Community Analysis: A Case Study Examining Transference and Countertransference in Community Intervention
Community Analysis: A Case Study Examining Transference and Countertransference in Community Intervention
Mark B. Borg, Jr. PhD
Borg, Jr., M. B. (2005). Community Analysis: A Case Study Examinin
THIS PAPER ADDRESSES THE INTEGRATION of community psychology and psychoanalytic theory through an exploration of transference-countertransference interactions and enactments that occurred in the context of a community intervention. The author, a team member during a four-year community revitalization intervention in South Central Los Angeles, calls this approach Community Analysis and offers a way to conceptualize the transference-countertransference themes that developed there in the interactive patterns between community residents and the intervention staff. Examples are given to illustrate how the interactive patterns represented deeply entrenched transference dilemmas that residents enacted with external power sources, including the intervention team, and how this understanding provided necessary leverage for growth and change in the community.
In response to the 1992 riots there, the city of Los Angeles contracted with a community-based revitalization organization (of which I was a member) to address the explosive crisis in this long-traumatized community. This meant addressing as well such chronic issues as poverty, racism, unemployment, drug/alcohol abuse, and academic failure, and such acute problems, related to the crisis itself, as rioting, looting, arson, and violence. This paper explores the processes of community revitalization in one low-income housing community in South Central Los Angeles over the course of a four-year field trial. The community is called Avalon Gardens.
In this paper, I argue through the presentation of a narrative case study  that exploration of the transference-countertransference enactments in the Avalon Gardens work significantly contributed to the success of the community intervention. Exploring the enactments supported the working through of a community-wide sense of powerlessness, the fruit of decades of chronic trauma and the associated dissociated and enacted conflicts that had infiltrated the community's underlying character structure. These interactive patterns represented deeply entrenched transference dilemmas that residents enacted with external power sources, including the intervention team; understanding them gave us indispensable leverage in the revitalization effort.
INDIVIDUAL PERCEPTIONS OF COMMUNITY EXPERIENCES can be analyzed, of course, but in a community, patterns of relationships can usefully be analyzed as well . Psychoanalytic community interventions are established upon the idea that a community has a covert life  . As my examples here will show, community residents often forget critical incidents (selectively inattended or dissociated1) in the community's history. In the Avalon Gardens community, it was common for residents to inattend as well such painful community realities as the effects of historical conflicts, oppressive elements in the environment, and patterns of interacting that, from an outsider's perspective, could be clearly seen to be ineffective. Such dissociated incidents and inattended aspects of reality affect people and their interactions in the community. Problematic patterns are repeated, conflict is avoided, and problems remain unsolved. Residents see themselves as powerless and helpless, and come to rely on ritualistic defenses and routinized interactive patterns. In fact, a community, as a system, structures itself to manage such covert experiences, most especially experiences of anxiety . To understand interactive patterns in communities, it is necessary to ferret out the meanings of the interpersonal and group processes that constitute collective defenses against anxiety, uncertainty, and ambiguity. I call this system of defense and adaptation Community Character . As individuals do, communities develop their own unique characters. And rigid, repetitive modes of interacting may develop in community character in response to trauma, just as they do in traumatized individuals. Community character reflects the unconscious internalization of the unwritten, unstated, but ever-present laws that govern and limit interactive patterns within a community.
Community practitioners try, with the help of residents, to make public the intersubjective meaning of the characteristic patterns (of relationships, values, and attitudes) of community cultures. Psychoanalytic knowledge of a community is acquired from in-depth study of human activities and relationships within it; their meaning is communicated through the history of the community, its dealings with critical incidents, its residents' interactive patterns, and the verbal expression of individual feelings, fantasies, and perceptions of members .
Transference-Countertransference in the Community
Transference in its broadest sense, refers to the unconscious transfer of experience from one interpersonal or environmental context to another; it results in the experience of reliving one's past interpersonal relations in current situations . In synchrony with this definition, Fromm-Reichman expressed the conviction that "the patterns of our later interpersonal relationships are formed in our early lives, repeated in our later lives, and can be understood through the medium of their repetition" [10:4]. It is possible that a person's attitudes toward his or her environment inevitably represent transferential appraisals , and that familial as well as cultural contexts contribute to processes of introjection, internalization, and identification  underlying these appraisals.
For an interpersonal psychoanalyst, transference and countertransference are not only recurrent and repetitive, but also emergent: "they not only reproduce the old, they also reconstruct it in new and changing ways" [25: 38]. Therefore, "the transference represents a way not only of construing but also of constructing or shaping interpersonal relations in general" [12:394]. Transference in community work is a phenomenon in which a person, contained within the collectively constructed frame of the intervention context, experiences directly the underlying and disavowed conflicts within that community . The interpersonal view, as Levenson says, is that "the [person] resists awareness because he or she has always been, and still [within the current transferential relationship] is, in relationships which preclude awareness because awareness provokes anxiety in all present" [14:177].
The primary assessment and intervention method in Avalon Gardens was an ongoing inquiry into the resident's history of experiences in their relationships: that is, both their real and their transference relationships with people within the community and in the outside world. The inquiry process leads to the emergence of transference, because, as Levenson says, "Inquiry provokes anxiety, anxiety provokes resistance, and resistance is manifested as transference" [14:181].
One central premise of the contemporary interpersonal perspective is that both participants are involved as part of an interpersonal field in processes that invariably affect, and are affected by, that field; in this case, the community . Transference shapes, and is revealed in, one's countertransferential relationships; one's countertransference shapes and is revealed in the transferences of other's. Sullivan  described the analyst's role as that of a participant observer who observes, attends to, and appraises his or her own inevitable participation in the analytic process.
When involvement of residents is crucial, as in the revitalization efforts in Avalon Gardens, transference and countertransference issues may be the raw materials out of which community change is crafted. Interactions and confrontations between community members and practitioners almost always mirror some community issue that requires attention. As I will describe, meetings with representatives of the community systems, wherein problems of involvement were re-enacted in front of and with the practitioners, are useful as microcosmic reflections of the larger community.
The first question that was asked of me, a Caucasian practitioner, by an African-American male resident of the community was, "Are you the police?" This question brought the intervention team immediately into the transference-countertransference dimension of the community, and indicated one potential area of focus for the intervention. It recalled a question asked by Racker: "What motive (in terms of the unconscious) would the analyst have for wanting to cure, if it were not he who made the patient ill?" [19:146]. The resident's question targeted the historical adversity existing between Avalon Gardens and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and suggested an area of transference that was already established yet also simultaneously emergent (e.g., the riots).
In explaining the history of this tension, I must note that one of the streets forming the boundary between Avalon Gardens and the outside world was McKinley Street. McKinley was the accepted line of demarcation between two powerful rival gangs, the Cripps and the Bloods. There were constant eruptions on that border between the rival gangs; crossfire killings and other forms of random violence were perpetrated upon residents by gang members on both sides. Historical accounts from residents suggested that it was best not to ask for help from the police as they were considered more likely to brutalize or humiliate than they were to "protect and serve." Feeling unable to protect themselves from the gang violence, and given the ineffectiveness of the police intervention in the gang problem, the members of this community had well-established interactional patterns, heavily steeped in paranoia and suspicion set up between itself and the outside world. There was violence on that border. People turned to the police for help, but they were not able to help, plus they brutalized and humiliated the residents. The residents felt helpless, and established patterns that they felt protected themselves.
Residents of this community, therefore, had been living in a war zone long before the LA riots. The defensive structures that had been built in this context of severe anxiety kept them from being too hopeful about "whomever the police had sent in, this time, to make us shape up." It was clear from the start of the intervention that a strong defensive insularity characterized this community. Trust in the environment outside its borders was non-existent, and this was based on the residents' very real sense that the hostility surrounded them on all sides. This lack of trust, based on years of actual interaction between the residents and the outside world, had existed for as long as there had been an Avalon Gardens, though it had been exacerbated and increasingly detectable since the Watt's riots in the 1960s.
The Raid and the Repetition
In an effort to convey a sense of the realities that shaped this community's defensive structure, I will recount one specific incident that occurred during the first year of the intervention. Some of the men in the community began meeting to talk about how they could establish a sense of ownership of and responsibility for their community. They formed a group that would meet regularly for this purpose. I attended these meetings to discuss with the men their own plans for implementing revitalization in the community. One night, after a meeting that had focused on the tenuous relations between community members and the LAPD, there was an LAPD raid. Evidently there had been gunfire in the area and a squad of LAPD officers, dressed in riot-gear stormed the apartment where the meeting had occurred. Amid flashing lights and the whapping of a hovering helicopter, four members of the group were slammed against the floor at gun point and grilled as to the whereabouts of the person who had fired the weapon.
I learned this later that night, when the group member whose home had been raided called me. "I just feel lucky that I wasn't hauled away, or worse," he said. I sensed that he had given all the details of the incident that he was going to. On the surface, the phone call was about planning an agenda for the next meeting, not about revealing the details of the incident. I mentioned that it seemed ironic that such an incident should occur on the very night that the LAPD had been the focus of the group. He said, "Yah," and continued with the agenda planning. I was struck by his nonchalance and wondered what lay behind it. If the incident had not been experienced by him as meaningful, did things remain status quo? Yet as a transference manifestation, to turn the potentially traumatic into the status quo is a significant signal. A recursive us versus them theme seemed to be playing itself out in a familiar way. For if I in this interaction was a them, how could the men's group member feel safe revealing the feelings underlying the consensually minimized impact of the LAPD raid?
Perhaps, I thought, the incident was so expectable in the context of the community's overall experience with the LAPD that there was no space in the mind of the man on the phone to process it as a new experience. In his mind, this was just what happens between the LAPD and community residents. But my mind processed it differently, and I began to ponder what had been going on earlier in the meeting. As this was a revitalization project, and as such revitalization is a process that can occur only from inside the community, I had to question my own agenda for the men's group. Had I influenced the group into undertaking a project for which the men had little or no hope of a successful outcome (i.e., forming a more functional relationship with the LAPD)? When I was talking about forming a more functional relationship with the LAPD, did these guys think it was a euphemism for my handing them over on a silver platter? To what degree was I perceived as the representative of the authority that treated the men with such hostility? Was it not the city officials themselves who were paying my salary? How could anyone not know that (unless, of course, they were actively invested in not knowing that)? Was, the healer, also seen (as per Racker) as the one who caused the sickness? What degree of dissociation had been required of the group members to allow them to become (even seemingly) involved in such a discussion?
Still, I reminded myself, within the transference experience a person relives the past , so there is hope. Transference allows the past to be relived under better conditions, in ways that can rectify problematic decisions and expand future possibilities. And so it was in Avalon Gardens. It was precisely this fusion of past and present in the transference this continuous interconnection between fantasy and reality, of internal and external experience, of conscious and unconscious that eventually brought the intervention to life. Within the transference-countertransference matrices, the residents and the intervention team were able to co-create a sense of emotional immediacy, a sense of the work as an experience-near endeavor, and a very intense engagement. The transference relationships gave us in their immediacy a vehicle by which the residents' typical and characteristic ways of interacting were manifested, examined, and, ultimately, modified. Transference-countertransference reactions were accurate, potent, and available to us for mutual exploration and validation in ways that experiences unrelated to this dimension never were.
The general reaction (or lack of reaction) of the men's group to the LAPD version of an "intervention" pointed to an area of conflict that might well have been making itself felt on ours. I myself felt terror and dread at the thought of how the men had been treated in that raid. I felt that the resident's phone call was conveying a mixed message. This message was something like: "We know that we were abused. And we know that you are, ultimately, not on our side you are one of them. The rule here is to pretend to outsiders that everything's OK no matter what. So we will not let you ['them'] know that we were impacted by the abuse. Life will go on unchanged, at least so far as we will allow you to see." It seemed that this man had transferred the community's dissociated and inattended history of powerlessness and terror into a more conscious experience of simple denial and acquiescence, one that was standard within the community. This transferring was replayed within the phone call that left me feeling the surge of emotional conflict with which the brief conversation was laden.
As I see it, the phone conversation represented a transference situation that existed between the community as a whole (an entity with myriad components), and the organization running the revitalization program (which had its own complex subsystems). In this re-enactment, the residents, by interactive patterns that represented the character of the community transferred old systems of meaning and old patterns of experience into the new context of the community intervention. These patterns of experience in the male residents were functional, though limited, ways of coping with impositions from the outside world these were represented in the old system by the LAPD, and in the new system by the intervention. The transference component of this interaction provided an important view into the unconscious of the community.
Meetings, Intersections, Collisions, and Other Attempts at Entrance
Countering my impulse to impose what seemed to me a relevant topic for the next meeting was the awareness of the potential repetition that such an act would represent. I believed that if the men were to acquire a more conscious grasp of the community's relationship with power and authority, the awareness of the need for such a grasp would have to come from within the group. I wished to convey confidence in a process, rather than a dedication to a prescribed set of solutions. So I did not insist on discussing the raid. This fostered a working space within which the men could realistically explore their history and experience with regard to power and authority. If I had tried to impose a set of solutions, I would in actuality as well as in fantasy have represented precisely the powers and authorities that had already generated such strong and apparently dissociated anxiety in the community.
After about twenty minutes, someone said jokingly to the man whose house had been raided, "They [the LAPD] must have been trying to recruit you last Monday night." This was obviously an allusion to the police raid and referred to it not as a source of conflict, or even as a problem, but, ostensibly, as a statement of fact. I noticed and commented that the level of anxiety in the room seemed to increase when the incident came up. The group then began an inquiry into the nature of the relationship that this community maintained with the LAPD. The inquiry expanded and came alive as it led to an increasing awareness of the intense history of conflict and suspicion that this community maintained toward authority and, more specifically, to the police. This matter-of-factness represented the transferential intersection where the very alive, yet generally dissociated, relationship to authority that this community held in its defensive structure could be brought into awareness and, in the group, contained. The ways that the transferential relationship was structured into the community character and used as a reference point for the attitudes and behaviors that could acceptably be enacted toward authority were then explored.
Manifest anxiety appeared time and time again in individual members as the process of inquiry continued over the course of the next few weeks. Each time the anxiety appeared and sometimes it appeared in very intense forms with members turning against each other the group was able to contain it, to question its implications, and to metabolize the experience within the ongoing inquiry. Yet the most striking thing about these revelations was that no one seemed to be able to pinpoint in any comprehensible way where the epicenter of the ongoing chronic crisis actually was. How long had the ongoing form of relationship between this community and the LAPD existed? How many generations had been passing it down? How long had the "unwritten rules" of this community's general character structure remained unquestioned? These questions were intriguing to the group members.
Systems, Subsystems, and Collusion
The system as a whole (Avalon Gardens) and its subsystems (African-Americans, Latinos, men, women, and so on) worked together to influence how individuals operated alone in their manifestations of system character traits. Significant questions came to mind: Why do people in this community need to under-function? How can the community members learn to revitalize themselves in a system where that does not feel safe? Various subsystems within the community were often perceived by other subsystems as the "cause" of the community's problems. Yet it seemed apparent that the current modes of being were symptomatic, rather than causative, in the historical picture of the community that was developing. Through becoming aware of these subsystem operations, the intervention developed another goal: learning to mediate among subsystems in the community.
Transference in a community context can also be described more generally as the pull of the community to transfer a pre-crisis (in this case, prior to the riots) individual/ interpersonal/environmental atmosphere, with all its underlying anxieties, fantasies, conflicts, defenses and idealizations, into the post-crisis community thus again, maintaining the status quo. This occurs when the community as a whole enacts patterns of behavior, emotion, thinking, and relating that are manifestations of it's accumulated history of character defense. As the men's group began what eventually grew into a community project between Avalon Gardens and the LAPD, a broader pattern of re-searching its history brought to the community a sense of the underlying anxiety that upheld its defensive system. The riots had triggered a large-scale breach in this system.
Conceptualized in this way, the crisis of the riots could be seen as a form of communication between the community unconscious and the outside world. The defenses of the closed system were extremely powerful, however, and transferential reactions when not engaged and encouraged were more likely to be dissociated than to be re-experienced at a conscious and therefore useful level. That is why bringing such reactions to life in the transference, and then supporting them within the increasing cohesion of the men's group, was essential at this point in the intervention. To become salient in the transference, as I was able to do by becoming involved in, rather than resisting, the power-authority enactment ("Are you the police?") was equivalent to breaking into the interactional patterns of the community itself. An opening into a tightly closed system was established. With the stability of the group established, it was now time to work through the transferential dimensions of the relationship that existed between the members of the men's group and myself. This was an immediate and emotionally viable experience of how the men responded to power and authority. Understanding it helped us reveal the community's history of anxiety and pain in relation to such outside forces.
Transference reactions can be powerful enough to mold the community practitioner's actual feelings so that they are experienced as meeting transferential expectations. Sometimes I felt as if I truly was the "bad guy," as if I was breaking sacred taboos in the community. And this may well have been true. No matter how stifling these taboos had become, they were after all designed to protect the community from a violent and authoritarian surround. So my urgency to facilitate an "actual intervention" correspondingly became increasingly intense. I struggled with strong impulses to impose a programmatic structure that would force the men to challenge their current perceptions, even while I was aware that this could not "work." In my struggle I could feel the powerful compromises that this community had made in an effort to keep itself intact. But as the riots clearly indicated, the apparent cohesion and integrity in the community were illusory, and the community character was most successful in its support of a static equilibrium that worked to keep residents unaware of the current state of dysfunction.
It is certain that these countertransference feelings of mine must have been communicated in some ways. But I tried to minimize their influence by holding tight to intervention concepts (collaboration as opposed to direction, for example), which served as anchors, steadying me against my impulse toward imposed action. If I had acted under the influence of my own anxieties, perhaps out of a threatening sense of failure, I would have confronted the group members with an authoritarian reality like the ones, both the real and fantasied, that they already expected from the outside world and defended against from within the community character structure. This vicious cycle between the influence of the powerful and the perpetual submission of the disempowered would have continued to play itself out in the group interaction, and the need for the old system's dogma would have been reinforced. The need to resist the pull of my own anxiety reminded me, an outsider, of what was happening on the inside, allowed me to share new perspectives on old (transferential) dilemmas, and gave me a perspective from which I could begin to help breach the cycle of the closed system.
The men began to discuss the possibility of a collaboration between the group and the LAPD, but one hurdle remained before these ideas could be brought out of confines of the group and into an actual meeting between the men and the police. But to be able to see accurately the existing patterns of interaction, and to pose crucial questions regarding this community's character structure, I would have to immerse myself in the process itself, not remain outside of it as an "expert." When a whole history of reactive forces threatened this community in the context of an acute crisis (experienced, most consistently, by community members as anxiety, pain, and uncertainty), the men's group that formed in response became able to communicate, the community's underlying and unconscious taboos. Interpersonal psychoanalytic theory suggests that it is impossible to avoid replicating old themes [13, 14]. The crisis of the riots created an opportunity to explore (prior to any overt action) the meanings of these themes.
Of course, the history of abuse that the men felt had been perpetrated upon the community by the police was only one side of the transference intersection between the LAPD and the community members. It is likely that the LAPD officers upheld their end of the transferential bargain by perceiving community residents in equally stereotyped and inter-generationally transmitted ways. It was not as if the community members were seeing something that was not really there. Both sides (LAPD/Avalon Gardens residents) were drawing out in the other something that was there. In the transference they were selecting cues that really existed and responding to those aspects of the other. Yet even as the members of the men's group were now shouting the old message (about how they traditionally reacted to power and authority), they were whispering a new and alternative repertoire of cues.
Persistent modes of thinking and feeling were reinforced in important ways by the day-to-day experience within the pattern of interactions established, unchallenged, and reinforced by members of both groups. As Bauer states,
In the men's group there were moments, steeped in anxiety, when the members would fall back to a default mode; they would react to circumstances based on what they had learned to expect from their (dangerous) environment and would enact the protective rituals of the community character such as the way the member had responded to my phone call after the police raid. After all, the characterological defensive system of the community had for many generations provided a significant containment of widespread anxiety. Yet it did not encompass adequately either the day-to-day violence in the community, nor the more elaborate violence of the riots.
So while suspicions were high, I was the accepted representative of the outside force, and in the interactions with me and in the enactments that arose from the transference-countertransference matrix, the dynamic structure of the community came to life. This allowed accessible moments of intersection between Avalon Gardens (the group) and the outside world (me). Some of them were verbal, but when the group members could not speak of the intensity and the anxiety of the intersections, enactment became the focus of the transferential working through. These enacted and generally non-verbal messages most consistently conveyed: "We need you to act in ways that confirm that we are living within a familiar environment." They needed me to engage with them, to fall into complementary countertransference reactions that would confirm their connection to their history, their environment, and ultimately to their individual senses of self. This was a viable means of communication. Over the course of their lives, these people had been shaping their experiences to meet their most imperative need: the need for safety. The enactments that occurred when I did "fall" into the role of he-who-imposes-the-rules-of-real-world-and-punishes-if-such-rules-are-not-obeyed, and the co-participatory inquiry that followed them, allowed us all to work toward opening the previously closed system of this community's character structure.
Who's Watching the Watchdog?
The community had accepted, as its slogan, "Take Back the Community." Consistent with this rallying cry, the members of the men's group began to see themselves as the unofficial "watchdogs" of the community, and they referred to themselves as such. They began to officialize this position by formalizing their status, referring to themselves as AGMA (The Avalon Gardens Men's Association), electing officials, and seeking non-profit organization status. The idea of AGMA as the "watchdog" of the community seemed particularly striking (and ironic) for three reasons. The first was that "watch-dogging" was a label that the members had applied pejoratively time and time again to the LAPD described more like "attack-dogging." Second, while it represented AGMA's overall sense of responsibility in the community and specified its general goals and agenda, it also appeared to be a form of identification with the aggressor. The third reason was that this term represented the insularity of this community's general approach to safety and security watchdogs keep intruders (and affect, in this case) out. It was the feelings of suspicion and paranoia that required an internal watchdog. It seemed apparent that to scratch the surface of this watchdog position in the transference equated with bringing into the group's awareness the underlying intense insecurity that haunted the everyday lives of the members. Why else would the community need a watchdog? As the LAPD had been identified in a similar ("watchdog") way, it seemed that a vicious cycle had been completed. For if the representatives of power and authority were perceived to need a "watchdog" (i.e., me), perhaps they were also insecure. What, then, was making the police so afraid? Was it the community? The residents? The gangs? The drug dealers? Or some amalgam of all of these factors? The men felt an increased sense of power as they pondered these questions, if only the power to influence and intimidate.
The White Cancer
The importance of transference issues showed clearly in this community's defense against penetration by outside forces. This came to life in an AGMA meeting when one member casually mentioned the "white cancer of the police." Everything stopped. The anxiety in the room immediately intensified as the member who had said this turned to me and awkwardly said, "No offense, bro." It was as if the men had suddenly realized that there was an outsider in their midst. At another level of analysis, the comment could be assessed as a re-enactment representing the details of the riot itself. As if the comment, like the riot, was an offensive statement that had to be quickly retracted back into the more characterologically defensive recesses of the community character. Yet to the members of the group an awareness emerged of the underlying idea that the (community) watchdogs had a watchdog (from the outside) watching them.
A primary assumption in transference work is that given the establishment of a conducive environment, problematic and conflicted coping strategies will be reenacted within the therapeutic relationship, allowing them to be examined, understood, and modified . This episode provided an opening through which the anxieties and uncertainties in the relationship between the AGMA members and me came to conscious awareness. It gave us an opportunity to explore the depths of the fear and anxiety that existed in this community about the "white cancer" that they lived with, had been infected by, and ultimately had attempted to aggressively "treat," if not surgically remove, in the enactment of the riots.
The "cancer" was the LAPD (and unconsciously the other practitioners and myself). The white-ness of the cancer was brought into the transference as the epitome of otherness. It was very necessary for me to help the group recognize their ideas about me as a form of acceptable interchange, and to attend to and express them. It was also important that the group learn to focus on clarifying, working through, and resolving transference reactions so as to reduce their harmful effects on interactions with the outside world. Yet it was at this very point that it became hardest for me, who had become a target in the enactment, to absorb the intensity of the criticism without reacting to it.
The criticism of the LAPD and of white people in general (initiated on the first day in the question about whether I was "the police") seemed to signify rebellion, vengeance, and provocation a provocation in pursuit of masochistic punishment while exploring how much freedom I would really allow. However, it also established an opportunity for the men to gain the upper hand in their enacted subjugation of this dangerous, perhaps sadistic, outsider. Upon my reaction would depend the confirmation or not of the need to keep the outside forces out. If I were to become punitive and counter-reactive in an effort to reject this view of me as "other", I would only confirm my dangerous outsider status.
My mounting insecurity, and other countertransference reactions that were barely intelligible to me seemed to me a living and complementary response to the transference situation in the group at that moment. All the protest and rebellion made me angry. I felt as if I were being perceived as the persecutory force, and I felt impelled to close myself up and disconnect from the group members, to deny that they were influencing (or intimidating) me.
I examined my feelings, and wondered to myself about the communication that I had received from the group (community). I interpreted to myself the possibility that my anxiety reflected how dangerous it felt to the community to accept my influence, how dangerous it would be for me to be proven helpful and useful to this community. If I provided real care and concern, and through this was able to fool the community into believing that I offered something that was actually useful, the community would have "fallen for it again." It would again be indebted to me (the outside force), would once more have fallen into a traditional state of intense dependence, and would have risked once more being disappointed again. The community history of feeling exploited by a tyrannical and depriving outside world required that such dependence be avoided. This was a resistance determined by fear of being forsaken yet again by the resource-offering outside world. Better not to hope at all.
During this period, intense anxiety was apparent in the group. Any reaction to the dictates of my own anxiety would have been felt by the group members as a severe criticism, one more rejection of the needs and desires that the community experienced; it would confirm the need to deny any viable bond with me. It would also give a lie to my own faith in the analytic process of becoming aware of feelings without falling into defensive patterns. The vicious cycle between basic anxiety regarding retaining unmet needs and desires, defensive identification with a stimulating but disappointing aggressor would have been strengthened. The need to maintain an inflexible community character would have been affirmed.
This was a pivotal point in the deepening development of the real, as well as the transference-countertransference, relationship between me and the group members. Traditionally such relationships had followed a prescribed trajectory; they traveled a clear path within the historical (and limited) configurations that community members tentatively established with members of the outside world. The process of inquiry had led to tension and anxiety, conjuring resistance and defense that threatened to bring the ongoing process to a halt.
However, within the processes and relationships that had been established among us the AGMA members and me there was an alternative to the historical "full stop." This alternative was a more comprehensive, rather than a more restricted, level of inclusion inclusion of me, as a member of the group. The process of inquiry had been asymmetrical before; in seeing me in a simplified and stereotyped manner, it had left me out. Now it spontaneously made room for me, but at a cost. Traditionally psychoanalysis has had in general a touchy relationship with the practice of self-disclosure. In an (unconscious) effort to maintain and deepen their process the AGMA members began to get curious about the nature of this "stranger" in their midst.
AGMA had become increasingly involved in community service (beyond the "community police" program). The men in AGMA were by this time in the process following through on their commitment to become more deeply involved and invested in the day-to-day functioning of the community. They had been meeting weekly, and in that forum had developed numerous ways to increase their involvement in the community. I had worked closely with AGMA through many outreach endeavors and had, therefore, been included, if not exactly by invitation, in many community events. A new kind of history was being developed in the community. Other practitioners on my team were reporting similar relational experiences in other groups.
This shared history was a crucial support to the survival of the movement that had previously been experienced within the AGMA group. Anxiety had surfaced. An uncomfortable tension seemed to be threatening us with the "full stop" option. Could this group continue to function in the presence of the otherness that I represented? In fact it could, the inquiry process continued in a spirit of tentative collaboration, and it now included detailed questions posed to me about my history, my hopes and dreams for the community, my motivations, my investments, and my goals. Specific questions surfaced about my ability to help and empathize with this community's struggles. Associations to my answers revealed new unconscious dimensions of the transferential relationships that the AGMA members had uncovered, developed, and eventually revealed in reference to me.
There's a Problem Here
When we explored the LAPD raid, we hypothesized that the community's implicit response to it had been communicated in the group's enacted message to me: "There's no problem here." This seemed impossible to me, and I challenged the message by inquiring into the details of the experience. Instead of acting so as to support the community's defensive patterns, I pursued a co-participatory inquiry. I had a more acute understanding of the underlying community anxieties, as the raid had taught me to empathize with the need to develop the kinds of systems of defense that the community character now supported. And in group interactions, the image of the outsider as persecutor began to be challenged. Group members began to relinquish their defensive identification with traditional images of outsiders and to address a shared history of thwarted needs and desires. Repetitious defensive patterns began to indicate to us the content and origin of deep anxieties within the community and allowed us to process their origins as well as to develop collaborative solutions to dealing with them.
During the interactions of this period, I was often being accused of historical victimization while at the same time feeling victimized myself. In the transference-countertransference matrix I suffered great anxiety, and at the same time I experienced a sense of dependence and hopelessness about achieving entry into this system. But once more, if I had overtly reacted to this transference situation, by being overly critical or condescending, or even denied my own complicity in previous victimizations, perhaps my behavior would have served to renew the situations that had helped to establish the characterological patterns within the community and made it the closed system that it was.
Closed systems impose expectations of what reality is, what there is to find, thus limiting the spectrum of potential experience across modes of thinking, feeling, behaving and relating. The psychoanalytic underpinning of the work within the men's group was manifest in the collectively established goal: to breach the closed community system, to gain access to its "inner world." This access made the inner world more accessible to the outer one, and vice-versa (once the traditional patterns of interaction were not so severely in the way). We sought to engage the system (through the men's group) in a process that would be increasingly expansive; a process that could begin to tolerate "newness," and ultimately cultivate tolerance actively.
The idea that we see through the eyes of our history is as old as psychoanalysis itself; in fact, it is the idea upon which psychoanalysis is predicated. But what happens when time stops? When history, over the course of generations, has become static? Add to this a sort of valence that responds and reacts to external stimuli in stereotypic patterns, and we have the essential ingredients for an extremely self-preserving closed system. By valence, I mean the forces that constrain individuals to respond and react even to new experiences in prescribed and expected ways. One example of valence was the stylized relationship between the Avalon Gardens residents and the LAPD. Residents expected to be treated in certain stereotyped ways by the representatives of authority and power. Correspondingly, LAPD officers enacted these behaviors. The officers expected certain attitudes in the residents, and the residents, accordingly, enacted these. This system operated defensively in such a way that, over the course of the preceding generations, openings had become impossible to see from within the system itself, although even a cursory glance from an "outsider" revealed the dysfunction in the system.
The LA riots provided such a moment; the dysfunction in the system became visible, although it could not be seen by members on the inside. It was responded to by outsiders me, for example. Though I idealized a neutral approach, I couldn't help having an agenda community revitalization. Thankfully, my general conceptual framework provided a sort of tether, connecting me to a particular idea and form and the constant reminder that it was not, ultimately, my job to impose solutions. This stance provided a safe environment, a subsystem of trust and support, for group members. It allowed the members to come to an understanding of how the struggles of previous generations had been internalized and reinforced, and how they had sustained a reactive tendency in the community. While it was not understood, this tendency could not be challenged, reconceptualized, and worked through. But by allowing the working through of the historical dilemmas reflected in the transference-countertransference matrices of AGMA and other community meetings, the intervention created a breach in the closed system of Avalon Gardens. This provided a meeting place where community members could find new ways to meet with the outside world, alternatives to the collision-like manner that had previously prevailed.
Upon follow-up in 2001, AGMA had sustained its alliances with the other organizations established in the course of the revitalization project [3:30-1]. These alliances formed the foundation of a resident-driven comprehensive community revitalization organization. Working in conjunction with an umbrella organization, AGMA and the other community groups in Avalon Gardens obtained nonprofit status and began to develop and receive funding for their own projects, one of which was a continuation of the community police project. They then amalgamated and renamed themselves the Avalon Gardens Community Service Association (AGCSA). By the end of the intervention, AGCSA was able to work with other major community revitalization efforts underway in the South Central Los Angeles area.
For community practitioners dealing with crisis by being an observer is not enough. In order to experience the fullness of an interaction we must understand the significance of what we see, hear, feel and touch. In this paper I have suggested that understanding the manifestations of transference and countertransference at the community level is a potential means of achieving this. As I have tried to show, this requires active and ongoing participation in the interactive process as a community develops its own strategies for dealing with current and historical crisis.
1. Bauer, G. The Analysis of Transference in the Here and Now. Northvale, NJ: Aronson; 1993.
Beyond Community Analysis:
Mario Rendon MD
Rendon, M. (2005). Beyond Community Analysis: A Response to Dr. Borg.
DR. BORG UTILIZES THE INTERPERSONAL METHOD to analyze his experience as community healer in the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. As he enters into a community that has been traditionally victimized by social disadvantage and racism, he narrates his experience dealing not only with the understandable impact of the group's distrust, but also with his own fears and distortions. Dr. Borg's approach is useful for community practice because it illustrates some of the junctures facing the practitioner who enters a diverse community as a symbol of external or alien power. Through his intervention Dr. Borg helps the community to restructure itself in order to correct stereotypical distortions and utilize its own power of organization and negotiation in order to access community sources and resources. Technically, at the level of psychoanalytical intervention, Dr. Borg succeeds in illustrating an approach that clearly proved successful by its outcome, yet, being that the problem is also political (allocation of power), and sociological (group structures), besides ethical (rightness), there are questions that still loom large when the psychoanalytic method is applied alone. What do the riots mean, for example? And why in 1992?
Let's take as our starting point the powerful metaphor "white cancer," that Dr. Borg sees as the unconscious object of rioting. The word white makes reference to the historical experience of that alien force that institutionalized racism in North America, from colonial slavery to present-day "profiling." The word white in this case is a metonymy, a displacement from Capitalism, the true force behind modern oppression. However, the latter signifier, Capitalism is not readily available to most people; it remains opaque; is not in the preconscious readily accessible for retrieval. It is instead in the unconscious of society. It makes itself available only through displacements and condensations that need further analysis. Such signification is not available to the masses, not to mention the similarly metonymically reduced "black" or "minorities" groups. It is true that in real life domination has been significantly experienced as White, but we could find a number of other metonymic words to signify it. The mystifying metonymy is useful for those in power because it disguises reality; it is also useful for the Black community in this case, because it makes its target easy. This was clearly illustrated during the riots by the assaults on white "innocent bystanders".
It occurs similarly with religious fundamentalism. While it is true that fundamentalist groups are driving both sides of the present war narrative, no one really thinks that the war on terror is about religion. The attribution easily solves the problem of analysis and understanding for common people. However, upon further scrutiny, it only reveals a grain of the truth in the structuring of present day society.
The word Cancer on the other hand, is constructed as a symbol of hopelessness, of the ultimate paradox of growth toward destruction, of invasion of the personal. It is not hard to imagine the Los Angeles police framing the riots, or the Bloods and Cripps gangs, as black cancer for that matter. Coterminous groups usually operate on shared assumptions.
This kind of mirroring is an essential group phenomenon. Adjacent or similar groups in tension project their fear onto each other and dehumanize each other in order to be able to shed any thread of empathy. This justifies attack. In a sort of Lacanian intersubjectivity opposites, split groups, desperately need each other. Yet, underlying their need is the mutually projected explosive fear of self-fragmentation. This leads to an almost self-fulfilling prophesy of destruction at times of surplus tension which is probably more often the result of economic scarcity or imbalance than of any ideological or moral crisis per se. Freud was very clear on this when he pointed out that periodic revolutions seek elusive material equality only to install a new form of inequality until the masses rebel anew.
Narcissistic mirroring is so essential, that group identity is impossible without it. Isn't that what Freud told us in Totem and Taboo, and what Levi Strauss echoed in the Elementary Structures? Groups, a source of essential material and symbolic exchange, are different by virtue of having a symbol to mediate their identity vis a vis each other; they need an opposite to construct their identity against, a need unambiguously ambivalent, that includes projected fear of the other. Freud described this best with his concept of "the narcissism of small differences," illustrated with Schopenhauer's metaphor of the porcupines in winter: they need each other for warmth but can't get too close without pricking each other.
It seems that mirroring is so fundamental a group process that for lack of an external mirror, a group will split itself and dialectically look at itself in the fragments. Not only in every day clinical practice but also in political life, we see how an external threat decreases group fragmentation. War is perhaps the best example. This is why it is totally deceptive to think of a monolithic world order, an illusion all past imperialisms, starting with the Egyptians, also had. In a masterful dialectical fashion, Freud pointed out how the Egyptians became monotheistic only as a representation of their imperialism. Their illusion of one world order was reflected in the mirror of one god.
That Identity is based on a split we have learned most pointedly from Lacan. This is how the ego constitutes itself and operates on the basis of a symptomatic idealized image. Dr. Borg talks about group character. In the case of Los Angeles and its subculture, Avalon Gardens, part of their character structure is to relate to each other through projection of mutual fear: police and gangs concretely represent that fear.
This brings us to the initial question: why riots, why 1992? In the context offered the Los Angeles riots of 1992 could be seen as a minor symptom mirroring in North America its major equivalent behind the melting Iron Curtain. If we place the riots in a larger context, 1991 was the beginning of the demise of the Soviet regime and the end of the Cold War which was followed by a major world commotion: the fragmentation of the Soviet Union and its satellites, and the beginning of the Balkans wars. As long as the cold war provided necessary mirroring and projective structures to both "evil empires" (the other was evil incarnate for each one), a sort of world equilibrium, however horrific, was maintained. As soon as the mirroring stopped, these ailments of different proportion, and reflecting internal fragmentation, ensued on both sides. Curtailment of services to the population, often under the guise of privatization (what better?) has since been the rule in the United States. It is no longer necessary to compete for social prestige with the socialist countries. The concept of social justice has been trampled, as was the case for the Blacks of Los Angeles with the Rodney King verdict that started the riots. In the aftermath of the fall of communism the ruling classes have turned to self-reinvestment as corporativism lives its true promised land.
If the specter of communism helped keep the American populace at bay, for the best of a century, its disappearance has created a vacuum for the projection of fear. The Los Angeles Riots was a symptom, if minor, of unacceptable internal fragmentation. We need to re-focus on external danger. As long as we focus on threatening otherness, as long as we have that alien mirror to look at our own fear we will remain together. Terrorism comes then to fill the vacuum left. A new hot war is started of portentous world dimensions. This is a peculiar mirror however, invisible. We enter into the most incredible paradoxes when we try to make it visible. A whole new chapter for a new century.
As all previous historical imperialisms have had their shelf life, the Freudian question has started to be posed: what would be the next hegemony like? This is indeed the larger looming question for humanity, and, particularly we may add, with the weapons that we at times boast and at times condemn, at what price?
Community Practice On (and Off) the Couch: Response to Commentary by Dr. Mario Rendon
Mark B. Borg, Jr. PhD
Borg, Jr., M. B. (2005). Community Practice On (and Off) the
I AM GRATEFUL TO DR. RENDON FOR REFLECTING WITH ME on the ideas and experiences that I took up in my "Community Analysis" essay. I have found that his offering has provided me with valuable supervisory and consciousness-raising opportunities. I thank Dr. Rendon for his acknowledgement of my attempt to bring psychoanalysis into the community, as well as for his challenge to reverse the lens and bring community and communities, including the political climate within which they exist, into the consulting room. I am eager to put this community work on the couch as a means of tapping into areas that I myself have overlooked (i.e., dissociated). And, I believe that Dr. Rendon has offered a chance for me to ponder my own discomfort (i.e., resistance) with ways in which I may collude with the "unconscious of [my own] society."
There are, of course, many theoretical and practical lenses with which to view community intervention processes (e.g., primary prevention, community empowerment and revitalization, action research, and so on). And I have attempted to add a psychoanalytic lens into the mix. With this lens, we can observe that there are also many potential pitfalls involved in community practice, not the least of which is falling into dissociative states wherein major political and sociological implications of the work are not adequately confronted: questions of power allocation and group process missed in lieu of more pragmatic, empirical, and theory-driven outcomes. I have wondered if at times many of the processes involved in long-term crisis intervention result in situations whereby practitioners, especially if we have been impacted by the same or similar traumatic events, reconnect with our own disavowed experiences of trauma though not without significant ambivalence and resistance.
Might it be that traumatic events motivate practitioners to enact help-giving roles in order to escape from a full awareness of the anxiety and powerlessness that threatens our own sense of security? To have a help-giving role in the context of disaster is to have an ongoing and (at least consciously) empowering means of dealing with the acute stress created by the tragedy. Yet, this mentality creates a vision of the community wherein one group (help-givers) establishes a false dichotomy between themselves and the group of "victims."
History confirms that the idea of help-giving has reinforced many an "intervention" that has been a self-serving cover-up for imperialism and colonization  with ubiquitous iatrogenic consequences to boot. Often, the help-giving position is maintained whereby (countertransferential) anxiety-reducing motivations may be submerged beneath the "good intentions" that also motivate the response to disaster, perhaps especially when the "disaster" has been induced by the structural class differences represented by those who serve as help-givers. Splits that are formed between help-giver and victim may create and sustain blind spots around the ways that those in the help-giving community have themselves been impacted by the tragedy and result in the enactment of disavowed trauma or anxiety. If the political climate in which we are embedded is the actual tragedy (as was the case in Avalon Gardens), dissociation serves to distract from and assuage the more vague and subtle nibblings of guilt, shame, helplessness, and hopelessness, that one might feel for his or her part in the perpetuation of overwhelming and opportunistic imbalances. And, due to rampant internalization and reinforcement of race and class bias and hate in U.S. society, these feelings often infect oppressor and oppressed alike.
Dr. Rendon's analysis of this case, and the wider context of 1992 worldwide politics (and the ways that some of these dynamics may have played out in the Los Angeles riots) reinforces Vamik Volkan's  assertion of our need to have enemies and allies (Volkan, in fact, uses Freud's "narcissism of small differences" as a point of departure for his argument). Historically, in Avalon Gardens, it had always been pretty easy to know who the enemy is; either the one wearing the blue uniform (the police), or the one who lives on the other side of McKinley Street (a member of the Bloods). In my paper, I suggested that throughout the intervention collaboration served as a kind of bridging of gaps, a "making friends of the enemy," so to speak. In other words, collaboration served as the key ingredient in what I am tempted to call community building [or development] especially in terms of building what community psychologists refer to as "the sense of community" [1:55].
Let me add a bit of subtext to the "white cancer" interaction described in my article. There was a tendency in the men's meetings, and in other interactions that I had with male African American community members, for them to refer to me, as they often did to each other, as "my nigger." This generally shocked and disarmed me, but it was almost always delivered with such an ease and sense of accepting friendliness that I never confronted the issue. In the moment that I was targeted as part of the "white cancer" I became and was realized to be not only what I was, but what I overtly represented in this meeting and this community: an outsider, a possible threat, and "not one of us." Of course, this was quickly dissociated by the apology ("No offense ") that was offered to me, especially with the term of familiarity that concluded it: "Bro." From enemy (police) to friend ("nigger"), to enemy ("white cancer"), and back to friend again ("bro").
And Dr. Rendon is right to infer the question of what happens next? That is, when the community loses its cherished and needed enemy, or when such an ambiguous state of friend/enemy such as I inhabited is established. Perhaps then collaboration is also a shattering of a once-effective mirror that had served to keep our fragmentations at bay, reinvigorating our internal terror, and sending us off to find new enemies (or mirrors). There may be something absolutely essential in feeling certain about who constitutes enemy, and where the danger is coming from. And there was also a high degree of certainty reflected back to this (South Central LA) community from the wider U.S. society about who the enemy was and where the danger was coming from. It was, in this reflection, they themselves who now became that lurking them that darkly shadows the accepted U.S. us.
This was conveyed in former U.S. Vice-President Dan Quayle's take on the complex social issues behind the Los Angeles Riots: "When I have been asked who caused the riots and the killing in LA, my answer has been direct and simple: Who is to blame for the riots? The rioters are to blame. Who is to blame for the killings? The killers are to blame." Direct and simple (i.e., certain) victim-blaming ideologies usually are . Forget all those "complex issues" Quayle implicitly suggests, such as socioeconomic inequality, race and class tensions, people whose lives are lived in blighted neighborhoods, and the dramatic display of injustice brutally perpetrated upon Rodney King (to mention just a few issues underpinning the riots), because Quayle knows what and who caused the riots! Not that he is or was all that convincing (in fact, you can find this and many other "misstatements" [his term] on many a web-site dedicated to his buffoonery), but nonetheless this incident of parapraxis certainly supports both our need to dissociate the tensions sustaining our most chronic social issues, as well as the ways in which these sentiments "slip" through the cracks nonetheless. Slavoj Zizek, in response to Quayle's quote states that this quote "relies on an implicit negation: don't look for the 'deeper' causes in social circumstances, it is the immediate perpetrators who bear the full responsibility" [8: 78]. Negation = injunction. In contrast to my earlier interpretation of the South Central riots, on May 1, 1992 then-president Bush stressed the dominant conservative interpretation of the events. He stated:
What we saw last night and the night before in Los Angeles is not about civil rights. It's not about the great cause of equality that all Americans must uphold. It's not a message of protest. It's been the brutality of the mob, pure and simple. And let me assure you, I will use whatever force is necessary to restore order.
For this to be subjectively experienced as "true" we have to accept the dominant interpretation of the Los Angeles riots as the work of "the criminal element," and depend upon repressive and dissociative mechanisms to shore up this acceptance. Barry Shank discusses this circumstance in reference to the Los Angeles rebellion and the nearly simultaneous campaign waged by a consortium of local and national police associations to force Warner Brothers Records to remove a song entitled "Cop Killer," from one of their current releases by the heavy metal band, Body Count (fronted by the controversial "gansta rap" star, Ice-T). Shank writes,
The mainstream American media and the federal government still cannot confront the radical social inequalities reproduced through our continuing racialism. Therefore, a powerful reaction formation takes place in the white middle-class suburban unconscious that retroactively creates a radical otherness, a wall of essential difference [6:139].
If we can buy into this notion, this felt experience, of radical and essential otherness in our cherished enemies, we can then adequately dissociate the substratum of this enforced argument that is, we can overlook the fact that these differences are undeniably historical and cultural.
Dr. Rendon makes a compelling case for how the dissolution of communist USSR deprived the U.S. of its most cherished enemy, producing an internal fragmentation for which the LA riots were a symptom. Of course, we in the U.S. have been able to keep ourselves intact by re-focusing on new external dangers: the Arab world. Yet this is not a new danger. Edward Said  suggests that the Western world has used Middle Eastern people to represent what is most dangerously Other since the time of the Greeks. In fact, George W. Bush in misstatements similar to his father's vice-president conveys that there must be an enemy, that in finding (or looking for, or even creating) our enemy we can regain our certainty. Consistent with Dr. Rendon's comments, Bush states:
Like Quayle in his interpretation of the cause of the LA riots, Bush hints at a similar direct and simple interpretation of contemporary goings-on: We know who is responsible for terrorism, the terrorist
And so we keep searching for (and finding) this hostile, though necessary, mirror (the "enemy") or, considering Bush's obsession with certainty itself, perhaps it is certainty itself that we are really seeking. And in our searching, in our suspicious and paranoid pursuit, in our consistent ability to transform the Other into the enemy (if these two terms are not actually synonyms), we need respite, a safe place to hide. This is the place where we play out our own dynamic struggles in familiar contexts while dissociating the ways that even the transference-countertransference patterns that we enact with our friends, our lovers, our colleagues, our analysts, and our patients might hint at how we are embedded in an enormous system of inequality and oppression. Is it possible that we create communities as places that serve as rather effective means of setting up a boundary between any awareness of how caught up into the larger political, economic, bureaucratic impersonal and seemingly intractable system we are, and our experience of day to day life in such systems?
Can we then describe community itself as a defense against the overwhelming sense of isolation and alienation that is increasingly part and parcel of modern life in most Western cultures? Along these lines, the French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy suggests that "community, far from being what society has crushed or lost, is what happens to us in the wake of society" [2: 11, original emphasis]. And yet, though community may manifest as a safe and sacred enclave a place of relative security (at least from the awareness of the seemingly insurmountable forces of oppression beyond its borders) it may also serve as a metonymy, and therefore yet another displacement and distraction from the force behind modern oppression. If we can include Dr. Rendon's response as an addendum to my "Community Analysis" piece, and if it is plausible that community serves as a profound psychological and sociological defense, we might argue that certain aspects and experiences of community may also need to be thrown into the mix of what needs to be "worked-through" in the U.S. and in the world.
1. Chavis, D. M., & Wandersman, A. Sense of Community in the Urban Environment: A Catalyst for Participation and Community. American Journal of Community Psychology, 1990; 18 (1): 55-81.