Current President Column – Spring 2016

By Lynne Layton

Lynne LaytonIt is with great pleasure that I write my first column as President of Section IX. I’ve been part of this section ALMOST from the beginning. In fact, while I was studying up on the section bylaws, I found a 2001 email from Neil Altman and Rachael Peltz, who had only recently founded the section, inviting me to be a member of the education and training committee. I accepted that invitation and at some point became a member of the board and chair of that committee. As chair, I developed, along with wonderful colleagues including Rico Ainslie, Stephen Seligman, Christine Kieffer, and Frank Summers, a syllabus template for a clinical course on culture and psychoanalysis. By that time in history, there were enough excellent clinical papers to fill a syllabus, papers on race, gender, sexuality, class, and other aspects of culture that consciously and unconsciously enter the clinical encounter. First we piloted the syllabus with a monthly discussion by the board and then we opened the discussion to the membership. The conversation was lively and meaningful, and some of us began to teach that syllabus, or something like it, in our institutes.

For several years after that, the section, and certain members in particular, were very engaged in the movement to hold APA accountable for allowing psychologists to participate in enhanced interrogations at illegal detention sites. It is not yet clear if this battle is over, so we need to continue to hold the APA accountable. Our engagement in this struggle was political activity of a different sort from the syllabus project, but, to my mind, all forms of consciousness raising and activism, through education, protests, the arts, are part of the mission of Section IX.

As the years have gone by, many sections and committees of Division 39 have committed themselves to social justice projects, and we have worked together with some of them on programming. Due in part to the neoliberal anti-welfare state project that brings market values to bear on mental health services, a project that has gutted community mental health budgets, several committees and sections now share a mission “to promote the provision of psychoanalytically oriented clinical services to underserved groups of people, and to expand the cultural applicability of psychoanalytic treatment” (Section IX mission statement). In sync with neoliberalism as well, the dominance of short-term behaviorally focused and manualized treatments has marginalized psychodynamic theory and practice to the extent that, currently, it is quite difficult to find graduate programs and training sites that offer more than a token course/didactic on psychodynamic work. Our mission thus stands as a counterhegemonic trend: from the beginning, our aim has been to bring a psychoanalytic perspective “to bear on social issues which may be related to prevention of psychological disturbance,” and to foster educational projects with a focus on “human rights, race relations, discrimination, poverty, and violence” (Section IX mission statement). All our projects are committed to the belief that the psychic and the social are inextricable, and, as many of us have argued, we regard the separation of the psychic and the social in much of psychoanalytic theory and practice as itself a political enactment of individualistic cultural norms designed to allow power relations to remain in place and unexamined.

Last year our spring meeting panel was devoted to learning about the founding and workings of a Bay Area project, Reflective Spaces/Material Places. This project brings community mental health workers together to reflect on what kinds of difficulties they currently face in their work with underserved populations, much of which takes place in systems that have been, as noted above, very negatively affected by neoliberal policies (what some have referred to as an audit culture dominated by rituals of surveillance, see, for example, Rizq, 2014). Their mission, consonant with ours, is to “provide meaningful interventions that address the social, psychic, and justice demands of those who struggle the most…” (RS/MP mission statement). We have made it a Section IX project to found groups like RS/MP in other cities, and I am excited to report that a group of us in Boston will have our first RS/MP-Boston event at the end of April.

In the past several years, we have created a space at our meetings for the extended board to discuss political topics from a psychoanalytic and activist perspective, and last year we opened that conversation to the entire membership. The focus of those conversations has been Israel/Palestine. Consonant with the theme of this year’s panel, “Being Othered in the USA: Psychoanalytic Voices,” we hope to expand that conversation to include practices of othering that affect our clinical work and that operate as well within the field of psychoanalysis and in our communities.

Section IX thrives on the input of its members; listserv proposals help the board decide on what future projects to pursue . For example, in recent months, Nina Thomas suggested we take a public stand condemning the alarming levels of xenophobic discourse in the U.S. and clarifying for the public the detrimental effects such discourse has on mental health. Section IX has several committees, on which we would welcome wider participation by the membership: our Education and Training Committee began the syllabus project and, with new co-chairs Rachael Peltz and Ryan Parker, may continue to work on getting psychodynamic work into training sites and graduate programs; our Public Policy committee, now chaired by Lara Sheehi, promotes the application of psychoanalytic theory and practice to social issues and problems relevant both to professionals and to the public; an ad hoc Women’s Committee, chaired by Susan Gutwill, formed a few years ago to put on a rally for reproductive rights in NYC during Division 39; that committee could become permanent if there is interest among the membership; the program committee, chaired by Alice Shaw, creates, in collaboration with the board and membership, programs at Division 39; and we would welcome ideas for resuscitating our Research Committee, the mission of which is to promote the growth and dissemination of research data relevant to psychoanalytic work on social issues. If any of these committees sound interesting you, please contact us so you can become involved!

I am excited to begin my presidency, and I hope to see you and get to meet many of you in Atlanta. Here’s a preview of our events at the meeting:

Our Invited Panel is titledBeing Othered in the U.S.A.: Psychoanalytic Voices,” and is on Thursday, April 7, 3:30-5:20pm, East Paces Room; our Board Meeting is on Saturday, April 9, noon to 1:50pm, Buckhead 1, and our Joint Reception, co-sponsored with Sections II, III, V, and the Committees on Multicultural Concerns, Sexualities and Gender Identities, Early Career Professionals, and Psychoanalysis and Community, is on Saturday, April 9, 6-8pm, in the Ballroom Pre Function.

Meanwhile, I urge you to join or renew your membership (to renew by mail; or to renew online).

And I urge you to get involved in Section IX so that it might become, as it is for me, one of your homes. Given the current political climate, there is a LOT we can do together.

Reference:

Rizq, R. (2014) Perversion, neoliberalism and therapy: the audit culture in mental health services. Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society 19(2): 209-218.

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