Balint in Transition, Transitions in Balint


Introduction by Esti Rimmer to talks by members of the leadership task force



We were all sitting sipping coffee in a small room at the department of Psychology at the University of Porto, tired, satisfied and getting ready to start the long journey back home.

It was a warm, sunny and beautiful Sunday afternoon in September 2019, at the end of a very successful International Balint Congress in Porto, and the word Transition came to our minds.

We were thinking about Transitions in the social, political, geographical and cultural context of our work as Balint leaders, and the role of the leaders in providing a ~safe haven~ in the midst of these transitions.  We thought about the historical transitions and explorations from Portugal to the “New World”,   our transition from Portugal to Serbia, and all the socio-political and cultural transitions associated with Eastern Europe.

We were also thinking about transitions that were integral to the work of the Balint group itself and the changes and developments within the group and its process that the leaders might need to be mindful of.

Our next meeting was to be in the frozen fog, at the meeting point of the Danube and the Sava, in Belgrade on a cold Friday in January 2020. The fog was so thick, we never got to see the Danube throughout this whole weekend. The warm hospitality of Rosa Sapic and her colleagues from the Serbian Balint Society, more than made up for the freezing fog and snow which enveloped us.

A joint Balint workshop, attended by Balint doctors and nurses from Kosovo, who travelled all night by bus to arrive early in the morning full of interest and enthusiasm for Balint work, really brought to us, the visiting Task Force, the sense of transitions in the Here and Now. The context of life in an enclave and the impact of external traumas, war, exile and conflicts but also of resilience and solidarity in our work in health care provision and in Balint work, made us experience transitions in a vivid and immediate manner.

We were able to plan a full and exciting programme and we agreed on a series of short talks to elaborate on questions of transitions in Balint leadership both externally and internally. We were also able to choose a lovely, cosy, historical and friendly city centre venue, tasted some delicious menus, and even sampled a night at the Opera!

We departed full of excitement and hopes to reunite in Belgrade in October 2020.

Already in transit in Charles de Gaulle airport on the 19th of January, there was a faint sense of more transitions to come. Becoming aware of the crowds queuing up in the airport, running with a group of masked Chinese students, to catch our connecting flight to Newcastle, there was already an unspoken sense of dread, and of anxiety about what was happening in Wuhan.

By the time the task force met again in March 2020, this time on Zoom, Transition was on everyone’s mind all over the world.

The task force had been used, for several years now, to meet on Zoom regularly, but this time it   was different.

The IBF board had asked Tove Mathiesen to remain as task force leader for two more years, and Tove had invited both Andrew Elder and Andre Matalon, veteran task force members, to join us for these earlier meetings in March and April 2020, while we were trying to figure out where we were: our shock, our losses, our way forward.

These early deliberations of the task force represented the deliberations in the wider society: some of us thought that by October 2020, we will surely be able to meet as planned, and that we should wait and see before cancelling Belgrade; others were of the opinion that we needed to accept that this transition period is here for longer, and that we needed to plan in advance and offer certainty about if and how we are going to transform this meeting. We all agreed that meeting frequently and thinking jointly was crucial.

We met every other weekend on Zoom for a couple of hours from April to July 2020. These meetings provided a secure base, and a strong point of connection and grounding, (albeit virtual) in an ever changing and scary, disconnected world.

We had decided to experiment with a virtual conference, but instead of attempting to replicate the weekend gathering, we thought we could try and stretch out the dimension of time and space.

We thought we could run four small group workshops over a period of the two months leading up to the weekend in October. This way the groups would have material from their experiences in their small groups to bring to the discussion in the plenaries at the conference. It meant the group facilitators would have to meet and arrange times for their group, based on world time zones, and commit to leadership and supervision meetings.

We also thought it might also be useful to have the talks pre-recorded and available to watch online via YouTube, prior to the conference, to be able to return to and refer to in the large and or small group discussion.

What emerged was a complex multi media / multi time zones/ multi grouping/ multi experiences/ complex structure, which attracted over 80 participants. I am still in awe of Tove, Christian and Amos for getting their heads around this complex structure, the multiple time zones, the allocation of co-facilitators and groups, the supervision of the facilitators, the technical aspects and magic of the Zoom connection and the beautiful and moving social evening.

The pre-recorded talks on https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLjoD9eROmRF7nWPWwWPuaiG–ZIrTzUvy

represent the task force’s elaborations on the theme of Transitions in Balint Leadership.

In her talk Rosa Sapic, our intended host in Belgrade, speaks about the wider context of transitions, both in Serbia and in the field of psychotherapy, and their implications for our professional lives and Balint group leadership.

Phillip Herzog talks about the role of Balint groups in the wider context of transitions in medicine, and the increased fragmentations these transitions challenge us with.

In moving to think about the internal transitions within the Balint group, Christian Linclau suggests we may want to think about the Balint group while, using Winnicott’s term, as a transitional object in itself, facilitating professional development and growth. Esti Rimmer invites us to think about the link between transition and tradition when contemplating change and development in the theory and technique of Balint leadership.

Amos Ritter brings an integration of thinking about external and internal realities and transitions in the life of Balint groups and their leaders.

We hope these talks can be revisited time and again, while online, and can serve as a starting point to stimulating discussions and thoughts about transitions in Balint leadership, and that these themes will carry us in our study of leadership in Balint work, until we meet again face to face in Belgrade post our pandemic transition.

Esti Rimmer,

On behalf of The IBF Leadership Task Force, March 2021



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