Charles Rojzman is a renowned French social psychologist, author, and international consultant to local, national and international groups and organizations in the public and non-profit sectors. The goal of his work, which begins with group dialogues and leads to transformative action, is to foster the practice and theory of healthy multicultural and multi-ethnic democracies. Termed in English “transformational social therapy” or TST (French: thérapie sociale), this work aims to transform institutions by helping people address the hatred and violence that separate them and prevent them from working together. Both symbolic and physical, this violence inhibits democracy and lends support to fear-based, authoritarian regimes. Rojzman has worked toward institutional and social change in the fields of education, social work, criminal justice, and conflict resolution. This work has taken him to most European countries, the United States, North Africa, Rwanda, Central and Latin America. He has directed projects to stem inter-ethnic violence in France, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere. He worked with parents and others in Beslan, North Ossetia, dealing with the aftermath of the horrific school hostage act there in September
Rojzman is a prolific writer, author and co-author of eight published books, plus chapters in several edited books, and some 40 articles. Several of the books have been reissued as paperbacks; one (La peur, la haine et la démocratie -- Fear, Hatred, and Democracy) has been translated into Spanish, German, and Russian and two have been translated into English: Savoir vivre ensemble (How to Live Together) and Sigmund Freud: L’humanisme de l’avenir (Freud the Humanist). The first is being updated on the editor’s request (Living Together; But How?”), and will appear in September 2007. His last book, C’est pas moi, C’est lui. Ne pas être victime des autres (It’s not me, it’s him; How to stop being a victim), co-authored with Théa Rojzman, was published by J.C. Lattès in 2006. A book on TST has been published by the leading publisher of French encyclopedias and reference books, Editions Larousse. A “comic strip” about TST, also co-authored with Théa Rojzman, and a book about conflict resolution “Sortir de la violence par le conflit” published by La Decouverte.
Rojzman’s work has received extensive public attention. Two documentaries feature his work, a 23-minute video titled “Charles Rojzman, thérapeute social” and a 72-minute video, “A l’écoute de la police” (Listening to the police). Listening to the Police takes viewers inside a workshop with French national police trainers. Both documentaries have been shown on French national TV and the second has been translated into German. A foundation to support Rojzman’s work has been created in Poland, the Franco-Polish Foundation for New Democratic Practices . Rojzman’s work has also been the topic of some 50 media appearance and numerous articles and interviews in major French and German magazines and newspapers, including the major French newspaper, Le Monde. A frequent guest on TV debates and talk shows, he is also an op-ed contributor to the major French newspaper, Le Figaro. He is scheduled for an hour long interview (end of 2007) on the renowned Belgian program, “Noms de dieux," by Edmond Blattchen (a European equivalent of Bill Moyers’ Journal).
Transformational Social Therapy, that is designed to foster democratic participation and community problem solving in the most difficult settings: those where social bonds have been severed by violence, actual or potential, making democratic dialogue and collaborative action nearly impossible. We define violence broadly, to include harm from pathological social structures and institutions as well as from persons in the immediate environment, harm that is emotional as well as physical, and may be inflicted on oneself as well as on others. This means that in schools violence can appear as the physical or emotional aggression involved, for instance, in bullying (whether by students, teachers or others), but also through overly authoritarian leadership or through unjust and inequitable structures and practices that fan prejudices, stigmatize, and are generally harmful to the well- being of school members. Typically, these settings are marked by a pervasive sense of victimhood in the face of the violence, a failure by participants to acknowledge their responsibility (however small) in perpetuating the violence, and feelings of powerlessness to bring about the needed change: for, if we are victims and are not responsible, it is “they” or something other than ourselves that must change.
Transformational Social Therapy (TST) was developed by Charles Rojzman, based on extensive work undertaken over the past fifteen years, which has involved a joint interrogation of theory and practice. It is a theory-based practice that can be applied to any settings where people need to work together to address problems that affect them, but are unable to do so because their social connections have been severed through various forms of violence. In spite of its name, TST is not traditional therapy. Its main focus is on institutional, community and even societal transformation rather than on the individual or the group. It offers a process for involvement (through a particular form of group dialogue) that draws from depth psychology and therapeutic practice and leads to collective action that is grounded in the particularities of a given setting. TST is a relatively short intervention. Interventions may consist of a series of two-day meetings/workshops, separated by one or more months (5 or 6 months, in the case of the project featured in this paper), involving one or more primary groups of those “suffer the problem on the ground.” The intervention also connects the work of these groups to local decision makers (often called a “witness group”) who are not involved in the group process but have participated in its creation and are invested in considering its proposals for action. Conceptually, the TST group goes through five phases: (a) pre-task (group formation; here participants recreate their realities and relations to authority); (b) becoming a group (participants drop their masks, speak freely, and develop trust and relationships, (c) coming to a group contract (deciding what participants will do together), (e) proposals for action. These stages are fluid rather than sequential. The facilitator’s role changes in the course of the process, as group members take on responsibility for constructing their collective knowledge, developing action plans and carrying them to completion.
The idea here is that expert solutions are not viable in the face of complex and fast changing local environments. Rather, local people, collectively, are the experts. The role of the outsider is to help them span the social barriers that divide them and prevent their communication, gather their collective knowledge, and participate fully in democratic action to address problems that directly and concretely affect their lives. TST thus falls in the tradition of practical and strong (participatory) democracy (see for instance the work of William Boyte and Benjamin Barber).