Doing Psychoanalysis in … Beirut, Lebanon

Marie-Thérèse Khair Badawi, founding member of the Lebanese Association for the Development of Psychoanalysis, and a member of the IPA, is interviewed by Angela Mauss-Hanke about the origins and future of psychoanalysis in Lebanon. 

Marie-Thérèse, can you first of all tell us a bit about the history of how Psychoanalysis started in your country?

Briefly, I would say that psychoanalysis in Lebanon started in the 1970s. The first society, “Société Libanaise de Psychanalyse” (SLP), was founded in 1980 in the pathway of French psychoanalysis. We had to wait until the end of the - so called - Lebanese civil war (1975–1990) for psychoanalysis to grow on a scientific level by enrolling new members. Some were already IPA members, some belonged to Lacanian societies and others were only affiliated to the SLP. Then, some constitutional crises arose; the most important one being the decision to become affiliated to the IPA or not. When the final decision was taken to refuse to follow the IPA process, members who had wanted IPA affiliation resigned during the years 2007-2008, and in the following years, more resignations occurred.

If I had been the first to resign the day after this refusal, it is because I felt deeply betrayed. From the beginning, I decided to be a member of this society [SLP], following a firm promise to seek affiliation to the IPA. This promise happened during a memorable meeting of some SLP psychoanalysts with Daniel Widlöcher and Joyce MacDougall, who were in Beirut for an international meeting. 

In 2009, five psychoanalysts from this original society met and founded the Association Libonaise pour le Développement de la Psychoanalyse (ALDeP), which was recognised by the IPA in 2010 as the first study group in an Arab speaking country. All five founding members were either direct members of the IPA or belonged to the Société Psychanalytique de Paris (SPP).

In October 2018, our society, ALDeP, was chosen as Society of the Month on the IPA website. Here, you will find more details concerning the history of psychoanalysis in Lebanon

So, when you and your colleagues founded this new Lebanese association, you were already a member of the IPA by your affiliation to the Paris Society (SPP). Can you tell us about your professional path; i.e. how did you manage to become a member of the SPP and an IPA analyst in Beirut?

When the civil war ended in 1990, the Beirut International Airport became functional again and we could therefore travel abroad safely. I had already undergone some small tranches of analysis and continued afterwards through a shuttle analysis, travelling regularly to Paris (every third week the month, two sessions per day) with a Training analyst of the SPP. I had presented a demand for training to this same society in 1995 and continued my analysis and my formation simultaneously: one week every month for five years. In the après-coup of all this, I realise the investment and the energy which I went through at different levels: professionally, affectionately, and… pecuniary! 

In Beirut, I am a fulltime Research Professor in the Department of Psychology at the most prestigious French speaking university of the region, l’ Université Saint-Joseph (USJ). I also have my private practice and I have my family. When I was hesitating, having doubts, and wondering how I could assume all my latter responsibilities whilst regularly leaving my husband and children, my eldest son said to me: “Mom, if you cannot leave us once every month for one week, it means that you really failed in our education”. This burst in me an intensive internal work and induced a kind of liberation. It was as if this sentence delivered me a visa to dare to finally act by removing some of the feelings of guilt and helped me to be able to take my ultimate decision to undertake the great leap forward! This was a laborious experience, definitely exceptional. I should one day find the time to write about it…

What is the overall situation for psychoanalysis in your country today? Are there any IPA institutes? 

Today there are many societies of psychoanalysis in Lebanon. It is a pity to discover that we are reproducing the same divides or even splits as abroad, i.e. what is IPA and what is not. The ALDeP is the only society which is a study group of the IPA, while the others are mainly Lacanian societies thrusted against the IPA, although we know for sure that in certain countries they work in concert with the IPA.
At the ALDeP, we already have seven full members and eight candidates, some more will be accepted soon, which will hopefully promote us to a provisional society in the near future, before becoming a component society of the IPA. We are managing the full formation by organising seminars and conferences, and a full scientific programme according to the IPA’s criteria, which you can learn more about on our website. We also ensure the supervisions. Our sponsoring committee - which accompanies us with benevolence and rigour - is composed of Drs François Ladame and Serge Frisch, who come to Lebanon two to three times a year.

You have written a paper – which has been translated into eight languages - about what it was like for you to work as a psychoanalyst during the war time. Can you let us know something about these experiences?

Since the end of the war in 1990, we cannot claim that war is a part of our daily life, besides the episode that took place in July 2006, though in the representation of the occident world we are a country in unending war. Nevertheless, there is a permanent danger that threatens and influences the behaviour and the psychic functioning of the Lebanese people, but on a daily basis, we live in relative security, which observed from afar, might seem a paradox. Yet, today, due to globalisation, it seems to me that the range of insecurity is spreading around the whole world, since some consider that the third world war has already started. Lack of stability, the worrying, the fear, are alas, generalised, as we can see it in the anguish expressed by populations of the international community in different ways and through contacts that we have with colleagues of other countries.

How do you see the future of your country and of psychoanalysis in Lebanon?

Lebanon is a multicultural country which has a special status in the Middle-East. It is the only real democracy in the Arab world which has a constitution and laws that control the very sensitive equilibrium between Christians and Muslims. The freedom of speech is considered as sacred. Lebanon has always been the refuge to all Arab dissidents who could freely express their ideas, even if this freedom of speech has been every now and then threatened. It is therefore not due to hazard that psychoanalysis took root in this country very early, since there is not the same resistance as the other surrounding countries and it seems to hold on very well for the time being. Its development is not threatened by Lebanese culture, which is open minded and free, but mostly by the resistance to the unconscious in our modern world where speed, performance, and immediate satisfaction seem to be more important than listening to the inner world.

Marie-Thérèse Khair Badawi is a full Professor Researcher at St Joseph University, Beirut, where she has taught since 1978. Psychoanalyst, training member of the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA), the European Federation of Psychoanalysis (EFP) and the Paris Psychoanalytic Society (SPP), she is a founding member of the Lebanese Association for the Development of Psychoanalysis (ALDeP), the first IPA Study Group (since January 2010) in an Arab speaking country.

She has lectured at international conferences and universities, in Lebanon and abroad. Her main research axes and publications include: psychoanalysis, transference/countertransference, trauma, sexuality (feminine particularly), masculinity and femininity, femininity and the maternal. Some of her texts have been translated into multiple languages. Her PHD thesis, “Le désir amputé, vécu sexuel de femmes libanaises”, published at l’Harmattan in Paris, 1986, is considered by the UNESCO as the first reliable research on women’s sexuality in the Middle East.