The political dimension of TCI

A permanent challenge

Already in the first TCI axiom, autonomy and interdependency are “transformed into a synthesis” and thus form an “opposing unit” (Reiser 2014, 71). The independence grows with the awareness of being related to everyone / everything. A holistic view of man and the world, in which the opposites are neither blurred nor cemented, deprives world-empowerment fantasies that are only fixed on oneself and disregard the foreign, as well as collectivist ideologies that restrict the freedom of people, their base. TCI builds on courageous responsibility for itself and the world, which gives space to diversity in and between people. It contrasts the authoritarian leadership principle with self-leadership (chairperson) and participatory leadership. In its value orientation, TCI is geared towards the life and freedom of all people and the preservation of creation (Cohn 1989).

The flight of the 21-year-old German Jewess Ruth C. Hirschfeld / Cohn from the Nazis (1933) and the continuing threat from fascism have had a lasting impact on the political orientation of TCI within humanistic-psychological approaches. In theme-centered interactional processes, the sensitive participation in world events and in concrete life contexts (GLOBE) intertwine with the individual experiences and needs of individuals (I), the relationship dynamics between them (WE), and factual concerns (IT). The TCI concept as a whole closely connects the individual and the social dimension. Poems such as "... knowing that we count ...",and also "without home and address" (Cohn 1990), as with many other poems and texts by the poet, open a poetic potential for hope with great political appeal. She herself sees TCI as an "approach to humanistic social therapy" (Cohn 42008, 334ff) with current political effectiveness. Ruth C. Cohn assumes a broad understanding of politics in the sense that every "act that I do, whether I eat or whether I teach [...] is political, because everything is connected with everything" ( Cohn / Schulz von Thun, 1994, 42).

Ruth C. Cohn had always paid the greatest attention to the GLOBE within the four-factor model. Beyond the specific life contexts of individuals and groups, there are currently the following GLOBE challenges for TCI among others:

  • Where and how does the global ecological crisis affect the current theme-centered interaction and what alternative ways of thinking and acting exist?
  • In what way does TCI contribute to the "great change" of the industrial, capitalist growth society, the limits and failures of which are becoming increasingly visible?
  • Given the highest number of refugees in human history, what is the TCI-specific contribution to a long-term life-sustaining society that is based on the idea of a "good life for everyone and everything"? (Scharer 2020).
  • How does TCI deal with growing political apathy as well as new nationalist, neo-fascist and populist tendencies in the current migrative societies?
  • How does TCI promote a courageous life "in multiplicity" (Scharer 2019)?

Even during her six-year training analysis in exile in Switzerland, the German-Jewish migrant Ruth C. Hirschfeld / Cohn found the "couch too small" because the images and her experiences of the Nazi regime constantly came “in between”. In the context of her psychoanalytic training, she asked herself: “How can insights from the couch be useful to more than just a few patients? Can prejudices, mass insanity and their explosion be reduced or prevented by psychoanalytic knowledge? ” (Cohn 1979, 874). In her further pedagogical training at the Bank Street School, completed shortly after her flight to the USA (1941), she had already been confronted with ecological questions that accompanied her for a lifetime and which led to concrete commitments following her return to Europe. Her skepticism about psychoanalytic procedures limited to looking inside people, ever increased, so that when she gave a speech at the Theodor Reik Clinic, she surprised all with the question of whether and to what extent “courage” as an ability to act despite fear in a risky situation should remain the goal of psychotherapy? (Cohn 1957).

The Workshop Institute for Living Learning (WILL) was founded in America to spread TCI and its early activities largely dealt with social problems. One of the first workshops was aimed at black and white parents and teachers to counter rampant American racism. The same applies to the active commitment to peace and global justice for which Ruth C. Cohn has received several awards. In general, "in a brutally unjust world presently rushing toward the 'final solution' [...] within the constructive movements" she considered TCI as a contribution to "perceiving and understanding personal and social potential for destruction, admitting it to yourself and thus gaining the strength and confidence to help overcome it ”(Cohn 1994a, 5). Last but not least, from her Jewish background, Ruth C. Cohn knew which “blessings” and at the same time which political challenges lie in meeting strangers / others. In her first courses in Europe, she brought daughters and sons of former Nazis and Nazi victims together in a group. She had never cried so much in a course as in these.

It is to be hoped that the political dimension of TCI will once more become “its heart and soul”, as anticipated by the two young authors of the “political” issue of the TCI magazine (Holbein / Herbst 2017, 9). Those who work in a theme-centered, interactive way according to Ruth C. Cohn are dramatically faced with new, to some extent global, societal challenges. In a time of increasing political apathy, due among other reasons to the fact that the democratic game of changing political power is occupied by an apparently indispensable, capitalist-economic power (Holbein / autumn 2017), TCI is achieving a new political topicality. The simplistic explanations and attributions of "fixed" modernity (Bauman 42017a; 82017b) of how neoliberal societies inevitably work are countered by its tolerance of ambivalence, which does not sweep ambiguity under the carpet, but rather makes a good life "with opposites and fractures" (Reiser 1996 , 32) conceivable. In its enthusiasm for ambiguity, TCI leaves space for ambiguity and meaning. It promotes a “recovery of the political in everyday life” (Reiser 1997, 30).

TCI paves the way for a practice in which people search together for those “generative” topics (cf. Freire 1973) that effectively broach and deal with forgotten and repressed concerns in a politically effective manner, thus creating “third rooms” (Scharer 2016) - within and beyond institutional places - where TCI or the RCI can “become a laboratory for political life” (Boyarin 1988). The "vital, priority issues that we as politically alert citizens [...] have to take into account" (Cohn 1981, p. 193), to perceive (Cohn 1993), to express and deal with both zestfully and earnestly is an aspect of the political tool of TCI.

With all of this, the TCI contrasts the cold "either-or" positions of neo-nationalisms and fascisms, the seductive fake news and the "strong" leader figures with a value-based, dynamic interaction model under participatory leadership. It prepares individuals, groups, communities and institutions for future-oriented, courageous political engagement, thus exposing the dilemma that, according to common societal ideas, (political) goals can only be achieved through strategic clout and efficient leadership. In contrast, TCI groups and the movement as a whole are, among other elements, characterized by the multitude of relationships and opinions, by addressing disruption and dismay and through a participative leadership; Retaining an awareness of the consensus on the efficacy of TCI remains an exciting challenge.

Courageous political commitment based on the TCI attitude and method does not provide the means to imagine the ordering of the world - not even its salvation or demise. The assumption of "unavailability" (Rosa 32019) across many areas of life, which is the prerequisite for a lively and open-minded "resonance" (Rosa 2016) to the world, remains integral to TCI's political activities. People are neither omnipotent, nor totally powerless. Ruth C. Cohn’s oft-stated awareness that enabling even the smallest fraction of humanity to achieve power and the ability to make a difference, even if it seems inconsequential at the time, promotes the politically effective commitment of many.

The political dimension of TCI comes into effect in the doing and leaving, in the balance between active and passive, or, as the long-time friend of Ruth C. Cohn, theologian D. Sölle put it, in “mysticism and resistance” (Sölle, 1997). In H. Rosa's sociological categories, as he uses them in his project "Mediopassiv" (Rosa 2019), Ruth C. Cohn had from the beginning not a cold, but rather a "touching" world relationship in mind, which could in various ways trigger sharing in the individual. In the face of G. Hoppe's demand for a third postulate imperative for political action, she urged that the chairperson should be able to make decisions. In her eyes, "Get involved!" Intervene! ” (Hoppe 1993) could not apply to everyone and in every situation:, but rather, “ be responsible for what you do and what you leave - personally and socially ”(Cohn 1994b). She expressly referred to the “life-promoting silence, meditative or contemplative”, which must also be legitimate when it comes to social change. In view of the partial availability of the world and one's own partial power to become politically effective, it is a challenge constantly facing the TCI.
to know that we count
with our lives
with our loves
against the cold.

For me, for you, for the world.
(Cohn 1990)

Without home and address
They had fled
from without-home-and-address
Fled from walls without gaps
and before the hollow laugh
of the humanity-breaker,
Fled from those whose meaning and senses
had been pre-killed
and, so hollowed out,
could hardly know
what they did
(and do).

The fled came to the "promised land"
where presuming judges

  • with home and address
    and telescope eyes -
    shook their dice cups
    full of paragraphs
    to appraise
    and shake off strangers.

None of the fled dared
to throw his stone of innocence through the glass:
the lost passport.

Some judges cried
later. At home.

Because they knew what they were doing
(and do).
(Cohn 1990, 43)

Bauman, Zygmunt (42017a), Moderne und Ambivalenz. Das Ende der Eindeutigkeit, Hamburg: Hamburger Edition.
Bauman, Zygmunt (82017b), Flüchtige Moderne, Frankfurt a. M: edition suhrkamp 2447.
Boyarin, Daniel (1988), The Workshop Institute for Living-Learning as a Laboratory for Political Live, in: Themenzentrierte Interaktion. theme-centered interaction 2 (2), 33–37.
Cohn, Ruth C. (1957), „Courage – The Goal of Psychotherapy”. Speech given to the members and friends of the Theodor Reik Clinic at the Plaza Hotel, January 14, 1957. Manuscript, 1–16. HUB, UA, NL Cohn, Nr. 8, Blatt 115–130.
Cohn, Ruth C. (1979), Themenzentrierte Interaktion. Ein Ansatz zum Sich-Selbst- und Gruppenleiten, in: A. Heigl-Evers (Hg.), Die Psychologie des 20. Jahrhunderts, Bd. VIII: Lewin und die Folgen. Sozialpsychologie–Gruppendynamik–Gruppentherapie, Zürich: Kindler, 873–883.
Cohn, Ruth C. (1981), Generative Themen. Manuskript mit handschriftlichen Korrekturen, HUB, UA, NL Cohn, Nr. 28, Blatt 192–200.
Cohn, Ruth C. [1987] (1989), Machbare Schöpfung – oder?, in: R. C. Cohn, Es geht ums Anteilnehmen ... Perspektiven der Persönlichkeitsentfaltung in der Gesellschaft der Jahrtausendwende, Freiburg i. B.: Herder, 182–184.
Cohn, Ruth C. [1989] (1993), Es geht ums Anteilnehmen ... Perspektiven der Persönlichkeitsentfaltung in der Gesellschaft der Jahrtausendwende, Freiburg i. Br.: Herder.
Cohn, Ruth C. (1990), ... zu wissen dass wir zählen... Gedichte/Poems mit Scherenschnitten von Annemarie Maag, Bern: Zytglogge.
Cohn, Ruth C. – Schulz v. Thun, Friedemann (1994), Wir sind Politiker und Politikerinnen – wir alle! Ein Gespräch über mögliche Hilfen von TCI und Kommunikationslehre, in: R. Standhardt – C. Löhmer (Hg.), Zur Tat befreien. Gesellschaftspolitische Perspektiven der TCI-Gruppenarbeit, Mainz: Grünewald, 42.
Cohn, Ruth C. (1994a), Leittext, in: R. Standhardt / C. Löhmer (Hg.), Zur Tat befreien. Gesellschaftspolitische Perspektiven der TCI-Gruppenarbeit, Mainz: Grünewald, 5.
Cohn, Ruth C. (1994b), Verantworte dein Tun und dein Lassen – persönlich und gesellschaftlich. Offener Brief an Günter Hoppe, in: Themenzentrierte Interaktion. theme-centered interaction 8/2, 85–87.
Cohn, Ruth C. – Farau, Alfred [1984] (42008), Gelebte Geschichte der Psychotherapie. Zwei Perspektiven, Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta.
Freire, Paulo (1973), Pädagogik der Unterdrückten: Bildung als Praxis der Freiheit, Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt.
Holbein, Christoph – Herbst, Jan-Hendrik (2017), Die TCI als Ansatz humanistischer Gesellschaftstherapie: Reaktualisierung eines ureigenen Anspruchs im Spiegel radikaler Demokratietheorien, in: Themenzentrierte Interaktion. theme-centered interaction 31 (2), 79–87.
Hoppe, Günter (1993), "Misch Dich ein! Greif ein!" Ein drittes Postulat für die TCI?, in: Themenzentrierte Interaktion. theme-centered interaction, 7 (2), 31–40.
Reiser, Helmut (1996), „Politisch leben“ mit TCI, in: Themenzentrierte Interaktion. theme-centered interaction, 10 (2), 26–39.
Reiser, Helmut (1997), Leserbrief zu Dr. Annedore Schultze zu „Politisch leben“ mit TCI, in: Themenzentrierte Interaktion. theme-centered interaction, 11 (2), 30–31.
Reiser, Helmut (2014), Vorschlag für eine theoretische Grundlegung der Themenzentrierten Interaktion, in: Themenzentrierte Interaktion. theme-centered interaction, 29 (2), 69–77.
Rosa, Hartmut (2016), Resonanz. Eine Soziologie der Weltbeziehung, Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag.
Rosa, Hartmut (32019), Unverfügbarkeit, Wien-Salzburg: Residenz Verlag.
Rosa, Hartmut (2019), Resonanz und Mediopassiv - Die Sehnsucht nach Berührtwerden, (aufgerufen am 15.6.2020).
Scharer, Matthias (2016), „Third Spaces“ – Räume für die interreligiöse Begegnung an „generativen“ Themen. Gewaltprävention durch Themenzentrierte Interaktion nach Ruth C. Cohn, in: M. Datterl – W. Guggenberger – C. Paganini, Gewalt im Namen Gottes – ein bleibendes Problem?, Innsbruck: university Press, 71–90.
Scharer, Matthias (22019), Vielheit couragiert leben. Die politische Kraft der Themenzentrierten Interaktion (Ruth C. Cohn) heute, Ostfildern: Grünewald.
Scharer, Matthias (2020), Ruth C. Cohn – eine Therapeutin gegen totalitäres Denken, Ostfildern: Patmos.
Sölle, Dorothee (1997), Mystik und Widerstand: du stilles Geschrei, Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe.