Theme-Centered Interaction (TCI)

Created by Ruth Cohn, TCI is a strictly relational concept of human communication in groups and focuses on the balance between theme, group and individual work in order to work both on relationships and factual problems. This holistic tool of communication aims at stimulating the constructive and healing potential in a person, while being firmly rooted in a community-related conflict formation. 

TCICohn adopts a strictly relational approach to group communication and represents the balance between the factual and the relational elements in the form of a triangle:

  • the I as person, facing the theme and the others;

  • the we of the group members who become a group by facing the theme and by interacting with one another;

  • the it as a theme to be worked on by the group.

The triangle is surrounded by an area referred to as the Globe, which influences the work directly or indirectly.

Cohn (2004) developed three axioms, two postulates, and nine auxiliary guidelines, which we explain shortly as follows:

Axioms

  1. Autonomy: Of an anthropological grain, the first axiom concerns both the independence and dependence (connectedness) as an existential component of being. For Cohn, the individual’s autonomy increases with his/her awareness of his/her connectedness to everyone and everything.

  2. Appreciation: Of an ethical and social grain, the second axiom refers to the value that Cohn places on the human, whereas she finds the inhuman worthless. Cohn tried to call upon a balance between sensitivity and spirituality, feelings and knowledge, rationality and spirituality.

  3. Expanding one’s limits: Of a pragmatic and political nature, the third axiom indicates that decisions can be made freely insofar as they are conditioned by internal and external limits. Conceived in a systemic way, this points to the awareness of universal interdependency as the foundation of human responsibility: “I am not omnipotent, I am not impotent, I am partially potent” (Cohn 2004, 205).

These three axioms give raise to two postulates in relation to human paradox and conditional freedom:

  1. Be your own chairperson: If you are aware of your internal disposition (I) and the external conditions (Globe) in a relational (We) or factual (Theme) conflict, you can take every situation as an invitation to decide on your own and act responsibly for yourself and others.

  2. Disturbances have priority: In a system, nothing happens by pure chance. There is no division between inside and outside. Therefore, disturbances have to be dealt with priority, whether they come from the I, the We, the Theme or the Globe. Without the prior transformation of the disturbing energy, the flow of the system as a whole will be blocked, distracted or irritated. 

Auxiliary guidelines

  1. Authentic self-representation: express statements of fact with ‘I’, not ‘we’ or ‘one’, in order to avoid projecting and obscuring.

  2. Meaningful questions: authentic requests for information can be identified by their personal and clear rationale.

  3. Selective authenticity: it is important to determine if statements genuinely result from a personal value system, or whether they spring from an internalized sense of obligation created by social conventions.

  4. Timely interpretation: interpretations have a content dimension and a temporal dimension. Interpretations that are incorrect or untimely have great potential for disruption and should only be admitted when dismissing them would create an even larger disruption.

  5. No factual generalizations: they interrupt the flow of communication and distract from the specific subject at hand.

  6. No personal evaluations: Only opinions of the other are possible, which have no claim to general validity. Cohn recommends refraining as much as possible from statements of evaluation.

  7. Immediately address side discussions: they occur for a reason and they disrupt the process. Side discussions are indicative of a disruption in the group context. According to the second postulate, addressing disruptions must be prioritized in order to ensure smooth communication flow henceforth.

  8. Only one person speaks at a time: It is necessary in order to ensure that everyone has a complete view of the group.

  9. Clear rules for speaking: the group leader should ensure that there is a clear view of all conversation threads that exist in the group. In particular in cases of conflict it will be necessary to sort through them and to ensure that the most important ones are processed.

Drawing from Cohn, we could find in the guidelines orientation for the elicitive conflict worker to move to the fore the element of the I, We, It or Globe that is receiving less attention. In this manner, homeostasis can be re-established in the corresponding setting.