IPA in the World
In the context of a perfect storm of environmental, socioeconomic, political, physical, and psychological threat, psychoanalysis has never been more needed both inside and outside of the consulting room. Adriana Prengler, IPA Vice President, and I share a commitment to exploring and implementing the ways in which IPA analysts can help our troubled world. Consulting to leaders of local, national, and international groups; to professional associations; to politicians; to any category of citizens who realize they could use help understanding and addressing the challenges they face, requires a deeply internalized sense of clinical analysis. Two of the most important components of the analytic attitude, in my view, are the ability to contain intense affects and the ability to tolerate uncertainty. Both capacities sustain a space for listening, one that permits sensitivity to conscious and unconscious meanings while exercising empathic understanding. The two components of containing intense affects and tolerating uncertainty support relationship building and therefore dialogue in the context of differences of opinion.
In today's world, we are faced with a multitude of complex and interconnected challenges, from climate change to political polarization to the ongoing global pandemic. These issues have not only brought about physical and material threats but also psychological and emotional ones, as individuals and communities struggle to cope with the uncertainty and stress of the current times.
Clinical psychoanalysis remains the primary professional identity of the majority of our members. But we undervalue what psychoanalytic thinking has to offer the world. Freud notably wrote in “The question of lay analysis”: “The use of analysis for the treatment of the neuroses is only one of its applications; the future will perhaps show that it is not the most important one.”
IPA in the World: Immediate Plans
Since Adriana’s and my term began, we have worked with the Board to begin realizing aspects of the seven plans we had:
- Expanding “IPA in the Community” to “IPA in the Community and the World.” The creation of a new Steering Committee, Chaired by Mira Erlich-Ginor (co-founder of Partners in Confronting Collective Atrocities (PCCA), a group that received the Sigourney Award in 2019), has enabled the collaboration and coordination of various committees dedicated to making an impact in the community and the world to expand the scope of psychoanalytic attention and to encourage analytic involvement in settings beyond the consulting room;
- Building on the work of the InterCommittee Project on Prejudices and Racism established by Virginia Ungar. A new “Prejudices, Racism, and Discrimination” committee, under IPA in the Community and the World, will make recommendations to the Board that will address malignant prejudices and discrimination within the IPA and suggest psychoanalytic interventions appropriate for the wider world;
- Building bridges to professional and citizen groups that have psychoanalytically informed methodologies to engage citizens/professionals in approaching societal problems; an example is the International Dialogue Initiative (IDI), which has developed a psychoanalytic case conference model for consulting to individuals who want to intervene in areas of large group conflict;
- Instituting a new IPA committee called Psychoanalytic Assistance in Crisis and Emergencies Committee (PACE). This committee provides analysts with practical tools for helping citizens address natural and manmade disasters and was an active part of the IPA’s response to the war in Ukraine;
- Creating learning modules for psychoanalysts interested in consulting about conflictual issues in settings like the courts, prisons, schools, hospitals, governmental bodies, corporations, non-profits, and creative arts.
- Using our 2023 Congress to develop psychoanalytic theory further regarding the impact of the societal context on individual and group minds and on somatic-social-psychological experience by diving into the theme, “Mind in the Line of Fire.”
- Surveying IPA members to learn how they are already active through local, national and international psychoanalytic outreach and consultation and make known to members the many model projects that exist. The Membership Survey was created to gather feedback from members about their experience being part of the IPA, their needs, their interests and the ways in which they benefit by belonging to the IPA.
Such initiatives were designed to help our troubled world and help the public recognize the clinical, cultural and societal value of psychoanalytic thinking.
During our two years in office, we have witnessed the reality of cultural and language differences and how they result in discovery and joy and also in misunderstanding and distrust. The matter of communication is a priority of ours in terms of governance and the future of our profession.
We need to communicate with one another and with the outside world in understandable terms. We have become aware that, although English is the official work language of the IPA, understandably many members do not speak English fluently. The reality of a multi-language international organization includes the challenge of understanding one another sufficiently to solve complex problems. We have learned we must not assume we are making ourselves understood nor that we fully appreciate what a colleague who has a different mother tongue is telling us.
Building on the groundbreaking work of Romolo Petrini and his committee members, we have reorganized the IPA Communications Committee to focus on the audience we want to reach. We established three subcommittees aimed at addressing (1) our external audience (mental health professionals and the public); (2) our internal audience (members and analysts-in-training); and (3) full and understandable scientific communication. The third subcommittee ensures we have consistent, understandable language in our communications as well as thorough coverage and communication of what members and committees of the IPA are doing. There is much more benefit to members through the activities of fellow members and IPA committees than many members seem to know.
Since the start of our term, Adriana and I have successfully instituted a new method of enhancing communication between IPA societies and the IPA Board via the Presidents Meeting Process (PMP) initiative. It complements the link function of regional Board representatives to specific regional Societies. Twelve interregional small groups of Society presidents were established and have been meeting online to get to know one another, and also to:
- learn whether their experiences are shared or unique,
- offer one another consultation,
- offer the IPA suggestions for the all-Presidents’ meeting agenda at the 2023 Congress,
- open a channel of bilateral communication between the Society Presidents and the IPA Board, and
- share with the members of their local societies the experience of meeting with other IPA presidents from around the world.
Distance Analysis and Training
The Board faces complex policy decisions related to the conduct of analysis through technology and the conduct of analytic training through technology. Many colleagues feel it is essential to have an embodied experience of the other in order to have a deep experience of the psychoanalytic method. Others, equally experienced and committed to our field, feel that distance analysis via videoconference is different but can also be transformative and that it serves the needs of eager potential analysts in otherwise inaccessible areas. A third group feels a hybrid model would allow the practical need for a primarily technological experience to be augmented by in person experiential components. After listening carefully to all perspectives, it is our belief that the differences of opinion are sincere but often seem irreconcilable. Must we impose a unitary standard on our colleagues? Can we find a way to include divergent perspectives within the larger umbrella of psychoanalysis? This is our current and serious challenge.
The Board received an extensive report from the first Task Force dedicated to this topic (Task Force on Distance Analysis) and invited feedback to the report from the IPA membership. The most urgent questions had to do with training, particularly for candidates whose training was disrupted by the pandemic. In April 2022, the IPA Board approved a second Task Force: The Task Force on Psychoanalytic Training in Contemporary Times (TF2). In line with their mandate, TF2 produced and published a bibliography and will make its final report with recommendations for a unified set of standards by November 2023. There is the question of what is best for the profession going forward. Will our experience with technology during the pandemic lead us to consider options that might further the availability of psychoanalytic treatment and training world-wide and also preserve an in-person experience as part of training?
Vitality and Unity in the IPA
The psychoanalytic experts on conflict resolution that consult to our Psychoanalysis in the World effort have emphasized that relationship building is essential to conflict resolution. The profession of psychoanalysis needs to have a sense of cohesion if not consensus to play a helpful role in addressing the complex psychological and social problems facing individuals and communities today. However, achieving cohesion and consensus is not an easy task, especially in a field where diverse perspectives and opinions are valued.
In addition to the challenge of interregional differences, many Society presidents have also reported regional and local concerns that fewer members of their Societies are motivated to take on the leadership responsibilities of their Societies. We need to look more carefully at all the possible causes of declining engagement, including structural issues that make volunteer activities more difficult – like having young children, or making less income than before, or enjoying less prestige in a world that thinks other forms of therapy are quicker and therefore preferable.
We have to say that engagement in the IPA has added immense professional and personal richness to our lives. When psychoanalysts are thinking together, or socializing together, they enter a space that is generative and deeply meaningful. In these intensely troubling times psychoanalytic thinking has never been more needed as a tool for understanding, assessing, and intervening in conflictual matters. It is also a time when psychoanalysts have never needed one another more. We hope you will join us in valuing the immense opportunity we have as an international collective to make a difference in the world, in our offices, and in our relationships. We are in this together!