Jill and David Scharff answer your questions about
The Affective Learning Model developed at IIORT

home


  dot WHAT IS THE AFFECTIVE LEARNING MODEL?
  dot WHERE CAN THERAPISTS FIND THE AFFECTIVE LEARNING MODEL? 
  dot HOW DID YOU DEVELOP IT?
  dot WHAT IS THE THEORY BASE FOR THE MODEL?
  dot WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF OBJECT RELATIONS THEORY THAT LED YOU TO A GROUP MODEL FOR TEACHING?
  dot WHAT IS THE DISTINCTIVE CHARACTERISTIC OF THE GROUP AFFECTIVE LEARNING MODEL?  
  dot HOW IS THE SMALL GROUP DIFFERENT FROM A THERAPY GROUP?
  dot HOW IS THE AFFECTIVE LEARNING MODEL DIFFERENT?
  dot HAS OBJECT RELATIONS THEORY HAD ANY IMPACT ON PSYCHOANALYSIS IN THE USA?
  dot HOW DO YOU SEE PRACTICE ENHANCED BY THE AFFECTIVE LEARNING MODEL?
  dot CAN YOU IDENTIFY A FEW ELEMENTS OF OBJECT RELATIONS THEORY THAT WE MIGHT LEARN IN THE GROUP?
  dot IF WE AS THERAPISTS LEARN AFFECTIVELY AND EXPERIENTIALLY, HOW DO YOU THEN SEE US CONNECTING MORE VITALLY WITH OUR PATIENTS?
  dot HOW DOES THE LEARNING MODEL ENHANCE THE APPLICATION OF THEORY TO PRACTICE?
  dot CAN YOU SAY MORE ABOUT TUNING THE THERAPEUTIC INSTRUMENT?

  WHAT IS THE AFFECTIVE LEARNING MODEL?
    dot It’s an innovative way of teaching object relations theory and practice by presenting concepts in a large group and learning from experience in a small group. It’s an open-system (influenced by feedback), multi-channel (using theoretical and clinical presentations, slides, videotape and process notes of clinical sessions), cognitive-affective (using intellectual and emotional routes to knowledge), individual and group teaching model.
 
WHERE CAN THERAPISTS FIND THE AFFECTIVE LEARNING MODEL?
    dot We use the Affective Learning Model at the International Institute of Object Relations Therapy (IIORT) in Washington DC. Evening, weekend, and year-long programs there and in 12 other cities create different levels of participation in different locations to appeal to professionals from all mental health disciplines at various levels of experience, need, and commitment. See our other pages at this site about these programs and on the programs in 12 cities.
 
HOW DID YOU DEVELOP IT?
    dot

From an amalgam of experience with psychoanalytic groups, psychotherapy groups, couple and family therapy groups, psychoanalytic reading seminars, study groups, work groups, schools consultation groups, and groups for the study of authority and leadership. We bring together psychoanalytic theories of the individual and the group with concepts from systems theory to create an educational methodology that matches the object relations theory we’re teaching.

Of course it’s with the individual student that we make our teaching contract. Each of them is responsible for their individual learning. We present the concepts in a range of formats so that the students have a better chance of relating to the material and learning it in their own style.

Individual needs for learning, anxieties about learning, and defenses against learning in the various formats become as much the subject of study as the material being presented. But each individual student learns in the large group setting of a lecture, in the median-sized group of a weeklong institute, and in the small group that meets for discussion at a more intimate level. We use our knowledge of the functioning of groups and their unique characteristics at various sizes to understand the process of learning.

 
WHAT IS THE THEORY BASE FOR THE MODEL?
    dot

This is based on object relations theory, a form of psychoanalytic theory that originates in Britain. It’s been slow to catch on in the United States because the psychoanalytic establishment has, until recently, been dominated by classical Freudian ego psychology and instinct theory. Object relations theory holds that the infant has instincts, of course, but they are not the thing-in-itself that motivates the growing child. The instincts simply secure survival and attachment while the human period of dependency is successfully negotiated. In other words, the infant is motivated by the need to be in a relationship, and the instincts simply serve that purpose. Without a mother, the infant dies. Infants build the personality and the sense of self from the various, meaningful interactions that they have with their mothers who meet their needs for nurture and security, and with the other family members with whom they move through the life cycle.

An internal model of relationships is built up inside the self. This determines the way the person thinks and feels and perceives the world. It acts as a blueprint for future relationships. The inner world is built in childhood, continues to be modified through adulthood, and affects choice of marital partner, child-rearing techniques, and attitudes to work, sex, and play.

The inner constellation of parts of the self can be inferred from current ways of relating. Most important for the therapist, the inner constellation can be changed by registering the occurrence of patterns of behavior in the here-and-now of therapy, connecting them to perceptions and expectations based on past experience, and modifying them by interpretation of the patterns re-created in the transference-countertransference dimension of the therapeutic relationship. We think the patterns of the internal object relationships are also expressed in the group dynamic as students work together to understand and apply the concepts. So the group creates a laboratory for studying the theory of object relations.

 
WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF OBJECT RELATIONS THEORY THAT LED YOU TO A GROUP MODEL FOR TEACHING?
    dot Object relations theory naturally led us to a group model for teaching because object relations theory arose from the study of individual development in the social situation. At first object relations theory developed as an individual psychology derived from the study of the analyst-patient relationship, but then it was amplified by application in couple therapy, family therapy, group therapy, and consultation to organizations and communities. The group-based training model creates a microcosm in which therapists can study individual and group psychology as participant observers. Our model is informed particularly by Bion's observation that each work group both supports and subverts its primary task by subgroup formations in which members cluster to meet their needs for dependency, fighting against authority, and pairing in order to create a special situation that will substitute for the anxiety provoking situation of the group. As the learning group pursues its learning task, we can see the subgroup formations and study the conditions that lead to their emergence. Similarly, we can observe the interpersonal effects of individual mental mechanisms. For instance, a student’s defensive use of projective identification can be discovered as it affects another individual in the group. The concept can be presented and studied and is then illustrated in the group process.
 
WHAT IS THE DISTINCTIVE CHARACTERISTIC OF THE GROUP AFFECTIVE LEARNING MODEL?
    dot

The small group is the cornerstone of the experience. It provides the most powerful setting for learning from experience, and it’s unique in having a complex, integrative task.

The individual’s task in the small group is to discuss the material that has been read or presented, and at the same time to examine emotional responses to it. As each student attempts to do this, discussion follows, and a group process develops.

The group’s task is to observe the group process and discover how the individual’s inner world combines with the personalities of others to foster or impede the learning.

We find that the concepts being studied affect the person and the group, so that the concept gets illustrated in the behavior of the group. This allows for far greater understanding than the purely cognitive reception of material, and so greatly enhances the applicability of theory to the therapy practice of the individual therapist.

 
HOW IS THE SMALL GROUP DIFFERENT FROM A THERAPY GROUP?
    dot

Unlike patients, small group participants are not seeking help for suffering. They sign up for a growth experience, not for healing. This correctly limits the extent of revelation they expect of themselves and others. Furthermore the integrative task demands that the group attend to the cognitive aspects of the experience as well as to the emotional aspects. This means that we expect less regression than in a therapy group.

Nevertheless, some participants may in fact be hurting psychologically in ways known or unknown to them, and some may undergo trauma and loss while travelling to a two-year program away from their home supports. So there will be times when the group functions more like a therapy group. The stance of the group leader is an important factor in setting the tone for the group. Nevertheless, we find that each small group (even with the same leader) interprets the task somewhat differently and strikes its own balance between emphasis on the personal and the group issue, the intellectual and the emotional, the regressive and the progressive.

 
HOW IS THE AFFECTIVE LEARNING MODEL DIFFERENT?
    dot

In traditional programs, psychoanalytic theory is taught by lecture, and in reading seminars. It’s read about in books and journals. It’s illustrated by clinical case presentation in the form of reading case notes. It may be debated in question and answer sessions. The Affective Learning of Psychotherapy uses all of these modalities for teaching and learning, because all of them are important, but they are not sufficient for thorough internalization of the concepts.

We maximize individual learning by using the wisdom of the group in large and small group discussion, where we not only teach the concepts, we teach from the students’ reactions to the concepts, reactions which tend to embody the anxieties and defenses that the concepts address. In short, we engage both cognitive and affective channels for learning, using each individual’s relative strengths in left brain and right brain functioning, to develop an integrated approach to theory and practice.

 
HAS OBJECT RELATIONS THEORY HAD ANY IMPACT ON PSYCHOANALYSIS IN THE USA?
    dot Dissemination of learning about object relations theory has contributed to a change in the direction of American psychoanalysis which is no longer monolithic and isolationist in philosophy, but is now influenced by object relations theory, self-psychology, Lacanian, and other theories. This broadens the base for psychoanalytic interpretive approaches not only to clinical work, but to literary criticism, the fine arts, spiritual experience, and international relations.
 
HOW DO YOU SEE PRACTICE ENHANCED BY THE AFFECTIVE LEARNING MODEL?
    dot

Students report an increased capacity for containing anxiety, maintaining states of attunement in clinical practice and sensitivity to classroom dynamics in teaching, and articulating their responses. As a by-product, many enjoy improved personal life development. Here’s what some students have said:

 “ Affective learning required me to bring out my capacity to deal with uncertainty and mystery, with the as-yet unknown and the unknowable.”


 “I experienced and examined in depth with others who cared as much as I did how conflicts and patterns operative at one level of the institution are echoed in others. Through personal experiences that were painful, exhilarating, and everything in between, I began to hone my ability to recognize the unconscious at work.”

 “I could hardly believe it when women in this small group were making complaints and talking about their needs without feeling ashamed of themselves. I revisited my paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions as I struggled to overcome my deafness and dumbness in the strange situation of the affective learning small group.”

 “It has made a tremendous difference in my work with patients and students, and in my group. I can see it even helps me in my own family.” “I realized what a richer experience a lecture is, if there is time for people to free associate.”

 “A patient of mine had to bear my frequent absences. On the verge of my fourth trip, she told me: ‘I used to suffer a lot when you went to Washington and left me… Now I don’t care too much because when you’re back, you know more.’”

 Here’s how one of the distinguished guest speakers described the model: “The affective learning model is taken in by the individual through personal introjection, it lives on externally by repeated attendance at conferences, and it creates for the participants a personal membership in an ongoing inner world training institute.”

 
CAN YOU IDENTIFY A FEW ELEMENTS OF OBJECT RELATIONS THEORY THAT WE MIGHT LEARN IN THE GROUP?
    dot To be more specific, we model the group on Winnicott’s good holding environment. We use the group to demonstrate Klein’s projective and introjective identification, Bion’s concepts of valency, sub-group basic assumption functioning, and container/contained, Fairbairn’s internal object relationship systems, and Dicks’s integration of internal object relationships and projective identification.
 
IF WE AS THERAPISTS LEARN AFFECTIVELY AND EXPERIENTIALLY, HOW DO YOU THEN SEE US CONNECTING MORE VITALLY WITH OUR PATIENTS?
    dot The group contains the participants’ anxiety that is raised when they are learning disturbing concepts and gives them a secure place in which to metabolize their experience. The group experience provides a practice arena that is protective and supportive, where peers can work together in using their affective resonance and making it conscious. This means that the concept presented is understood not only intellectually, but is taken in to the deeper reaches of the self, worked with among peers, and internalized. This gives therapists confidence in using the self with their patients or clients. This confidence in using the self with others is then transferred into the clinical setting. The therapist is then able to engage the patient or client safely and productively in an authentic experience with the skills to process and review that experience. The affective learning group builds clinical skill in emotional attunement, following affect, containing anxiety, recognizing the countertransference, and interpreting the transference.
 
HOW DOES THE LEARNING MODEL ENHANCE THE APPLICATION OF THEORY TO PRACTICE?
    dot

The recently published book, Tuning the Therapeutic Instrument: Affective Learning of Psychotherapy, is full of examples of exactly that. Students report enhanced capacity for functioning in their roles, not only in clinical practice, but in teaching, supervision, and in their personal life development. For instance, during a weekend conference on hysteria, the presenter emphasized hysterical mechanisms of denying and splitting off awareness of sexual phenomena and sexual parts of the self. During the third of five small groups, the atmosphere was one of great intimacy with rich and sometimes moving discussions of the material, relevant personal experiences, and pertinent examples from their own clinical work. The group leader noted that the members felt close, and that the group was working effectively, perhaps too effectively. He wondered silently what was not being said.

At that moment, a member said that she was engaged in the task and appreciative of the group, yet she felt that something was missing. The group leader asked the group to consider what that might be. There was a silence of about five seconds and then two members simultaneously exclaimed, “Sex!” The group members then noticed that while apparently working together closely and intimately discussing related topics, they had been relating as if there were no gender differences in the group and as if they had no sexual feelings. The group came to see this as a here-and-now example of hysterical phenomena.

In didactic presentations of theoretical and case material, the speaker emphasized family and personal history, patterns of defense, and reenactments of old scripts. In the small group, participants associated to past influences on learning. A Catholic woman said she had tuned out when the presenter raised the issue of dealing with patients’ spiritual needs. She reported that she had become able to engage in the large group discussion of that topic only after she recalled being taught in parochial school that only Protestants questioned the word of God.

A man whose father was never home had not been a good student and still had trouble paying attention. Why was he able to remain engaged and learn the material in the group settings of the affective learning model? He said that he was more able to learn in this group not just because of the welcome male presence of two older men as group leaders, but also because the group’s feelings and fantasies about the men as leaders and authorities could be discussed. When difficult feelings didn’t have to be held in, he found they no longer blocked the energy needed for learning with these leaders.

An inexperienced therapist who gave lucid vignettes of her clinical work in the small group, surprised the group when she said she had not been able to describe her work in previous seminars, or even in groups specifically for supervision. Building the group alliance and attending to the group process made the environment safe enough for her to try out a new capacity.

Here’s an example of some personal learning that occurred in response to the group. Group members were surprised and irritated when a brilliant, valued woman participant missed a session in a cavalier way with no regard to the impact of her absence. Even when she was present, she appeared and disappeared, one moment promising to talk in more detail about herself or her clinical work, and the next moment deflecting any requests for information. At the end of the group, she said that the group had helped her to see what an “exciting object” she was, in saying things of value, then missing a session, and then not following through on what she could talk about. She felt that her experience helped her understand the anger that she generated among colleagues and friends in her professional and personal life. She guessed that this behavior of giving and withholding, presenting and removing herself, could be upsetting to her patients who might either quit in the face of it, or stay unhealthily caught in the elusive object web. There was no attempt to explore the personal sources of this behavior, as would probably have happened if this were a therapy group.

As she left the conference, the woman realized that she had gained an unanticipated bonus from the affective learning process. She said to her group leader, “I learned even more about myself this weekend than I did about the conference topics. I didn’t get what I expected but, thank you, I got more than I could have ever hoped for.”

 
CAN YOU SAY MORE ABOUT TUNING THE THERAPEUTIC INSTRUMENT?
    dot The therapist's self needs to be available as a receiving apparatus for detecting unconscious conflicts and for functioning as an instrument of therapeutic action. There has been little training in how to use the therapist's self, even though quite a bit has been written about intersubjectivity, the analytic third, the need for reciprocity, and the use of countertransference. A few articles even describe the contemporary analyst using his own associations, but little has been written about how a therapist is to become skilled in the use of the self. Such training is not widely available. Once we invite therapists to work in this way, we have to provide institutional support for what requires a long process of schooling of the intuition and the capacity for inner resonance, so that the therapist's self becomes a tempered, well-functioning instrument capable of tuning in to the object world of the other -- not a wild card. It’s an ambitious goal to substitute affective engagement and intellectual discipline rather than rules of technique for applying concepts. That’s where the Affective Learning program at IIORT comes in. We hope you’ll join us for a lecture, a weekend conference, or the full program and experience Affective Learning yourself.


[ MISSION | OBJECTIVE | FACULTY | CERTIFICATES | 12 CITIES | REQUIREMENTS | REGISTER ]

line