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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021


Parallel Papers Session 2
Friday 5 July 3.30pm-4.45 pm, EEST
Paper Code: PP8

Presented Online

Psychoanalysis and its Discontents: Mission and Values in Analytic Institutes.

Presenter: Gerard Fromm
Moderator: Mal O'Connor

Since the pandemic and especially since the murder of George Floyd, there has been, in the US and to some degree elsewhere, a process of reckoning with racism – personal, social, and institutional. Psychoanalytic institutes have joined this process in a number of ways. They have atempted to bring humanistic values to bear on social policies. They have examined their own policies for ways they have been, consciously or not, part of structural barriers to diversity, equity, and inclusiveness. And they have considered the clinical dimension of a patient’s racism – how and whether to work with it.

These laudable efforts have, however, unfolded in the US in a context of societal polarization and intense reactions about – perhaps even a “transference” to - the oppressed-oppressor relationship. Passions about racism generalize to other asymmetric relationships. Long-held grievances emerge, leading to righteous rage from some and frightened silence from others. Institutional self-examination risks becoming self-destructive. Witness the intensity of difficulty in the American Psychoanalytic Association and the virulent disagreements, cancellations, and virtue-signaling on more than one list-serve.

Is this another place where “the center cannot hold”, as Yeats said one hundred years ago, in an earlier wartime and pandemic context? And if so, why? This presentation will atempt to explore the dynamics related to these questions. As they relate to psychoanalytic institutes. It will draw on case material from consultation, and it will explore the following hypothesis:

Many years ago, as managed care was making serious inroads into mental health organizations, leadership began to seek out one source of funding after the other in order to make ends meet.
In many instances, they sought this funding without consideration of the effect the new initiative would have on the organization’s mission. In other words, the tail of finances began to wag the
dog of mission, often with unfortunate consequences. Is that what is happening now, but from a different source? Is the tail of values – exceedingly important societal values, like social justice –
now wagging the dog of mission, including in analytic institutes? If so, what are the origins, implications, opportunities, and costs associated with this?

Well before “Civilization and its Discontents,” Freud wrote a leter to a minister who aspired to treat patients analytically. In it, Freud said that this man’s work “suffered from the hereditary weakness of virtue”. It was “the work of an over-decent man who feels himself obliged to be discreet”, a constraint Freud thought was “incompatible” with psychoanalysis. Instead, he said, the analyst needed to “become a bad fellow (and) transcend the the artist who buys paints with his wife’s household money or burns the furniture to warm the room for his model.” Freud called this aspect of the analyst’s devotion to mission “criminality”! This is clearly a provocative statement, but in this presentation, I will explore how it might usefully complicate the current discussion of mission and values within psychoanalytic organizations.

Biographical Summary

Jerry Fromm spent his clinical career at the Austen Riggs Center where he directed the therapeutic community and then the Erikson Institute. Jerry co-founded and is now the president of, the International Dialogue Initiative, which works to bring a psychological understanding to societal conflict. He is a Distinguished Member and former president of ISPSO, former president of the Center for the Study of Groups and Social Systems, former director of CSGSS’s Group Relations Conferences, and founder of the Erikson Institute Organizational Consultation Service. Jerry is a Fellow of the American Board and Academy of Psychoanalysis, a partner in College Health and Counseling Services Consulting, and maintains a private practice of organizational and clinical consulting. His most recent book is Traveling through Time: How Trauma Plays Itself out in Families, Organizations and Society.