IPA Committee of the Month

The Membership Communications Subcommittee has launched the IPA Committee of the Month. This is a space to showcase the work and give a voice to our committees. We hope that you enjoy it. 

Luis Alejandro Nagy 
Chair - Membership Communications
Contact: [email protected]

Committee of the Month Archive




The IPA is a large and expanding international organisation that aims to advance psychoanalysis. It is the world’s primary accrediting and regulatory body for the profession, with more than 12,000 members and more than 70 constituent organisations. As such, the consideration of ethics plays a vital role.

We on the Ethics Committee of the IPA are a group of international analysts appointed by the board to weigh and evaluate how ethics impact analysts and analytic institutions worldwide. Most of our work takes place behind political lines and is strictly confidential. But there are more public aspects, including cooperation with other IPA committees and presentations or panel discussions at major congresses. Currently, the committee comprises the chair, seven analyst members, and the Executive Director of the IPA. Two members come from each of the three established IPA regions - Europe, South America, and North America. Recently, we expanded to include a member representing the developing Asia/Pacific region.

Based on our mandate, the Ethics Committee provides procedures and guidelines in response to various ethical problems that arise and are presented to the IPA. The committee serves as an advisory body on ethics to the IPA Board and other groups and committees. We develop the IPA Ethics Code and advise component societies on developing their codes. This work requires striving for a balance between IPA minimum standards and cultural and historical factors in the respective regions. IPA component societies can approach us when their own ethics committee needs consultation or when ethical violations cannot be navigated within the regional or national society. 

Psychoanalysts worldwide work mainly within some form of a classic framework based on a confidential and intimate emotional bond involving analyst and patient. This therapeutic relationship naturally contains an asymmetry of power. Analysts are tasked to use their clinical experience and observational and perceptive skills to think about this relationship and formulate interpretations while containing strong emotions, holding the frame, and observing good boundaries. The inevitable existence of this power gradient is one of the reasons why an ethics committee is essential for psychoanalytic organisations. Their membership, patients, and the public can expect the organisation to provide and develop guidelines around values in a rapidly changing environment for our profession. Typical cases that come to our attention are boundary violations involving sexual or monetary exploitation, breaches of confidentiality, weaponisation of ethical complaints due to organisational dysfunction, and polarisation into split camps. 

Within our profession, values and guidelines have been shaped over time – and in a fast-changing world, they continue to develop. Historically, they were found or postulated through clinical discoveries, insights, failures, mistakes, and a lot of struggling within grey zones of ethical behaviour. At the profession's origins, Freud famously formulated, “What is moral is always self-evident;” It turned out not to be so easy. 

For some, the term ethics committee is a bit misleading and vague. Legal concerns are often strongly accentuated. For many people, something like an ethics police comes to mind. For others, the image of a psychoanalytic supreme court appears -- a court that would rule with great clarity on all ethical issues. A transference element might be involved – idealised or persecutory parental figures are part of the mix. Another aspect might be a suspicion that an ethics committee acts as some fig leaf, representing to the outside that ethics are ‘being taken care of’ and thereby stopping inquiries.

All these considerations apply to individuals wrestling with values. They also apply to group phenomena in psychoanalytic organisations and are highly relevant regarding international values, universal standards of conduct, clinical work, and education. Strong cultural, historical, and regional factors are involved in determining values and professional standards for psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic societies. 

We also create space – both for ourselves and on panels at congresses – to think about ethics in relation to the larger socio-economic, technological, and political surrounds. This varies significantly from region to region, but there are universal trends that deeply affect ethical and value-based issues that concern our profession. Looking at the times and social surroundings we live and work in, we – often in cooperation with the IPA Confidentiality Committee - are concerned with questions like:

- How can confidentiality be upheld in times of technological revolutions and fading boundaries and privacy in peoples’ lives? 
- How can we reconcile the absolutely individual, largely unconscious cast of the ethical or unethical in each of us with the mind-bogglingly unethical, seemingly arbitrary social surround that we now live in, all of which is at our fingertips 24/7 via the internet?

We also look at the global authoritarian shift and ask: 

- How do ethics change under repressive regimes? 

This topic came up in relation to the last IPA congress in Cartagena/Colombia. The congress title was Mind in The Line of Fire. In light of the multiple global crises, many congress panellists called for more interdisciplinary work and new thinking forms. The IPA Board included an extended IPA Mission Statement: “The IPA is also committed to understanding the impact of societal issues on individual and group development and intervening psychoanalytically in societal issues of our times.” We agreed that we are not tasked to produce activism or political statements as an ethics committee. However, in line with our mandate, we are concerned with the profession's integrity. 

Outside thinkers will be helpful for us. Interdisciplinary exchange can facilitate finding new ways of thinking in these bewildering times. As psychoanalysts, we can formulate what we understand about the pressing and urgent issues around us from our experience in our field. An ethics committee can think and work towards such formulations. Those should inform and challenge other fields, and we should be challenged and informed by insights from outside.

Dr. Klaus Poppensieker
January 11th, 2024

Dr. Klaus Poppensieker, United States – Chair

Dra. Milagros Cid Sanz, Spain – Co-Chair, European Region

Dra. Luisa Elena Alvarez, Venezuela – Co-Chair, Latin American Region

Dr. Jane V. Kite, United States – Co-Chair, North American Region

Dr. Teresa Mei-Jang Pai, Taiwan – Member, Rep. Asia/Pacific Region

Dr. Nicolas de Coulon, Switzerland – Member, European Region

Maria Isabel Cruz Blanco, Chile – Member, Latin American Region
Dr. Charles E. Brandes, United States – Member, North American Region

Paul Crake, England – Ex-Officio, Executive Director IPA