This article offers a group relations perspective of conflict and conflict transformation and explores how conflict manifests on the individual, interpersonal, group, and inter-group levels. Conflict and aggression are defined as normal aspects of the human condition. Current theories and practices in the field of conflict transformation tend to be more rationally based. The author uses concepts from psychoanalytic theory, such as defense mechanisms; and concepts from open systems theory, such as task, role, boundaries, and authority, to argue that in order to transform conflict, it is essential to understand the non-rational and often unconscious emotional elements that operate in groups and systems.

Author Bio(s)

Tracy Wallach, trained as a clinical social worker and worked as a psychotherapist in various organizations and in private practice for 20 years. For the past 10 years, she has been an organization development and leadership consultant based in Brookline, MA. Her clients have included manufacturing, health care, social service and public sector organizations. She has taught extensively on the topics of group and organizational dynamics, leadership, conflict, and communication in professional, organizational and academic settings, both in the US and abroad. She holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from Smith College and has done post graduate work in Organization Development and Human Resource Consultation at the Boston Institute for Psychotherapy. Currently, she serves as President of the Center for the Study of Groups and Social Systems (Boston Affiliate, AKRI), and is a past board member of AK Rice Institute for the Study of Social Systems.


conflict transformation, defense mechanisms, group relations, open systems theory, non-rational elements, psychoanalytic theory, unconscious emotional elements

Publication Date






To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.