By Nancy Hollander
I write this column as the outgoing president of Section IX to express my gratitude for having had the opportunity during my tenure to work with Section members on a variety of meaningful projects. A special thanks to Alice Shaw, who in her role as past president during my time in office was enormously helpful in so many ways as we dealt with a variety of issues, both political and bureaucratic. I also want to welcome our new president, my very capable friend and colleague, Lynne Layton. In this issue of the newsletter, Lynne describes some of the important work our section has done over the years, work that has had much meaning for me. The group of colleagues who have been active on the section board and in their own communities throughout the country have provided an intellectual and political home for me. They are all people with a profound commitment to the development of a psychoanalysis that fosters the values of human rights and social justice.
This perspective within U.S. psychoanalysis is a departure from the mainstream. But it represents continuity with a progressive current within Latin American psychoanalysis, which was my introduction to the field. I was first trained as a Latin American historian, and I lived in Argentina from the late sixties until the eve of that country’s Dirty War in 1976. During that time I researched and wrote about the tumultuous political, social and economic conditions that were producing revolutionary movements throughout the continent and the military dictatorships that arose to smash them. My contact with the victims of torture and the families of the disappeared taught me about the profound psychological effects of political repression. As well, my personal and professional connections in the countries of the Southern Cone permitted me to see first hand how living in cultures of fear created populations that, if not the direct victims of repressive governments or the courageous activists that opposed them, either actively identified with or functioned as bystanders to the violent suppression of democratic alternatives. From the 1970s through 1990’s, I began to collaborate with a network of progressive Argentine, Chilean and Uruguayan psychoanalysts who before the advent of state terror had been committed to a theoretical paradigm that integrated critical social theory with psychoanalysis and a clinical project of a “psychoanalysis beyond the couch” that brought treatment interventions to a variety of diverse populations suffering from the impact of class, racial and gendered inequities. When I met them, their patients included survivors of torture and families whose loved ones had been disappeared, tortured and assassinated. In the post-dictatorship period, these psychoanalysts have been some of the most prominent spokespersons arguing for formal processes of social reparation that would include legal and public accountability of the torturers, a struggle that continues to this day.
Profoundly impressed by this model of a social psychoanalysis, I eventually sought my own psychoanalytic training, and I have modeled my work, both theoretically and clinically, on the example of these extraordinary colleagues.
One of the issues that provides continuity for me between my experiences in Latin America and our work in Section IX has been the struggle against regimes that torture and the participation of mental health professionals in the design and implementation of torture. As many of you know, Section IX inaugurated and led for some years the struggle against the collusion of the APA with the U.S. military. We were in the forefront of the movement during the Bush administrations demanding that the APA change its ethics policy permitting psychologists to participate in the military’s “enhanced interrogations “of prisoners. The APA was ultimately forced to hold a referendum on the issue, which resulted in the affirmation of our position by the membership of the organization. Even then, the APA refused to change its policy. Long after many of us had become less active in what seemed like a futile struggle, some individual members of the section and other colleagues kept the struggle alive for over a decade. They were instrumental in the recent public exposé of APA’s policy and a formal investigation that has forced the organization to alter its ethics policy. The outcome is still not clear, however, as the government (which has historically been a major source of funding for military-related projects generated by psychologists) has pressured the APA to stay involved in these unethical practices that contravene the principle of international human rights law.
The Section’s active engagement with others committed to the struggle on behalf of an ethical psychology that forbids the participation of psychologists in torture is also reflected in our commitment to working on behalf of ending the tortuous psychological effects of institutions that maintain class, race, gendered and sexual inequities and the prejudices and discriminatory practices that reinforce them. We are excited by the recent election to our board of members that include early career colleagues and psychologist/psychoanalysts of diverse backgrounds who bring new energy to the Section and its activities. We are looking forward to new projects that we hope will appeal to our membership and to attract your active participation.
I want to encourage you to attend our Section activities that Lynne has listed in her president’s column. I take the liberty of adding to her list one additional panel that is directly related to the history I described above. This panel links the policies of torture carried out by the Argentine military dictatorship and those legitimized and implemented in the U.S. by democratically elected governments. It shows the continuity between the struggles within the Argentina psychoanalytic community against the military government’s torture regime and the struggle within the APA against its endorsement of “enhanced interrogations”:
Psychoanalysis During Argentina’s Dirty War:
Torture, Collusion, Resistance and Their Resonance for Today
Nancy Hollander, PhD., presenter
Frank Summers, PhD, ABPP, discussant
Neal S. Rubin, PhD, ABPP, chair
Saturday: 4-5:50 p.m.: