Saturday, October 26, 2013
Violence & Its Denial
Social and Clinical Consequences
We began formulating our 41st annual conference around the concept of stepping up to take leadership responsibility in exploring psychodynamic interventions to mitigate violence in our culture. We started with the notion that our clinical members and member institutes are probably involved in multiple efforts to address violence. Some may have actively organized anti-violence and trauma response programs, while others may not overtly identify their work as such, even though they are doing it. Our goal was to bring to the attention of the psychoanalytic community what is being done and how our community might address the issue, and to encourage the community to bring together its many resources in a concerted effort to pursue nonviolence. If psychoanalysts cannot examine issues of unconscious motives, aggression, attachment, suicidality, self-examination, and developmental needs, then who can?
One important aspect of confronting the violence dilemma is acknowledging our own, and society’s, denial: the pros, cons, and consequences. We were interested in studying the social impact, and how violence and its denial are dealt with in our therapy offices. Whenever a major, seemingly random, incidence of violence occurs there is a flurry of activity about why it is happening and what we can do about it. The dedication to a solution is carried forward by many in various disciplines, but generally fades from public and professional focus until another event shocks us to attention.
For example, we seem completely immune to recognizing the violence training and actions demanded of our military and the clinical and social consequences of its aftermath. This is our culture of denial; its yin and yang. In some ways denial can be healthy. You cannot walk the streets of New York City worrying whether an air conditioner will drop on your head. You could not survive the anxiety, although you know these things can happen. Then there is the less healthy aspect of denial. If you acknowledge a problem, you may have to upset aspects of your own life to address it. You may have to challenge unarticulated belief systems about yourself, your family, your community, and your country that feel better unconfronted. For decades, people have questioned why many Germans, and others, did not recognize what was happening in Nazi Germany. Developing this conference forced us to ask a similar question about ourselves, as psychoanalysts, and the perpetuation of violence in our culture. Are we doing everything possible to reverse the cyclical pattern of violence? Are we, with our extensive training, education, and interpersonal resources, attending to the defining need of this century? Are we contributing actively to the evolution of healthy individuals, families, and communities?
Psychoanalytic schools of thought approach the understanding, explanation, and managing of human aggression from diverging perspectives. They would all would agree that in an era of violence and uncertainty psychoanalysis has much to offer in terms of helping individuals and society harness aggressive impulses for self-protection, at the least, and healthful evolution at best. The 2013 NAAP conference will present an opportunity for participants to consider the role of psychoanalysis in politics, journalism, and art; the politics of psychoanalysis; and how psychoanalysts, institutes, and the profession as a whole can assume leadership roles in address-ing the aggression/violence/trauma cycle. Clearly, we need a multi-pronged approach to exploring this complex problem impacting us in the sociocultural arena, on the global stage, and in our own homes.
Psychoanalysis, linked with artistic expression, can make use of, influence, and be influenced by art as part of an activist, holistic approach to examining and communicating important ideas.
African-American photo-journalist Hank Willis Thomas, in his video “Winter in America,” uses GI Joe figures to dramatize the senseless, violent murder of his cousin. Thomas is the winner of the first ever Aperture West Book Prize for his monograph Pitch Blackness (November, 2008). His work has been featured in other publications including Reflections in Black (Norton, 2000), and the exhibitions along with accompanying publications 25 under 25: Up-and-Coming American Photographers (CDS, 2003), and 30 Americans (RFC, 2008). He has exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the U.S. and abroad. Mr. Thomas will open the conference with a screening of this 7-minute documentary, and a discussion of his experiences as an activist and artist. Jane Hammond, artist, will open the afternoon session with a discussion of her work and its political-psychological aspect, particularly her three-dimensional piece “Fallen,” which commemorates American soldiers killed in the Iraq War. Hammond collected real autumn leaves, which she scanned, printed, and cut out, before inscribing each leaf with the name of a fallen soldier. She has been working since 2004 on this memorial which has more than 4,400 separate leaves. The installed piece spreads out in front and below the viewer, emphasizing the collective loss and the urgent need for healing.
Our 2013 conference format is different from previous years. There will be morning and afternoon general sessions with ample time for audience participation with the panel. Our panel will consist of the artists mentioned above, and the noted psychoanalysts and mental health advocates listed below.
Ghislaine Boulanger, PhD, psychologist-psychoanalyst and humanitarian activist, will present in the morning. Dr. Boulanger’s clinical work with trauma patients is described in her book Wounded by Reality: Understanding and Treating Adult Onset Trauma. Dr. Boulanger has also written about her research with Vietnam vets and their adaptation on returning home. She has studied the psychological effects of large-scale disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, and has advocated against mental health professionals’ complicity in inhumane detention and interrogation.
Joseph Cambray, PhD, is President of the International Association for Analytical Psychology. He has also served as the US Editor for the Journal of Analytical Psychology and is on the editorial board of that journal, The Jung Journal: Culture and Psyche, and the Israel Annual of Psychoanalytic Theory, Research and Practice. He is a faculty member at Harvard Medical School, Dept. of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and at the Center for Psychoanalytic Studies. Dr. Cambray is the author of Synchronicity: Nature and Psyche in an Interconnected Universe, among numerous other publications.
Donna Bassin, PhD, is an art therapist, clinical psychologist, and a certified psychoanalyst with a private practice in Manhattan. She is a member of the Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research where she serves as Director of the Women's Center at the IPTAR Clinical Center. As a founding member of the Doris Bernstein Memorial Section on Gender Issues in Psychoanalysis at IPTAR, she has encouraged contemporary investigations into the role and meaning of gender in psychoanalytic theory and practice. Dr. Bassin is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology in the Dept. of Creative Arts Therapy, Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. Dr. Bassin is co-editor of Representations of Motherhood and editor of Female Sexuality, and is currently working on a book, What Remains: Memorialization and the Working Through of Mourning.
Stephen Soldz, PhD, psychologist-psychoanalyst and public health researcher, was a co-author of the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) report “Experiments in Torture.” His interests span clinical, research, and societal issues from bullying and relational aggression to the effects of torture to professional, ethical advocacy. He has written or co-written some 100 articles and book chapters on the psychodynamics of social phenomena and the roles of psychologists and other health professionals in torture and other national security abuses. He has published articles in or been interviewed by, among others, NPR, Associated Press, The New York Times Magazine, Chronicle of Higher Education, and radio and TV around the world. Dr. Soldz also served as a professional consultant on several Guantánamo cases.
NAAP President Douglas Maxwell, PhD, and Farrell Silverberg, PhD, will moderate the discussions.
We hope that VIOLENCE & ITS DENIAL: Social and Clinical Consequences will provide a forum for exploring, planning, and implementing actions to mitigate violence. We hope all psychoanalysts can recognize the valuable input our profession can have on the non-violence effort and take a leadership role in it. OCCUPY MENTAL HEALTH! Do We Dare?
Patricia Harte Bratt, Conference Chair