Reflections on Psychoanalysis and Social Justice

By Alice Shaw

I was asked to contribute to this conversation, as a “new” voice, because I haven’t written for the Activist before.  How much of what I have in mind is “my voice”?  These words come through my individuality and yet are saturated by the influences and experiences that have been and are tethered to my intersectional identity.  This voice is a reflection of a normative contemporary psychoanalytic position (white, Eurocentric, liberal, relational) in the process of transformation.  Subjectively, “my voice” at any particular time is what I feel like saying.  Yet, separating out all the influences and assimilating tendencies seems impossible, so I just go with the subjective sense of authenticity in the moment of speaking or writing. 

I’ve approached the theme of psychoanalysis and social justice in the usual way, by thinking and writing a lot. I’ve thought extensively about the intersections related to the origin, history and emergent trends of psychoanalysis and the evolution of social justice concerns and expectations.   This time, in this space, my process seemed off.  The word “psych-splaining” kept coming to mind.  After more than three years being engaged in “mixed” working groups (differences in identities in a range of dimensions), I’ve grown enough (through deeply troubling, viscerally disruptive challenges to my status quo) to realize many ways of approaching a task, behaving in groups, filling a space- have a negative impact on people who have not been so entitled to take space, to find and express authentic subjectivity.

I realized that my listening right now, in this space, is more valuable than my talking.

 Many of us who have been trained in psychoanalytic-even contemporary- institutes must listen more:  to more diverse voices in   less frequented spaces. I graduated, rather recently, in 2017, from PINC (Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California).  I have spoken and written about the meaningful and useful education I received from this pluralistic, “progressive” institute.  I have thought of PINC as progressive because the curriculum includes ongoing facilitated group process experience, coursework in psyche and society, and a community psychoanalysis track.  I was able to choose training supervisors who supported my particular developing psychoanalytic identity.

 I was surprised and quite shaken to discover that Black and Brown friends/colleagues have felt deeply hurt and alienated by the enacted results of unconscious and unmetabolized racism and white power dynamics in our Institute, in ourselves, in myself. My notion of “progressive” lacked an adequate perspective on racial, or cultural power dynamics at this Institute.

 PINC is now working with consultants (Visions, Inc.)* in ongoing anti-racism and EDI (equity, diversity, inclusion) work. On the personal, interpersonal, organizational/institutional, and cultural level- our psychoanalytic ethics, theory and practice are being challenged to evolve.

The results of these efforts, within a Psychoanalytic Institute, associated with the IPA (International Psychoanalytic Association), tethered to a particular origin story, remain to be seen.

*Jim Turner and Sarah Stearns, senior facilitators from Visions, Inc. have been offering wise and challenging guidance to PINC on a number of levels.  Among many impactful guidelines they offer is the practice of “both/and” thinking.

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