Teaching Philosophy

The teaching and learning philosophy at IPI is based on the Affective Learning Model, developed from object relations theory, as it has been applied to groups, and from extensive experience with group process in many different contexts. The model represents 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.

Click any of the following topics for a detailed explanation. 

Object Realtions Theory Affective Learning Model Empirical Support

See below to learn more about the Frequently Asked Questions of Affective Learning Model and IPI’s overall approach to teaching and learning.

Can you say more about tuning the therapeutic instrument?

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 provide institutional support for what is required - a long process of schooling 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. 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 Model at IPI comes in.

Does IPI's affective and experimental learning help us connect more vitally with our patients?

Group experience in the Affective Learning Model provides a secure place in which participants can metabolize their affective responses to object relations concepts, some of which can be emotionally disturbing. The group provides a contained practice arena where peers can work together – experiencing their affective resonance with the material, making it conscious, and working it through. This means that the concepts that are presented are understood not only intellectually, but are taken in to the deeper reaches of the self, worked with among peers, and internalized. The entire process gives therapists confidence in using their own self-experience (i.e., their emotional or countertransferential responses) with their patients or clients. The therapist is then able to engage the patient or client safely and productively in an authentic experience, and possesses the skills to process and review that experience. The Affective Learning Model thus builds clinical skill in emotional attunement, following affect, containing anxiety, recognizing the countertransference, and interpreting the transference.

How do you see practice enhanced by the affective learning model?

As a result of their experience in the Affective Learning Model, students report an increased capacity for containing anxiety, maintaining states of attunement in clinical practice, enhancing sensitivity to classroom dynamics in teaching, and for articulating their responses in both clinical and educational contexts. As a by-product, many students also describe improvements in their personal lives and relationships. 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."

How does the affective learning model enhance the application of theory to practice?

The book, Tuning the Therapeutic Instrument: Affective Learning of Psychotherapy, written by IPI faculty and members, 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.”

How is the affective learning model different than the models used in other programs?

In traditional programs, psychoanalytic theory is taught by lecture, and in reading seminars. The theory is read about in books and journals, illustrated by clinical case presentation in the form of reading case notes, and debated in question and answer sessions. The Affective Learning Model 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, but we also pay attention to 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.

How is the small group different from a therapy group?

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 less regression occurs 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. 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 was the affective learning model developed?

The Affective Learning Model was developed 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. In addition, psychoanalytic theories of the individual and the group were joined with concepts from systems theory to create an educational methodology that matches the object relations theory that forms the foundation of IPI’s approach.

The Affective Learning Model focuses on the individual student as the primary point of contact in the educational setting. While each student is responsible for their individual learning concepts are presented in a range of formats so that they have a better chance of relating to the material and learning it in their own style.

In the Affective Learning Model, each student learns in the large group setting of a lecture, in the median-sized group of a week-long 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 both understand the process of learning and to help individual students with their incorporation of the material. 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.

What are some elements of object relations theory that can be learned through group process?

Groups at IPI are modeled on Winnicott’s concept of the 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.

What are the elements of object relations theory that lead you to a group model for teaching?

Object relations theory naturally leads 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 distincitve characteristic of the group affective learning model?

The small group is the cornerstone of the experience. It provides the most powerful setting for learning from experience, and it is 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.

What is the theory base for the model?

The model is based in object relations theory, a form of psychoanalytic theory that originates in Britain. While object relations theory was at first slow to catch on in the United States - because for some time the psychoanalytic establishment was dominated by classical Freudian ego psychology and instinct theory - it has recently contributed to a change in direction. American psychoanalysis is no longer monolithic and isolationist in philosophy, but is now influenced by self-psychology, Lacanian and other theories, and object relations theory. Object relations 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.

Through this process, an internal model of relationships is built up inside the self which 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, with other individuals, but also in the group dynamic as students work together to understand and apply the concepts they are learning. In the Affective Learning Model, then, the group creates a laboratory for both the experience and the analysis of the ways internal models of relationships affect current relationships. In this way, the group experience becomes a perfect vehicle for studying and learning about the theory of object relations.

We hope you’ll join us for a lecture, a weekend conference, or the full program and experience Affective Learning yourself.