The South African Psychoanalytical Association (SAPA)

SAPA ( founded on the principle of being a socially relevant psychoanalytical association grounded within in the South African context. Our aspiration was for this principle to underpin the way we work and the way in which we develop our psychoanalytic association and psychoanalytic community at large. It is all too easy for psychoanalysis to be yet another colonial import, with all the negative connotations that can bring to mind, rather than a useful, growing body of knowledge with the potential to add value and assist with our troubles in a post-apartheid country. 

During the dark days of apartheid (1948 to 1994), the beginning psychoanalytic community was depleted by an exodus of intellectuals including all psychoanalysts. The remaining psychoanalytically informed therapists continued to grow the community during these difficult times. They engaged in psychoanalytic thinking and practice that spanned clinical work, teaching, and political and social activism.  Their work provided a fertile environment within which to begin an IPA affiliated psychoanalytical society in South Africa.  Mark Solms and Karen Kaplan Solms engaged this community when they returned to South Africa in 2002, with this aim. The Solms’s quickly realised the value of the existing South African psychoanalytically informed landscape and understood the opportunity inherent in a mutually beneficial, enriching and interdependent relationship between psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic therapy and other applications of psychoanalytic knowledge. This is particularly important in our racialized context characterized by complex divides and splits between first and third world living conditions, the impact of decades of trauma and brutalization during apartheid and the unfolding complexities of a post-apartheid society.

The psychotherapy group, The South African Psychoanalysis Initiative (SAPI) was formed first in 2005, and was comprised of many of the existing psychoanalytically informed therapists. A few years later SAPA was born, and is still very much nested in the mothership, SAPI. SAPI’s recognition as the first Allied Centre of the IPA devoted solely to psychotherapy (as opposed to analysis) is a testament to the work of SAPI and the relationship between psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. This relationship has developed, evolved and grown out of more than a decade of working and thinking together. 

SAPA, formed in 2009, is spread between two cities, Johannesburg and Cape Town. This means that the psychoanalytic training is conducted alternatively between the cities, in four-year cycles. The SAPA training program follows the Eitingon model and is in line with the requirements of the IPA training.  Our training began with a core group of founders, Mark Solms, Karen Kaplan Solms, Gyuri Fodor and Susan Levy.  The pressure on the four founders was alleviated by Barnaby B Barratt, an experienced American Training Analyst, relocating to Johannesburg; and by Alan Levy (now retired) from the United Kingdom returning to Cape Town, where he eventually became a Training Analyst. Elda Storck from Zurich and Mary-Anne Smith were accepted as direct members and became Training Analysts some years later.  As a result SAPA is comprised of analysts from different trainings and different orientations providing SAPA with a rich and diverse team. In addition to the challenges of their being too few Training Analysts across 2 cities, we have also needed to deal with transformation within a white dominated SAPA.  SAPA is slowly managing to increase the number of candidates who are of colour, and currently 2 people of colour are analyst members and 3 more are candidates.  A psychoanalysis that can be experienced to be useful and helpful in relation to our specific context, as well as useful in relation to the universal clinical and social issues has helped us in our process to transform to a more racially diverse SAPA.  This transformation is vital if psychoanalysis is to make its mark in South Africa. 

The entire membership of both SAPA and SAPI meet together twice per year, each February for a 2 day conference and in September for an Education Day.  These biannual scientific meetings are informed by the needs of our members combined with the need to develop a contextually sensitive association that attempts to think about and address the troubles within our country rather than an intellectual defense away from the pain around us. This has proved to be controversial at times because the enquiry is uncomfortable, painful and even explosive. The scientific committee has adopted an approach of including both an intellectual and experiential inquiry at our scientific meetings.  Our conferences and education days have addressed topics such as racism, violence, beauty, male sexuality.  Theoretical papers are presented, followed by clinical material to highlight and deepen the intellectual inquiry and by the plenary which provides an opportunity to self-reflect as a society and as individuals on the impact the topic has had on all of us. 

SAPA holds an annual symposium for SAPA members and candidates, where we share scientific and clinical work as a psychoanalytical organisation. In addition, monthly SAPA scientific meetings are held in each city where psychoanalytic clinical material and scientific papers are presented.

SAPA began a series of research groups allied to the PhD program at UCT. Two main areas of research are the current focus: neuropsychoanalysis and intergenerational transmission of apartheid trauma. The neuropsychoanalysis group, led by Mark Solms and Vincenzo Sinisi, meets regularly to discuss detailed clinical material from the viewpoint of instinct theory. Each case is discussed first from the viewpoint of classical Freudian and Kleinian instinct theory, and then from the viewpoint of modern affective neuroscience. The aim is to discern whether and in which ways the different perspectives reveal or obscure different aspects of the pathology and the treatment.
The research into intergenerational transmission of apartheid trauma has been focused on making sense of how our history has impacted us all and the psyche of our nation.  This group was initiated by Pieter Du Toit Smith and led by Mark Solms. Further groups have been formed and led by Mary-Anne Smith, Karen Solms/ Armien Abrahams/Pieter Du Toit Smit, Vincenzo Sinisi and Sue Levy. The methodology of cooperative inquiry has stimulated internal growth and transformation within all participants as well as the organization. A body of knowledge about the impact of our past is growing and, through this work, complex and subtle internal changes both within the individuals participating as well as the organization are taking place. Psychoanalytic thinking is beginning to be experienced as something not so exclusively European. 

In addition a low-fee access scheme to psychoanalysis has been started in both Johannesburg and Cape Town. In Johannesburg SAPA has a brick home within Ububele (, the African psychotherapy center. This is a community center on the edge of a very poor township, boasts a preschool, many primary health care interventions as well as psychoanalytically informed psychotherapy. This is where the Johannesburg psychoanalytic low-fee scheme run by SAPA operates from. This community project is an example of the cooperation and mutual enrichment of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis and illustrates the range of work SAPA aspires to inform and be part of.

In summary, our society comprises 19 analyst members, of which 7 are Training Analysts. We currently have 13 candidates in various stages of training. We have graduated 9 students through our own training program and two SAPA members have been accepted through an equivalency process.

We wish to honour the late Sydney Press, whose generosity facilitated many South Africans affording psychoanalytic training abroad. He was the source of the vision of having a psychoanalytic society in South Africa. Mark Solms (who was funded by Sydney Press) and Karen Kaplan Solms returned to South Africa to make his dream a reality. We owe our gratitude to the South Africans who remained behind and continued to work here during our difficult and dark times. Their work has contributed fundamentally to the psychoanalytical association we are growing here.  We wish to acknowledge the 4 founders of our society, Mark and Karen Solms, Gyuri Fodor and Susan Levy, and the additional Training Analysts who have made the training possible: Barnaby B Barratt, Alan Levy (now retired), Elda Storck and Mary-Anne Smith, who worked tirelessly and selflessly to allow the green shoots to emerge into the provisional society we have today. We would also like to acknowledge the following people: Tony and Hillary Hamburger for the formation of Ububele, and Jonathan Sklar, Marilia Aisenstein, Irma Brenman-Pick, Sharon Raeburn and Joan Raphael-Leff, among many others who played pivotal roles in the culmination of this society.

Furthermore we wish to thank our first IPA sponsoring committee for assisting in the early development of the South African study group in 2009 and the second Sponsoring Committee for the support and encouragement that resulted in our achieving Provisional Society status in 2017.