Report from IPA Congress: New Leadership Team, 4th Region in Development

Dear Colleagues:

I returned from the IPA Congress in Buenos Aires intending to give you a report on the meeting.  Meanwhile, flooding created a crisis in my hometown of New Orleans, and our country is witnessing a national crisis, with the events in Charlottesville and their aftermath.  In that context, one could ask “who cares about the IPA Congress?” For me, engagement with international psychoanalysis feels more important than ever, and I’m determined to make that case to you, as one of your representatives on the IPA Board.

For instance, our European colleagues (for example, Sally Weintraub in London and Christer Sjödin in Sweden) have made major contributions offering psychoanalytic perspectives on global warming, undoubtedly one of the reasons New Orleans’ very existence is threatened.

And psychoanalysts in Latin America and Europe have much to offer us in understanding our current political crisis.

New IPA administration focusing on communication, outreach & inreach

A new administration assumed office at the Buenos Aires Congress and wants to change the image of psychoanalysis and the IPA. Virginia Ungar, our new President, made a point that analysts need to go outside their consulting room. She and Vice-President Sergio Nick want to involve more members and improve communication between the IPA and the membership. There is a strong feeling in this administration that the IPA needs to do more in-reach and outreach, especially to our younger members, involving them in the affairs of the IPA and seeking their feedback about what they would like the IPA to do for them.

We have kept ourselves out of the public eye.  We cannot continue to hide in our offices while the world is falling apart.  Analysts need to connect with the community and convey our experience and passion for our work.

The president was very emphatic stating that we should have a presence in hospitals, schools, universities, engage in dialogues with related disciplines like anthropology and political science and also humanitarian organizations such as UNESCO, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders and agencies that deal with deal with refugee issues. Board members felt our voices have not been heard about the political situation we are in and our social ills.

I found this discussion both heartening and curious.  I’m glad my fellow Board members are thinking about bringing psychoanalysis out of the consulting room.  I also had the impression that many are unaware of the many ways colleagues have engaged with social issues, with APsaA’s efforts regarding LGBTQ rights and service members’ needs being one important example. Personally, I was fortunate in being able to join a team of psychoanalyst who had been asked to advise Mozambique how to deal with the societal consequences of the of child soldiers who have now grown up and are very disruptive to the nation. This information gap is another example of the need for more communication and sharing of ideas.

Plans for fourth IPA region in Asia

Another very exciting development-plans are underway to develop a 4th region in the IPA. At the Buenos Aires Congress three Iranian psychoanalysts presented papers. Several groups in Iran have contacted the IPA wishing to become Study Groups. The Japanese Society has been in existence for almost 100 years and the Indian society is almost as old. The IPA has Study Groups in China and Taiwan and had two Asian conferences recently. COWAP (Women and Psychoanalysis Committee) had a meeting in Wuhan China attended by 800 people. In the Eizirik administration (2005-9) there was a psychoanalytic meeting in Irkutsk, Siberia which is closer to Beijing than to Moscow. The enthusiasm and eagerness with which psychoanalysis is received is very refreshing. In contrast with what is happening in the States, people in Asia are breaking down doors to get access to psychoanalytic training!

Psychoanalysis arose out of a Western European tradition. Both Hindu and Confucian philosophies can add other perspectives to our understanding of the UCS.

The establishment of an official Fourth Region in Asia will unify these efforts and provide greater access to the thinking of colleagues in Asia.


En Route to Buenos Aires: International Psychoanalysis-What is its Value?

On the eve of the IPA Congress in Buenos Aires I would like to reflect on what belonging to the IPA means to me. Over this past year I spoke to many North American members. The feeling among the majority of the people I talked to is that the IPA does nothing for them and is basically irrelevant to their professional lives. I think the IPA has not been forceful enough in communicating the value of international engagement to its members. But if we are not involved with the IPA, I think we in North America are missing out on lively discussions on many topics of psychoanalytic and sociopolitical interest.

As the reach of the IPA expands to different parts of the world, it is confronted by very different customs and mindsets. For example, there was recently an IPA meeting in Rome on Psychoanalysis and Geography. The question at that meeting was whether psychoanalytic concepts are universal and if our methodology is applicable to different cultures worldwide and how to establish comparisons between different anthropological positions. Is psychoanalysis able to deal with very different cultures without changing it methodology?

Analysts from various backgrounds spoke on how to deal with transcultural problems. A Muslim South African analyst of Malaysian origin practicing in London spoke of the challenges for a Muslim analyst trained in western thinking to go back in time to his earlier cultural mind and address customs, taboos and family values with patients coming from a non-western culture. These issues are not just of esoteric interest. In our practice, we are confronted with immigrants who have come to the US with hopes of having a better life but at the same time still live psychologically in their old cultural environment.

You might be interested to know that the IPA is adding a fourth region, Asia, because of an intense interest in that part of the world in our theory and methods.

How can we accommodate these different cultures under the umbrella of Psychoanalysis? There have been many articles by analysts regarding the problems of immigration the whole world is facing today. These can be found on the IPA website which is veritable treasure trove of information or in the latest IPA Newsletter sent out to the members on July 20th.

Another perk offered by the IPA is the CAPSA program. APsaA societies in particular have not availed themselves of that benefit. In that program, the IPA pays transportation for an analyst from another region to come and spend a few days with your Society. The Society provides for lodging. It is shame to walk away leaving money on the table when this is offered at a very modest cost to the Society. This allows for exposure to other points of view and allows a comparison between what we do now and how an analyst from another region conceptualizes his/her analytic work. I would be happy to help societies interested in this benefit find interesting scholars from other regions and make connections.  Here is the link for more information….aspx

In future communications, I plan to acquaint-or reacquaint- North American  members with other benefits the IPA provides. I also urge you to browse the IPA website and see what might appeal to you or your society. I am always available to explain the programs further, or provide needed introductions.

If you are going to the IPA Congress in Buenos Aires, I’d be delighted to say hello and introduce you to Latin American or European analysts who might share your interests.


Getting Outside our Psychoanalytic Silo: Engaging the Public and Solving our Morale Problem


I have been asking myself lately why has psychoanalysis become so marginalized?  Analysts have a morale problem. A large number have withdrawn and have removed themselves from the analytic scene. Fifty years ago our discipline was very much part of the Zeitgeist and an integral part of the cultural scene of North America.  At that time, most psychiatry department chairs were analysts. These days there are hardly any left in those positions.  Some joke that the situation has gotten so bad that we don’t even rate cartoons in the New Yorker. What has been our responsibility in the way psychoanalysis is viewed by the public? How has CBT been able to dominate the field of therapy to the point that psychoanalysis or psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapy are not even considered as therapeutic options? What has happened that we have ceded the field to CBT?  Psychoanalysts have written about short-term interventions but have we taken a thoughtful public health point of view and made our knowledge maximally useful to the public?  To make matters worse so many analysts are disenchanted with local, national and international organizations and question whether the time and expense of training was worth the effort and whether organizational membership has a pay-off.

It is always painful to look at one’s shortcomings and it is much easier to blame outsiders. We have all heard theories about the reasons for our decline. That psychoanalysis is too threatening, that Freud reduced everything to sex, that it takes too long etc. To compound the situation, we as analysts have not wanted to engage “mano a mano” with our critics. I have often heard the statement from analysts that if you have not been analyzed you are not qualified to critique psychoanalysis.  Psychoanalysts in the past prided themselves for keeping apart from scientific discussions claiming that our discipline is unique and therefore scrutiny from outside scholars is illegitimate.

Why have we not educated the public? We were proud of our isolation and unfortunately the world has passed us by. We have not conveyed to the public that psychoanalysis is not a static discipline and that we have evolved in the last 100 years.  CBT does not arouse the same negative reactions in people. What have the CBT people done that we have not been able to do? The received wisdom is that CBT can accomplish results faster than a psychodynamic intervention. Analysts have written about short-term therapy and crisis intervention.  Yet in spite of these publications we have not been able to swing the tide of public opinion in our favor.  Something else must be at work.  What have we done to contribute to our undoing?

Psychoanalysis was set up in a rigid hierarchical way where the elders had the wisdom and were the owners of the truths. Unfortunately, different truths were promoted as the only possible way of viewing the mind. The public mocked our arrogance and candidates were put in a position of having to choose and acquiesce to demands that in any other circumstance would not be countenanced. The role of ideology in the psychoanalytic process poses the danger of analyst indoctrinating his patient with his own beliefs and ideas. The objectivity of the analyst may be disturbed by his own ideological beliefs or by political ambitions within institutions. So why have young analysts participated in this dysfunctional set up?

The compact in these situations revolves around the promise that if the candidate shows loyalty to his or her analyst or to an important figure in the society he/she will be rewarded by advancement in the organization or by the referral of patients.  The use of younger people to further the ambition of senior people has permeated many of our societies and led to great ambivalence toward authority that is then projected on to our national and international organizations.

The perception about some of our organizations is that strife in their ranks is essentially endless; people want to stay away and wash their hands of the whole scene. Interestingly, rightly or wrongly CBT is perceived in the mental health field as more democratic without the power struggles that plague psychoanalysis.

It does not have to be that way. Psychoanalysis is thriving in other countries. There is excitement about our discipline along with a lively dialogue with psychiatry, anthropology, epistemology etc.

I am running for the position of North American representative to the IPA Board and I would like to change the negative perceptions about psychoanalysis by promoting both interdisciplinary and interregional dialogues. In the past, I organized several clinical conferences where members of FEPAL and NAPSAC alternated presenting clinical cases in small groups. These conferences had an uplifting effect on all the participants. We need more exchanges with other disciplines. Why don’t we have them with CBT therapists, Jungian analysts or personal change gurus like Brené Brown? They are obviously perceived as having something to offer to the public. Has any psychoanalyst ever given a TED talk? If not, why not? Paradoxically, as our profession struggles, there is evident public thirst for insight into motive, emotion and ways to change and lead a more satisfying life. That’s what we know.

If we talk to the public and people outside our psychoanalytic silo, we might learn something from each other.

Beyond our Southern Border

I see a tremendous value for North American psychoanalytic societies to reach out past US borders. In the Gulf States our proximity to the Caribbean and South America offers a great opportunity to increase our visibility and the possibility of getting referrals from Latin Americans.  This is a connection that has largely been overlooked here in the States. Analysts in the US can benefit from learning about psychoanalytic work done by Latin American analysts. There are North American cities that are natural gateways to the US.

Miami, for example, is a city that holds great interest for Latin Americans because of its large Hispanic population. People come to the States for medical check ups and extended care. While here, they often request consultations for various mental health problems.

Let me give a couple of examples of the interest in psychoanalysis in the Caribbean basin. ILAP (the Latin American Institute of Psychoanalysis) is funded 50% by the IPA and 50% by FEPAL (Latin American Federation of Psychoanalysis). When ILAP went to Puerto Rico they found that many psychiatric residents were interested in psychoanalytic training. But ILAP was reluctant to invest their resources because, since with Puerto Rico being American territory, the graduates would upon graduation belong to North America. When I was Secretary-General (a role now called Vice President) of the IPA I helped attempt to form a joint enterprise, which unfortunately got bogged down.

In Europe the PIEE (Psychoanalytic Institute of Eastern Europe) began analytic training in the early nineties in the countries that had been behind the iron curtain. Because of the geographic distances they started doing concentrated analyses in tranches. That means that the analyst would see the analysand for two sessions (not consecutive) a day for 4 days every two weeks. In this way they gradually began to form a cadre of mental health professionals who were then ready to begin analytic training.

Following the PIEE example, ILAP was created in 2006. Before ILAP was formed, an Argentine analyst started going to Paraguay every other Thursday and seeing analysands until Sunday. Paraguay started out as an Allied Center. This means simply that a group of people who showed interest in psychoanalysis got together. The Allied Center was the nucleus of the eventual IPA Study Group. An IPA Study Group is the predecessor to a full-fledged psychoanalytic society in the IPA system.

In Panama, ILAP   provided the analysts for the candidates to have concentrated analyses and the seminars.   There are now other opportunities in the Caribbean basin.  When ILAP lectured in Honduras  they had 500 people signed up for the seminars. There is an interest in Guatemala but the unavailability of trained analyst has stymied their development. In Cuba, ILAP has made contact with Havana professionals and is considering started some seminars.

Reaching out to these countries, possibly with the exception of Cuba, could be an excellent source of referrals. In the past before, Miami and Houston became destination cities, affluent people from the Caribbean basin frequently visited New Orleans because of its connection with the United Fruit Company. Becoming known as someone who could communicate with these visitors turned out to be a steady source of psychotherapy patients and even an occasional analytic patient.

Let me address the language issue.  Obviously if an analyst in the Gulf states is fluent in Spanish he or she has a natural advantage in working with patients or candidates from the Caribbean basin.  But many educated and/or wealthy people in these countries who might be interested in treatment or training opportunities are fully fluent in English.

Psychoanalysis is held in high esteem in Latin America. The last FEPAL congress had 1140 participants. It took place this year in September, in Cartagena, Colombia. This gives an indication of the interest in psychoanalysis in the region. There were simultaneous translations but very few North Americans attended.

What I want to stress is that there exist many international opportunities for North American analysts to be enriched by reaching out to neighboring countries and opening their vistas to other cultures. The cultural exchanges are intellectually stimulating and as an added bonus can be good sources of referrals.

Image credit:  Kmusser – Own work, all data from Vector Map., CC BY-SA 3.0,