergent scapegoating tendencies of groups are often easily identified. The group most often assigns the problems to visibly different individual or subgroups. What is hard is to create change when there is no strong motivation as there was in the Forest Service for example. Being a scapegoat is part of the job of consultant as change agent., I see myself as a scapegoat in a similar way in which the messiah and the scapegoat archetype has been seen in history, Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, etc. They just get crucified, murdered, and so on but of course they work with a different order of problems. I don’t at all intend to elevate or inflate myself in comparison to these historical figures, but that is part of the dynamic of saying what you see in a group, of being truthful. As a psychiatrist it is far easier to share my observations with an individual because there is a one-to-one relationship that I’ve been able to build. But a group is much different in comparison; it is much harder to construct a safe container. I try to share my observations and comments carefully and to make the comments in a way that group members are likely able and willing to hear. I must also be ready to hear the anger that is produced and to manage the struggle that emerges. If I back away from my truth, or run from my efforts will fail. If the group senses my integrity, and they feel something important is being said, some will want to seek out additional truths about the group and its dynamics and change will follow..
It may turn out that to stop scapegoating the group has to make a decision that is difficult and embarrassing—admitting to behavior that is behind the scapegoating activity and the scapegoaters. If this is to difficult, I sense it as consultant or, sometimes, I’m just not asked to return and it keeps going.
What are other ways you use myth and metaphor in your consultations?
Arthur: What my process really is, is to go into groups to help them to learn more about their group dynamics. So, I go into groups and try to explore what is going on with them. Often times, images, association, or even a bar of music may come to my mind during the process. Or there may be a story that comes in. So, I sit with the images that emerge from my interactions with the group and then try to connect these insights for the group to work with. I am a very musical and visual person, so when I get a song or theme or an image I use it as a way to understand the group language, I bring these elements to the group and see if the group reacts to these images or ideas. In a group that is interested in learning, we get past the barriers that are often present and a group dialogue emerges which mixes mix metaphors, stories, songs, objects etc., and they try them on to see what emerges and how the group interacts around the images identified.
My approach is not logical as much as associative. It is much like the process of appreciating a piece of music. You don’t look and listen to each note, but go through the music as a whole, hopefully several times . My insights often come to a group in a way that is at first unintelligible to me and also to the group, but emerges over time, along with other insights from group members, to help the group in understanding connections between metaphor and/or image and what is being experienced in the group.
What are your thoughts about the future of the kinds of intervention you do and what may emerge?
Arthur: It is important to note that these approaches are “on the edge.” In other words, what I am talking about is unlikely to be the mainstay of work for any organizational consultant. Instead, it is more of a skill that is added to one’s consulting repertoire or techniques. I am fortunate in not needing to earn my entire livelihood by consulting. It is that part of my work life that is most experimental.
In terms of the future use of my methods, I see a great future!!! Scapegoating is not viable in a land such as ours where there is so little homogeneity. The people who are using my methods are helpful to those who are being scapegoated as well as those who scapegoat.. There are possibilities for leaders of groups to add this understanding and make themselves more effective. It is really the best leaders who want to make more sense of the group dynamic and who don’t need to support the uncreative and primitive scapegoating complexes.
Consultants or individuals interested in these types of group or organizational issues can increase their knowledge and experience by doing work of the kind I’m mentioning and particularly by incorporating other tools such as art, music, sand play or other approaches to help groups to connect with metaphors and find metaphors that work. There are consultants that do this type of work very effectively…even using games or piano music to help with metaphor. This sounds far out, but can be used in some contexts.
The interest in AP or Jungian psychology has increased on the part of leaders, creative people, etc. But this is hard and difficult work, and some may not be oriented or ready to do this kind of work. But for those who take the time to learn, they may offer important insights to their client groups and organizations.
It was a privilege to have the opportunity to interview Dr. Colman. His perspectives and experiences on organizational and group dynamics offer an excellent example of how AP can be integrated with OD. As was suggested in the interview, the majority of AP scholars and practitioners have neglected group and organization development and the political realms that are often the contexts for individual interactions. Mattoon (1981) and Samuels (1993) have suggested, that there are numerous parallels between group, organization, and social issues that overlap with the historically individual focus of AP. Mattoon notes that terms like, depression, inflation, and integration are common terns used in AP that also overlap to larger human contexts. Similarly, Samuels suggests that an extension of AP perspectives beyond the individual to group, organizational, and political contexts is an obligation of scholars and practitioners utilizing Jungian insights in their work and lives.
In providing his focused and well-developed view of scapegoating in the organizational context, Dr. Colman outlines a process and outcome of an extended journey integrating theory and practice. He also suggests that there is much work to be done in the examination of further possibilities for OD in delineating additional archetypes and social dynamics occurring in group and organization contexts. This interview not only assists in the exploration of connections between AP and OD, but also serves as an invitation to continue the exploration of potentially profound intersections between these two areas in ongoing practice, research, and theory building.
References and Additional Resources
- Barton, E. R. (2000). Mythopoetic Perspectives of Men’s Healing Work: An Anthology for Therapists and Others. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.
- Bion, W. R. (1991). Experiences in Groups: And Other Papers. London: Tavistock.
- Colman, A. D. (1983). Group Relations Reader 1 & 2. Burlington, VT: A. K. Rice Institute.
- Colman, A. D. & Colman, L. (1993). The Father: Mythology and Changing Roles. New York: Avon.
- Colman, A. D. (1995). Up from Scapegoating: Awakening Consciousness in Groups. New York: Chiron.
- Kimbles, S. (2003). Five Key Points on Cultural Complexes. Seattle: C. G. Jung Society.
- Lawrence, W. G. (1999). Exploring Individual and Organizational Boundaries: A Tavistock Open Systems Approach. London: Karnac Books
- Mattoon, M. A. (1985). Jungian Psychology in Perspective. New York: The Free Press.
- Samuels, A. (1993). The Political Psyche. New York: Routledge.