Being Together in Delhi: A Conversation with the IPA Officers
In January 2023, the IPA will be bringing its members, candidates and friends together in Delhi for the first time since before the pandemic. As this special occasion draws closer, Harriet Wolfe, Adriana Prengler, and Henk Jan Dalewijk – President, Vice-president, and Treasurer of the Association – spoke to us about what they are most looking forward to.
There’s still time to book your place to join us in Delhi. Visit www.ipa.world/asiapacific to find out more.
The Asia-Pacific Conference in Delhi will be the first time the IPA has been able to hold an in-person event since before the pandemic started in 2020. What are you most looking forward to about being able to come together again?
HW: I am very excited about the Asia-Pacific Conference, about its theme, its location, its regional goals, and last but not least, the chance to meet in person with Asia-Pacific candidates and analysts whom I have only ever met online. I have never travelled to the Asia-Pacific region, and I am eager to do so.
We have an immensely rich programme filled with lectures, seminars, small clinical groups, and panel discussions. I myself will be moderating a panel titled “Psychoanalytical reflections on national stereotypes and prejudices. The view of others from our perspective.” I look forward to a collegial exchange with representatives from each of the countries within the anticipated IPA fourth region. The panellists will discuss templating perceptions of self and others, within their own country and towards neighbouring countries, from a psychoanalytic point of view.
AP: I am thrilled to be coming together in person in Delhi after these difficult years. Although we are fortunate to be able to practice a profession that did not have to stop during the pandemic, I believe that being present with the body and mind in the same physical place is a richer experience than meeting online. The same applies to the scientific meetings and congresses. Let us think of all the people we have met in person at our IPA congresses, who end up becoming parts of our lives. Think of the authors of books we read, and the excitement of meeting them in person and hearing them present their innovative ideas live and in person. Think about all the opportunities of meeting colleagues and sharing ideas with them in the halls, over coffee, at dinner, and outside the official presentations of the congress. Think of all the relationships that we develop with our international colleagues and our excitement when we meet them every two years in our biannual congresses, and every year in the Asia-Pacific conferences, in person, in different countries around the world.
HJD: Coming together for this conference is a wonderful opportunity to meet in person people you’ve only met on screen: there is a difference with the personal contact. It will also be good to pay attention to and gain further insight into the differences in the Asia-Pacific region, which are extremely interesting and which need understanding and support.
Why is it so important to be able to meet with other psychoanalysts in person? What are the main benefits of doing so?
: Meeting in-person affords us the opportunity to build relationships and trust in ways that can be difficult to achieve virtually. When we come together face to face and experience each other, we are given the opportunity to say what we might not otherwise feel comfortable or confident saying online. This is evidenced by Board members having vocalised increased feelings of trust and collaboration following our 2022 in-person Board meetings in Madrid and Washington DC. Collaboration comes more naturally when we can share our ideas face to face and build upon them with one another. As psychoanalysts, we understand the impact that body language has in fostering connections and facilitating dialogue. Meeting with other psychoanalysts in the room allows us to have an embodied experience and to pose questions to fellow participants in a way that reduces the risk of misinterpretation, especially across language differences. It is my hope that in person conversations might encourage engagement from those who are otherwise uncomfortable speaking up in a virtual environment and promote equal opportunity for participation.
Being together online is not the same as being together in person. Our profession is not only about a scientific interest. Our profession deals with the person as a whole. In this regard, we are very different from some other health professionals who are dedicated primarily to a specific organ of the body. We study and work with the mind-body relationship. Although the word is our most useful and valuable tool, the voice emanating from the computer and the partial image reflected on the screen, cannot be compared to the dynamism of the human interaction in person. Just as we lose information in an online treatment, by not having the presence of the body in the room, we also lose something valuable in online conferences where the body is absent. During the pandemic we benefited from the new technology of video conferencing and treatment and learnt a lot in the process, but we cannot compare being together in person with all our senses playing in one space to meeting virtually with a screen between us.
In-person contact is important and necessary from time to time, as it is not possible to do everything by Zoom or telephone. A key example for me is when there is a need to discuss difficult or delicate issues, doing that in person is much more effective than online, especially if you do not know the other parties very well or if you have never met in person.
The theme of this year’s conference is Containing Diversity, Bridging Difference – what makes this such an important topic for psychoanalysts to explore?
The theme of the conference, Containing Diversity, Bridging Difference, is what will be discussed in keynote papers and panels, but it is also what the entire conference will represent: the need as well as the opportunity to recognise and understand diversity. This is in itself an active bridging of difference. The psychoanalytic forum offers a space for listening to the other in a way that enhances our chances of understanding how we are different and discovering ways in which we are similar. It offers the opportunity to understand past geopolitical conflicts that linger in the present and opens the possibility of a shared future. The theme is important not only to the Asia Pacific region but also to the international psychoanalytic community which is increasingly surrounded by polarisation, social inequity, violence, and inhumane treatment of those who are “different”.
Every day we are becoming more and more involved with people in our communities and around the world. Psychoanalysis is conducted in our private offices but its goal is to reconnect our patients and ourselves to the world. We cannot stay inside the bubble of the consulting room. We belong to the world, and we have much to contribute to it.
We speak, explore, and learn about diversity, racism, and discrimination, but for many this is a theoretical issue to study. Many analysts don’t experience these themes in their day-to-day lives. If you were not discriminated against in any way, if you were never an immigrant, if you belong to a majority racial or ethnic group, if you are surrounded by your own social class, race, language, culture, if you belong to your community without being involved with other groups, you learn about diversity primarily in a theoretical way without experiencing it in your own skin. I lived for many years in three very different countries. I had the good fortune and bad luck to be forced to emigrate twice and I know that being different in one’s own environment, adopting a foreign language and a foreign culture that is never understood completely, is both enriching and also very difficult. We are convinced that a psychoanalyst needs to be exposed to diversity, to be able to see the “other” from different perspectives and not just within the context of their own culture, language, and rules.
Do we really accept differences, as we proclaim? We need to begin by accepting our own diversity, our different opinions, theories, and techniques. We need to create bridges to connect with our own members and candidates from around the world. This conference is an invitation to create bridges not only among the Asia-Pacific countries but also with all the countries involved in the IPA and beyond. India is the perfect place to develop this. It is a huge country which contains a wide diversity of languages, religions, and cultures.
This is an important theme for the Asia-Pacific region because the cultures there are very different from one another. The rest of the psychoanalytic world has a lot to learn from them in terms of connecting the IPA regions with one another based on the acceptance of differences. This is relevant today more than ever, due to the need to avoid potential splitting.
What can attendees expect to take away from the Asia-Pacific Conference?
Amongst many things, attendees can expect to take away new relationships, new knowledge, and new psychoanalytic perspectives. We have a range of important topics and brilliant minds. It is our hope that attendees share their experiences with their societies and with the broader public. The Asia Pacific region of psychoanalysis has six participating countries: Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. The influence of ancient cultures exists in each as well as the reality of modernised living. It will be an opportunity to learn more about each country in terms of their psychoanalytic histories, programmes, needs, and ambitions. The goal of these six different countries is to define their regional identity in their own, shared terms. The international conference participants may raise questions or offer advice based on their local and regional psychoanalytic identities that may help the six Asia-Pacific countries think further about how to define their communal sense of self.
All our IPA events present us with a multicultural and international experience of psychoanalysis. This one will deliver a particularly rich presentation from our Asia-Pacific region, which will be of great interest to those within the region, but also for those from the European, North American and South American regions. What are the similarities and differences between groups in the Asia-Pacific region? Come to the conference and find out!
Valuable insight into psychoanalytic work and thinking in different cultural contexts, a deeper appreciation of the similarities and differences across those cultures, which enriches our personal experience and our psychoanalytic understanding.
What advice would you give to first time attendees to help them maximise their time in Delhi?
The Local Arrangements Committee will advise us all on how to personally encounter the history, culture, food, and shopping of Delhi. I encourage attendees to try new foods, participate in local celebrations, visit history museums and art exhibits, and even learn some of the language. I myself am extending my trip to visit the Taj Mahal and have been invited to watch a Tagore Dance Drama. No matter how beautiful the photos of the Taj Mahal are, seeing it in person is, I am told, breath-taking. It reminds me of our psychoanalytic experience of in-person treatment. It is richer, deeper, and sometimes harder to bear than teleanalysis. There is a similarity between India’s mixture of beauty, wisdom, and severe economic challenges and the way psychoanalytic clinicians are nourished and also challenged by the psychoanalytic work they do. I hope that you put yourself outside of your comfort zone, both during the Conference and in the city of Delhi itself. I thank the IPS for hosting this meeting. I am sure the IPA members who travel to Delhi will meet, share, and learn much more about diversity and the bridging of difference.
I would tell them to learn about the programme in advance, plan to stay long enough to take advantage of the time there, and leave their schedule a bit unplanned so they can be open to surprises. I would encourage them to meet new people who share their interests but from different perspectives.
Beyond the scientific value of the conference and the establishment of relationships with international colleagues, be sure to get out to the streets to see and meet the people of India, enjoy their colourful dresses, their smiles, their friendly manner, and the way they all recognise that you are foreign, see you as different, and run to take pictures with you so they can proudly show their friends that they had contact with people from around the world. And when they meet you, you will meet them.
First, to make the most of the space for mutual exchanges and take the time to really immerse themselves and try to understand the achievements and the challenges of the Asia-Pacific region and what we can learn from them. Of course, besides the Conference, I would recommend attendees also spend some time visiting India, exploring the diverse culture and the beauty of this fascinating country.
Read the latest statements from the Officers and Board of IPA