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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Reflections on Ethical Issues in Psychoanalytic and Psychological Organizations: The IPA / Lobo-Cabernite and APA / Guantanamo Scandals

It is a well known understanding that psychoanalysis and, in fact, the human mind functions best in an atmosphere of freedom, both internal and external. Thus, when psychological and psychoanalytic institutions and their members abide within circumstances of tyranny and oppression, the organizational and individual well-being becomes compromised. What happens when organizations, whose mission is based in alleviating human suffering become, themselves, indirect agents of autocratic duress and threat; antithetical to their own stated values, and what mechanisms might facilitate change? Between the years 1964 and 1985, Brazil was governed by a military dictatorship controlling the autonomy and liberty of its citizens. At the time, under the auspices of the International Psychoanalytic Association, two major societies existed, Rio I and Rio II, founded by immigrants from England and Germany respectively, at the behest of Ernest Jones. It came to the attention of the IPA in 1973 that a candidate, Amilcar Lobo MD, an analysand of Rio II's president Dr. Leao Cabernite, was working for the army and was associated with torturing political prisoners in an effort to extract information which could be helpful to the regime. There ensued a multi-year and multi-governance intrigue involving the Rio institutes and the IPA and some very notable figures in psychoanalytic history which suggested scandal, complicity, inhumane treatment and dismissal of the very values that psychoanalysis was founded on. It was not until nearly a decade after the turn of the century that there seemed some resolution to these troubles. In July of 2015 an independent review report was released by a legal office in New York concerning American Psychological Association involvement in and probable collusion with enhanced interrogations by the US military at Guantanamo Bay. While many in the organization seemed to know little about these events occurring between 2002 and 2005 or later, it became clear that governance of the organization had indirectly supported and participated with torture of enemy prisoners by a series of omissions and commissions and had suppressed much evidence of such over months and years. By aligning with the Department of Defense and the CIA in an extremely narrow definition of what constitutes torture, writing and re-writing policy and ethical guidelines to protect those psychologists working in torture sites and by refraining from condemnation of non member psychologists known to engage in 'enhanced' interrogations, the organization appeared to sustain reprehensible activities. Despite the infamous research done by its own members Milgram and Zimbardo short decades beforehand and in the face of its own stated mission, the APA became the linchpin for a program for purposeful generation of pain and torment, ostensibly to obtain militarily valuable information.Readings of the events of these two matters give a sense of incestuous relations and regression to a more primitive state of mind where all is collapsed into a feculent mass without coherence, despite repeated struggles for independent, clear headedness. 'Always Forget' at times replaced the familiar refrain 'Never Forget' and initiated the transmission of suppression through generations of clinicians. Rather than achieving a more consistently sophisticated level of resolution, defensive maneuvers of denial, splitting, distortion and repression are demonstrated in the activities of these organizations as they succumb to the seductions or coercions of the social milieu within which they germinated and fermented and within which the Father failed.However, in both cases, an external element (an ombudsman, a mediator, an onlooker, a spy) arose, was actualized and has driven the monster out from the fog and shadows into the light where growth might once again ensue.