Some thoughts about the transition to an online weekend conference  

Jill Savege Scharff

Because of physical distancing to combat COVID-19, the International Psychotherapy Institute (IPI) moved its April weekend conference on sex and gender and its student graduation ceremony from the usual site in Rockville to IPI’s 1000-capacity Zoom room online.  I thought it was a good decision, and I planned to be there.  I had attended a number of online Town Halls and was quite used to seeing all the attendees in their electronic squares in gallery view across multiple screens, or a large image of a single person in speaker view.  However, in the week before the conference, I was still thinking of scheduling enough time to drive up to Rockville.  I was still anticipating meeting colleagues in the flesh.

Once the conference began online, I resonated with comments about what people were missing – the time after the session to meet and greet in the hallways, the pleasure of embodied presence, giving a hug, comforting someone who had lost a friend or loved one.  Electronic social time was scheduled but was barely used.  Once these aspects were acknowledged and mourned the large group seemed able to work.  Members got used to entering their requests to speak on the chat, and the co-chairs held the center, monitored the chat and called upon participants to speak during the discussion periods. One member spoke of his hatred of physical deprivation and of having to look at his colleagues in their little boxes.  It reminded me of the Pete Seeger song written by Malvina Reynolds, “little boxes just the same.”  But each person seemed far from the same to me.  The variety of backgrounds and size of image within the frame reflected the personality of the person within.  To me, the online setting offered one great improvement.  Instead of looking at the backs of heads as people addressed the speaker or the panel in the Rockville hotel, I was looking at faces, and I could see everyone perfectly.  Although it is a 2-D image, the speaker view brought me very close to a real live person, perhaps because of the size of the image, but more likely because of the affect being expressed.  We broke into assigned small groups five times during the weekend, each group using its facilitator’s own Zoom room number, and that worked well.

People speak a lot about being fatigued by the effort of being online all day.  I felt fine on Friday.  By Saturday the relentless pace had got to me.  I needed to take part of the afternoon off to relax, get some exercise and fresh air.  I missed a presentation that was important to me, and then a small group.  Missing those was a loss I had to take because the conference schedule was too tightly packed for me and for many others.  During the conference, I got an email announcement of a conference that was to have been in Panama in October would now happen online instead. I had intended to go because of wanting to work with my colleagues in Panama, but now I faced a choice: do I want to attend a conference online in three languages?  I tried to tell myself that it will be easier to listen to just the English translation without having to tune out the language of the presenter and the interference from other headsets, and cheaper than traveling to Panama.  But for me it would be so much less enjoyable because of my particular attachment to the place and the people.  If this notice had not come in the middle of a packed conference schedule, might I have responded with more enthusiasm?

This bears on the decision I must make about attending the APsaA conference in June, now also online.  IPI’s director is asked to help ApsaA plan for that transition.  It is an honor for IPI to be recognized as having experience in reaching across a distance.  So, I should want to attend, but I am not drawn to it.  What had drawn me to IPI’s event was the subject matter, the conference design, and the object relations analytic perspective.  The weekend was organized on a theme, with participants studying, responding, discussing and developing the theme.

On Sunday, the conference had its first technical glitch.  The director worked feverishly but with an outward appearance of calm as she put in place an alternative gathering place.  Reminded of the old days with frequent technical problems when IPI teaching was frequently interrupted on the old Polycom system, David Scharff felt that current participants now knew what he and those early classes had put with.  Someone offered him “technology empathy”.  Since the director and many of those leading the current day’s events had experienced those days too, they rolled with the punches.  On this occasion, the host-administrator was locked out of the IPI Zoom room.  She could not reach the Zoom representative to arrange for a new number.   It was explained that Zoom had scheduled an update unknown to us.  The director and the administrator worked together like lightning to inform 72 participants of a switch to the director’s own Zoom room number.  The conference start was delayed by 15 minutes to allow everyone to log on, and the schedule was quickly adjusted in consultation with the conference co-chairs and session co-chairs.   We saw a fine example of grace under pressure.  The ensuing case presentation and discussion proceeded smoothly thereafter.

Last came the graduation.  The convenience of the online venue meant that lots of family members and friends from far away could attend. Faculty described the qualities of individual graduates from IPI’s psychotherapy and psychoanalytic training programs.  Students spoke of their experiences of pain, challenge, perseverance, passion, and reward. Lots of congratulations and praise for work well done was mixed in with sadness of leaving behind group members to whom people had become close over two  to four years.  Some were laughing at silly skits.  Others were in tears at the beauty of a song that captured saying good-bye to a friend who would be missed.  True, this graduation was devoid of physical copresence, but there was no lack of affect.  The closing ceremony felt like a salute to psychoanalysis, to a vibrant, sturdy organization carrying on in spite of the corona virus, a demonstration of the life force over COVID-induced death anxiety.

CORE Student Reflection on French Psychoanalysis

In preparing to write this blog on our recent weekend exploring French Psychoanalytic thought and its contribution to understanding psychotic and borderline states, I found myself worrying about using too many “I” statements in my reflections. This urge to avoid writing “I” too many times in this composition, I think speaks to the theme and tone of this past weekend. Alain Gibeault described Freud’s theory of psychosis as de-cathexis from worldly objects and the psychotic terror of being engulfed or consumed by an object. Additionally, he discussed the concept of “the blank,” a space between matter and nothingness. We then watched a recording of an institutionalized patient, François, describe murdering an elderly woman, Jeanette, whom he had cared deeply for. He described Jeanette and himself being up on separate pillars with “something growing up between us.” I was struck by the terror of this image, being alone on a pillar, surrounded by the blank, with something terrifying growing up between François and Jeanette.

This material along with Dr. Gibeault’s discussion of psychodrama led into our small group discussions. During our group affective learning, fear and safety and their relation to individuals, patients, our group, and IPI were central themes. As the group went on, I felt myself feeling strangely disengaged and detached.  Initially, I defended myself as bored.  However, upon reflection, like François I was gripped by a psychotic fear of vulnerability, of being engulfed by the group or by IPI.  I too, had in a sense de-cathected from the horror of the material and was existing in the blank.

I’d like to say that the psychodrama of our small group facilitated my re-cathexis with the material, but I found myself struggling to stay focused on Saturday as well.  On Saturday afternoon, a colleague in the CORE program gave a fascinating presentation on a boy that he had been working with. The presentation was rich with symbolic meaning and beautifully captured the theme of terror of being engulfed that was running throughout the weekend. During one of the sessions presented, the boy was playing with a dollhouse. The presenter described this patient arranging the dollhouse in such a way that there was a “sealed off room, full of drawers” upstairs. For the second time during the weekend, I was struck by the rich imagery described by a patient. During plenary, themes of fear and violence were discussed. The ambivalence concerning feeling for and treating psychotic patients, like François, and recognizing the horror of the acts that they sometimes commit. Jill Savege Scharff brought up confronting gun violence, hate crime, toxic partisan politics, and climate change that are terrifying realities of our daily lives. It was during this dialogue that the image of the “sealed room, full of drawers” popped back into my consciousness.

I wonder if my feelings of detachment and the theme of unease that seeped into the weekend conference acted as a defense against the sealed room, full of drawers inside of all of us. I began to think of these drawers as full of rage, panic, lust, and violence, terrifying emotions/drives that are walled off inside me, but in reality would take little to provoke. In relation to my small group: would these terrifying affects/emotions kill my group? In relation to psychotic or borderline patients: does the fear of violence or panic in myself incline me to split them off as different and distance myself from them? In thinking about the didactic material or engaging with IPI: am I de-cathecting at times and existing in the blank in order not to experience frightening emotions? This weekend spent thinking about French psychoanalysis and psychodrama provided the opportunity to think about borderline and psychotic states and the terrifying moods and affects associated with those states as positions along a continuum on which we are all precariously perched.

 

Thomas Ringwood Jr., NP –  1st year student in 2-year Object Relations Theory and Practice Program (CORE) December 1, 201

Analytic Student Reflection on French Psychoanalysis

During the November 8th through 10th weekend of 2019, the International Psychotherapy Institute hosted the French psychoanalyst Alain Gibeault. French analytic writing is often criticized by British and American analysts as overly abstract, lacking in clinical detail, and often difficult to follow; nonetheless, Dr. Gibeault’s presentation, particularly the video recordings of his patient Francois – a man who was legally committed to mental health treatment following his murder of an elderly woman during a psychotic break – gave us a first-hand look at how French psychoanalytic thought can be applied in the treatment of people with overwhelming psychotic terror. In Francois’s case, psychodrama was used by Dr. Gibeault and his colleagues to provide a mediator for the patient to begin to make sense of his otherwise unrepresentable mental state.  Rather than applying direct interpretation in an analytic dyad, which is the usual clinical approach in most psychoanalyses, Dr. Gibeault and his team allowed Francois to choose characters among the hospital staff to play out, in real time, the dramas that were occurring in his mind. That part of Francois that killed an elderly woman in his psychosis was re-presented to Francois in a session of psychodrama by an ‘actor-therapist’ who improvised a murderous old woman that Francois ran into while riding on a commuter train.  In another session, Francois’s brother was depicted as a carefree, somewhat envious character with whom Francois could interact – and at as much distance as the mediation of the psychodrama would allow. In this way Francois could experience aspects of murderous rage and envy, as represented by the actor-therapist, rather than having to own it as a direct aspect of himself.  In other words, rather than attempting to understand and interpret to Francois the unconscious derivatives of his intense envy and murderous rage in a two-person analytic relationship – an approach that Dr. Gibeault believed would probably be too overwhelming for Francois given his inherent engulfment and fusion anxieties that lay at the heart of his psychosis – the mediation of the multiple actors in the psychodrama allowed Francois to begin to think about his experience in a way that he could tolerate.

As I reflect on this particular weekend at IPI, I find myself drawn to the idea of the Group Affective Model as a kind of psychodrama.  The Group Affective Model – or GAM group – is a unique aspect of training at IPI that brings to life, much like in psychodrama, the often very complex theoretical and clinical material that participants are trying to digest.  Though not itself a “therapy group”, participants in small GAM groups of between four and let’s say ten individuals, are nonetheless encouraged to bring in their own affective material, often derived from their personal lives or immediate experiences of the weekend. By interacting in this way the GAM group works to understand, as a group, the different facets of the material under discussion. As such, what is learned at an IPI weekend is never only theoretical. Rather, it comes to life in some form or another as a memorable emotional experience from which any and all of the members of the group can learn – each in their own way. Given that this weekend was on the terror of non-representative states and the defensive use of psychosis as a way of negotiating the horror of experiencing psychic “nothingness”, it is not surprising that groups would get in touch with psychotic aspects of themselves as a group.  It was so in my own GAM group as well as in others’ groups that I had heard about.  This is not something to be concerned about as much as it is an opportunity to think about, particularly après coup – in the context of the theoretical material being presented over the weekend.

In thinking about the GAM group at IPI, I am also reminded of Dr. Gibeault’s discussion of the necessity of “the director” of a psychodrama (or of a GAM group, or even of an institute as a whole) as a representative of the ‘thirdness’ – or the analytic third – of the group.  The director serves as a container and a mediator, a kind of Perseus’ shield between the raw experience of group members and their distance from the material under discussion. With a good enough “director”, the experience of the psychodrama can be mediated in a way that makes it possible to appropriately reflect upon what is occurring in order that it can be learned from as an experience.  Obviously, there is nothing quite so good as a “good enough” anything. In that way, we struggle, as indeed we did once again this past weekend, to understand the ideas presented during the weekend in the context of our own unique clinical experience as well as in ourselves in ever new and enriching ways. Taken in its entirety, this was once again my experience of an IPI weekend – and one that will remain as my own experience in the learning group of analytic training at IPI over the last several years.

 

Matthew H. Rosa, M.D. – 4th Year Analytic Candidate

Alain Gibeault speaking at IPI, Saturday November 7, 2019

True to the traditions of French psychoanalysis, IPI’s visiting guest speaker Alain Gibeault, formerly secretary general of the IPA, bases his theory and clinical practice on the metapsychology of Freud. He approaches the first interview with a new patient with four questions in mind.

  1. What kind of meeting is appropriate for this patient — psychoanalytical or something else?
  2. What indications are there that a psychoanalytic approach to treatment could be useful?
  3. How do patient and analyst work together in this interview?
  4. What has triggered the request for help?

Gibeault’s intention is to explore the conscious, pre conscious and unconscious layers of the mind. In keeping with Freud’s topographical approach, he assesses the psychic functioning, faces the emotional storm, and contains the affect that arises as he works to open a psychoanalytic space, giving access to the unconscious and tracing the structural connections between superego, ego and id.

When treating the psychotic patients he sees in a clinic attached to a hospital, Gibeault, inspired by Lebovichi who introduced psychodrama to France, expands his psychoanalytic technique by including a team of seven psychodramatists (a luxury we can hardly imagine in the USA).  He also arranges for a psychiatrist to treat the patient as well, keeping medication, follow up, risk assessment, and medical responsibility separate from the psychoanalytic perspective.  The point of the profusion of therapists is to spare the patient the threat of engulfment by a single object.  Instead, the transference is spread laterally among psychoanalyst and psychodramatists and the task of containment is shared by the team. The introduction of such a third in this way reduces the threat and diminishes the defense of splitting as a defense against engulfment or intrusion by the single therapeutic object.

Neurotic patients can symbolize their distress and keep it internal and so we can treat them in private practice.  Psychotic patients cannot do that and so they need a hospital setting and a team approach that includes psychodrama to create for them an external image for contemplation.  These patients can address this externally created image more easily than trying to use words to reach insight, while dealing with the stress of looking at a single therapist.  The psychodramatists take on the characters assigned to each of them by the patient but they do not wait for role induction.  They spontaneously react in ways that do not try to recreate the patient’s experience. Instead they offer something different.  This construction of something new in the third reduces the dissociation from which the psychotic patient suffers.  Unlike Klein who teaches us to interrupt the negative transference in the first session, Gibeault recommends that we must respect idealization and only later interpret aggression. Only then is it possible to interpret the negative transference — which must be done before termination can be possible.

 

Submitted by Jill Scharff  Saturday November 9th

IPI Program Graduates

Congratulations to our IIPT (analytic) graduate Michele Kwintner and our Core (object relations) graduates, and our clinical consultation program graduates.

cake

 

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Suzanne St. John and Karen Fraley announce the names of the Clinical Consultation Program graduates.

 

 

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Graduation Dinner

 

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Caroline Sehon (IIPT chair) Michelle Kwintner (graduate) and Janine Wanlass (IPI Director)
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Two Year Core Students preparing for their last weekend small group as a cohort (Henriette van Eck, Kelly Seim, Steven McCowin, Christie Dietz)
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The graduates acknowledge the support given to them by their group leader (Lorrie Peters)
Core graduates present their group leader with a blanket made of patchwork saris.
Core graduates present their group leader with a blanket made of patchwork saris.

 

On the Body: IPI lecture by Vincenzo Bonaminio

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     Patrizia Pallaro, Vincenzo Bonaminio, and Janine Wanlass

Analysis emerged from Freud’s study of the body as he worked with women’s neurological symptomatic expressions of emotional conflict and reaction to societal attitudes about them. Alessandra Lemma has brought the body back into psychoanalysis in her study of the prepubertal body. Winnicott wrote of the importance of the integration of mind and body and thought of psychopathology as a rupture between them. IPI’s distinguished guest speaker Vincenzo Bonaminio shifts the focus to the body of the analyst and its impact on the analytic work as his stomach rumbles, as he shifts to achieve a better listening  or observing position or to ease a discomfort, as he and the patient pass on the way into or out of the waiting room, or inadvertently touch.

Vincenzo Bonaminio

Vincenzo Bonaminio

In the countertransference he described a memory and a dream of losing and reviving his daughter that he later discovered was in resonance with his patient’s trauma history and dream of infusing life into the body of a parent’s lost child. An analyst may respond impulsively to a patient’s physical presence with a care-taking action. This type of physical action is an enactment that avoids thought and feeling and yet, as Winnicott said, can provide a clue that leads right to the patient’s earliest maternal environmental failure.

From Jill Scharff