IPA in the World
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.”
Adriana Prengler and I ran for election on a platform that featured IPA in the World. In the context of a perfect storm of environmental, socioeconomic, political, physical and psychological threat, we feel psychoanalysis has never been more needed outside the consulting room in addition to its traditional role treating individual patients. We share a commitment to exploring and implementing the ways in which IPA analysts can help our troubled world. I hasten to add that 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.
I have met monthly for the last two years, since becoming President-elect at the London Congress, with a group of colleagues who use psychoanalytic thinking to address societal problems. I formed the group of 14 together with John Alderdice, a psychoanalytic psychiatrist who received the IPA Extraordinarily Meritorious Service to Psychoanalysis Award in 2005. I sought him out because I learned that psychoanalytic thinking had helped him further the peace process in Ireland that resulted in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. I wanted to consult with him about how the expertise of IPA members could help our troubled world. This was at the front of my mind after attending the 2018 EPF meeting in Warsaw. The meeting occurred shortly after a law was passed in Poland that made it illegal to speak about Poland’s having had an involvement in the Holocaust. For me this situation had the force of an alarm: false fact could become law, and in the U.S. false facts were becoming a political modus operandi. Fascist governments demanding a departure from truth-seeking were on the rise. Analysts at the meeting wondered: what can psychoanalysts possibly do?
John and I assembled a group of people, analysts and non-analysts, all of whom have had experience thinking psychoanalytically about intractable conflict. This exploratory think tank has become an invaluable advisory group to the IPA. Adriana, Henk Jan, and I have all participated in the group and have benefited from its realism, creativity, and deep psychoanalytic thinking about resolution of intractable conflict. I look forward to bringing insights and concrete plans to you during our administration.
IPA in the World: Immediate Plans
Our immediate plans include the following seven things:
1. Expanding IPA in the Community to IPA in the Community and the World; integrating the overlapping efforts of the committees in that section of the IPA with the help of IPA member Mira Erlich whom we will propose to the Board as overall chair. She was co-founder of Partners in Confronting Collective Atrocities (PCCA), a group that received the Sigourney Award in 2019;
2. Building on the recent work of the InterCommittee Project on Prejudices and Racism established by Virginia Ungar to ensure continued, required attention to diversity. The Project was conceived as a response to the increased violence in society during the pandemic which acutely highlights ongoing systemic racism, childism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of extreme othering born of vulnerability. IPA in the Community and the World will consult to the Board regarding a strategy for next best steps for the IPA.
3. 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;
4. Instituting a new IPA committee called Psychoanalytic Assistance in Crisis and Emergencies Committee (PACE). This committee will provide analysts with practical tools for helping citizens address natural and manmade disasters;
5. 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.
6. 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. As you will hear, the Cartagena Congress theme will be Mind in the Line of Fire.
7. 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.
Such efforts can help our troubled world. They can also help the public recognize the clinical, cultural and societal value of psychoanalytic thinking.
I have paid close attention to the process and function of the Board of Directors during my two years as President-Elect. I 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 has risen to the top of my priority list 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. I 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. I 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.
IPA languages and cultures are sources of richness and sources of difference. We plan to address the tension between the two in many different ways. We will explore translation capacities that may be advanced enough in this internet age to make efficient, accurate translation possible and affordable for large group meetings – whether administrative or clinical.
We will propose to the new Board a plan to reorganize the Communications Committee of the IPA, building on the groundbreaking work of Romolo Petrini and his committee members, to focus on the audience we want to reach. We propose 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 will ensure 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.
We have instituted a new method of enhancing communication between IPA societies and the IPA Board. It is called the Presidents Meeting Process (PMP). It complements the link function of regional Board representatives to specific regional Societies. We had a trial run of this new initiative at the Vancouver biennial Society Presidents’ Meeting. Twelve interregional small groups of Society presidents were established and they will meet online approximately six times over two years rather than just biennually at the meetings tied to the IPA Congress. The goals of the PMP are:
First, for interregional Society presidents 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 next 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.
The finances of the IPA are an important and complex matter. Before the pandemic it appeared that the IPA should finally raise its dues, something it had not done for over 10 years. During those ten years the staff and the Board had worked hard to reduce costs and made heavy use of technology as it became available. But we had to use our reserves to balance the budget and were at risk of using reserves beyond a prudent level. In January 2020 the Board voted to raise dues. Then the pandemic struck just two months later. Economic difficulties were experienced internationally and particularly in countries where governments were making decisions that worsened their citizens’ circumstances. Members’ practices were impacted. Devaluation of currencies inflated the cost of dollars and therefore the amount of dues since they are calculated in dollars. Recognizing these circumstances, the Dues Advisory Committee will review dues reduction policies and the Board will consider an extension of the 2020 Covid-19 Extraordinary Emergency Fund that offered dues relief to societies where members were unable to pay increased dues. I will propose an ad hoc committee of the Board be established at the first new Board meeting charged with recommending guidelines for a 2-year extension of the Emergency Fund and reviewing membership responses to a minimum dues requirement for IPA membership.
Distance Analysis and Training
The Board faces further complex policy decisions related to the conduct of analysis through technology and the conduct of analytic training through technology. Some 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. Reconciling these different views is a challenge we must meet. After listening carefully to all perspectives, it is my belief that the differences of opinion are sincere and often seem irreconcilable. But, 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.
An extensive report from the Task Force on Distance Analysis was considered by the old Board and will be further considered by the incoming Board. The most urgent questions have to do with training, particularly for candidates whose training was disrupted by the pandemic. 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 could further the availability of psychoanalytic treatment and training world-wide through models that are different from those we have used so far?
Vitality and Unity in the IPA
Vitality and Unity in the IPA was the discussion theme for the Society Presidents’ Meeting on July 11. One of the groups reported that they did vitality rather than discuss it: they got to know each other, compared cultural similarities and differences and started a process of relationship building. 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.
Many Society presidents reported concern that fewer members of their Societies were motivated to take on the leadership responsibilities of their Society. 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.
I have to say that engagement in the IPA has added immense professional and personal richness to my life. When we are thinking together, or socializing together, we enter a space that is generative and deeply meaningful. I would be remiss if I did not mention, before I conclude, that I appreciate the passion of the other team that ran for office in 2019, Howard Levine and Kerry Kelly Novick, and hope they will continue to offer their energy and wisdom to the IPA.
Too often the administrative work that members undertake goes unrewarded and it results in their being demoralized. 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. I hope you will join me 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!