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  • Saturday, June 11, 2016 8:32 AM | Anonymous

    Jennifer Kunst, Ph.D., author of Wisdom from the Couch: Knowing and Growing Yourself from the Inside Out, has posted the following brief article on PsychologyToday.com:

    Why Politics Are So Hard: A Psychoanalyst's Perspective:

    Understanding the Influence of Unconscious Processes in Groups

    In recent weeks, I have been in several groups in which the question was asked, “How can psychoanalysts speak to the psychological dynamics at play in modern politics?” There is a felt need for a better understanding of the unconscious forces that make politics so divisive, explosive, and often unproductive. I feel fortunate to have this platform to share a perspective, informed by my understanding of the human psyche through the lens of psychoanalysis, from a distance and without commentary about anyone in particular.

    Why are politics so hard? Put simply, politics are hard because people are hard. People are hard because we are unknowingly driven by unconscious forces. This is true for those who seek to govern as well as those who will vote to elect them. While unconscious forces are at play in all human interactions, the intensity of these dynamics is galvanized when anxiety and power are involved on a large scale.

    In politics, deep personal and societal anxieties are activated. The opportunity for change in leadership sheds light on these anxieties and is a catalyst for important conversations. In election periods, we get an opportunity to take a look at the struggles that face ordinary people with regard to their finances, health, education, race and cultural relations, human rights, quality of life, and so on. Those who are struggling in such periods look for someone to help them find security. Those who are successful look for someone to keep it that way. Fear of survival and fear of loss are powerful human motivators.

    Psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion studied how groups operate in times of stress and anxiety. He identified a tendency for groups to devolve into unconscious operations in which constructive working-together is thwarted. He called these groups “basic assumption groups,” in which the group acts like a closed system to protect itself. In such a closed system, new ideas, creative problem-solving, and progress are not valued. Instead, the group unconsciously over-values what it already “knows”—and what it “knows” is a very narrow slice of reality suffused with anxiety and projection.

    Bion identified three types of basic assumption groups, and two are clearly evident in modern politics. One is the “fight-flight” group, in which the group sees its main task as identifying an enemy and fighting or fleeing from it. You can tell when this type of group is operating by its rhetoric: people and issues are split into good-bad, us-them, right-wrong, insiders-outsiders, and so on. This splitting-and-projective process allows us to feel good about ourselves—at least temporarily—while distancing ourselves from the bad by controlling it or getting rid of it. The problem is “not us” and it is located “out there.”

    While this kind of splitting-and-projection may be part of the politics show—as an intentional way to heighten interest and get our attention—it also preys on our worst fears and basest human impulses. Identify someone to hate or blame and you bring a group together in a powerful way. Rarely a productive way, but a powerful way.

    Bion identified a second type of basic assumption group which he called the “dependency” group. In this state, the group unconsciously seeks a powerful and charismatic leader who will relieve them of their anxieties. This leader is seen as a savior, an omnipotent figure who knows what is really going on and has all the answers. The dependency group process is particularly insidious because the group and its members do not see themselves as needing to actively participate in solving their own problems, nor do they see the complexity of the difficulties at hand. Thinking is exchanged for magical solutions.

    These unconscious ways of operating as groups are not new; human history is replete with examples in politics, government, religion, and culture. But I think that the temptation to operate in these ways is being fueled rather than tempered in American society today. Ambitions to get elected, maintain control, and improve ratings fan the flames of our natural tendency toward splitting, projection, envy, and greed.

    Bion contrasted the “basic assumption group” with what he called the “work group.” In the work group, the members gather together to accomplish a specific task. They are goal- and achievement-oriented, able to manage unconscious anxiety and impulses without being taken over by them. Work groups operate with restraint, consider the complexities of reality, learn from experience, exercise patience, tolerate differences, and place stock in the common good. The work group shows maturity, civility, and sensibility.

    Our culture tends not to value the attributes of the work group. These attributes are not sexy; they do not offer quick fixes. They don’t get ratings; they don’t stoke intense emotions. It is difficult for people who operate by work group values to get elected in this day and age, and those who operate by such values may not have the stomach for modern politics anyway. For those who do succeed, it is often hard for them to find like-minded colleagues and broad support to constructively move forward.

    So, given these powerful unconscious forces, what are we to do? There are no simple solutions, but consider this general idea. One by one, person by person, we need to influence our group consciousness to deal more constructively with our group unconsciousness. That may sound like an odd way to say it, but think about it seriously. We must recognize the unconscious forces that drive us in order to deal with them more constructively. This is essentially what Freud meant when he said that psychological health is found in making the unconscious conscious or “where Id was, Ego shall be.” The shift from an impulsive, infantile mindset to a more considered, mature mindset is the same as the shift from a basic assumption group to a work group mentality.

    Politics are hard, yes. People are hard, yes. But there is work to be done and it can be done, not just on Capitol Hill but in our individual and group consciousness. “Bit by bit,” as psychoanalyst Melanie Klein would say, we are each responsible to work together to make it better.

    Copyright 2016 by Jennifer L. Kunst, PhD


  • Friday, June 10, 2016 6:07 AM | Anonymous

    Volney Gay has recently posted the following commentary on the Religion News Service:

    (RNS) On the evening of June 17, 2015, a white man joined a prayer group at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, S.C. After talking with the African-American group for an hour, he pulled out a handgun and systematically shot 10 people, killing nine, including the senior pastor, Clementa C. Pinckney, who was also a state senator. According to news accounts, the killer waited for the members to pray before shooting them. The brutality of this crime — and the racial hatred the killer announced online and spewed at his victims — galvanized Americans everywhere.

    Because the killer had earlier posed with a Confederate battle flag and affiliated with racist groups, numerous people urged the South Carolina governor to ban the flag from the Legislature, where it had flown since 1962. On June 22, five days after the church killings, Gov. Nikki Haley called for the flag to be removed from the Capitol.

    Two questions emerge from this story:

    1. Why was the Confederate States of America flag flying at a state capitol?

    It seems strange that a battle flag from a rebellion against the United States would be celebrated by an American state 150 years after that rebellion failed. No American state flew Union Jacks 150 years after the English lost their war with the American Colonies. Stranger still is that many Americans, loudly proclaiming their love of country, also love a battle flag used to rally those who wished to destroy that country. How can we understand this oddity?

    The answer is that raising the battle flag in Charleston portrayed the Confederacy as a fledgling state that sought freedom. According to this story, the bombardment of Union forces at Fort Sumter in 1861 was like the Declaration of Independence in 1776. That sentiment fuels the delusion that the Civil War was about an abstract idea — states’ rights — rather than the defense of a material advantage — the ownership of human beings.

    A delusion cannot be maintained without obsessively proclaiming its truth. In 1861, before the Civil War, Southern authorities made themselves clear: President-elect Abraham Lincoln threatened to curtail the spread of slavery, the mainstay of their wealth. That was intolerable, and so secession and war were justified.

    In 1865, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and other Southerners fabricated a propaganda masterpiece, arguing that slavery was not the major cause of the rebellion. Their centerpiece was the idealization of Southern soldiers and Southern leaders, especially Robert E. Lee. Endless discussions of battles, guns and tactics have flowed since then. Immersed in this tide of brilliant evocations, one could come to love the men (and the flag) under which they fought and died with such courage.

    2. Why did it take the murder of innocent people — at prayer, in a church — to motivate South Carolina authorities to remove the flag?

    Hypnotized by the lost cause of the Civil War, those under its spell could not awaken without the shock of wanton cruelty inflicted on innocent victims. The murders at Emanuel AME Church provided that shock. A deranged young man, who wrapped himself in a Confederate flag, chose to murder people who were black and who were praying, in a famous black church to which he was invited.

    For Christians, this attack on the perfectly innocent is identical to the attack on Moses as an infant, the threats against Jesus as a young child and the crucifixion of the perfectly innocent Christ. The idealization of Southern heroes was so strong it required the sacrifice of innocent blood to break it.

    That fact is part of our continuing American tragedy.

    (Volney Gay is professor of religious studies, psychiatry and anthropology at Vanderbilt University. His new book, On the Pleasures of Owning Persons: The Hidden Face of American Slavery, is scheduled for release this summer)



  • Saturday, June 04, 2016 12:58 PM | Anonymous

    Jane Hall, the author of Deepening the Treatment (1998) and Roadblocks on the Journey of Psychotherapy (2004) has posted the following piece on the website of the American Psychoanalytic Association

    Q: What kind of work do you do?

    A: I'm a psychoanalyst.

    Q: I thought that was dead. Who can afford to go lie on a couch five times a week where the shrink hardly speaks and nothing happens! And wasn’t Freud proven wrong anyway

    <read more>

  • Saturday, June 04, 2016 12:48 PM | Anonymous

    Harold Blum, a past Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association and author of more than 170 psychoanalytic papers and several books, posted this article on the website of the American Psychoanalytic Association:

    Freud revolutionized the understanding and treatment of mental disorders. He created the psychoanalytic theory of personality.    But beyond this, he profoundly changed our understanding of humanity, thought and culture.   Freud, like Darwin, disturbed the sleep of the world by revealing hitherto unpalatable, but fundamental, truths about human nature.

    <read more>

  • Saturday, May 07, 2016 8:12 AM | Anonymous

    Graduating students and faculty of the Nashville Advanced Psychodynamic Psychotherapy program gathered for a celebration dinner at 1808 Grille on the 160th anniversary of Freud's birth.

    Congratulations to Brian Fuller, M.D., Chris Karcher, Psy.D., Kent Kreiselmaier M.A., Laura Rosser Kreiselmaier, Ph.D., Ira Philips, M.D., and Dotty Tucker, Ph.D. for completing the two-year certificate APP program.


    (From left: Fuller, Philips, Karcher, Tucker, Kreiselmaier, and Kreiselmaier)


    The celebratory dinner at 1808 Grille: (From left: Ira Philips, M.D., Jeff Binder, Ph.D., Volney Gay, Ph.D., Tom Campbell, M.D., Barbara Moss, J.D., Diana Finlayson, LCSW, Bill Kenner, M.D.)

  • Thursday, March 24, 2016 8:10 PM | Anonymous

    The newest of Volney Gay's articles on slavery in recent film is available on the Huffington Post. You can find it by clicking here.

  • Monday, February 22, 2016 8:58 PM | Anonymous

    Volney Gay has posted an article on HuffPost Media: "Slavery in Recent American Films: 12 Years a Slave" that is the first in a series of four.

  • Saturday, February 13, 2016 9:06 PM | John Waide (Administrator)

    Mihaela Bernard, has posted the following at blogs.psychcentral.com

    If there is one thing that almost all of my patients speak about in psychoanalytic psychotherapy in one shape or form, it’s LOVE. Am I really lovable? How do I make my relationship work? Why can’t I find a stable partner? Is there something I am doing wrong? Sound familiar? Maybe you are one of the few people out there, who doesn’t ask themselves these questions.

    Either way, we all NEED to feel loved, especially on Valentine’s Day. Love, sex, fantasies and relationships are on our minds today consciously AND unconsciously. If we’re being honest, when it comes to sex and love, Sigmund Freud got some things wrong (i.e. there is no such thing as a clitoral orgasm), BUT he did get several things right. The American Psychoanalytic Association shares with us what they are:

    7 Things Sigmund Freud “Nailed” About Sex & Love


    In the graphic: “Freud” by Nucleo Editorial & “Love” by Sheila Tostes on Flickr.com


    1) Sexuality is Everyone’s Weakness – and Strength: Sex is a prime motivator and common denominator for all of us. Even the most prudent, puritanical-appearing individuals may struggle greatly against their sexual appetites and expression. For evidence one need only look to the many scandals that have rocked the Vatican and fundamentalist churches alike. Freud observed this prurient struggle in men and women early on in Victorian Vienna. But our sexuality defines us in healthy and altogether essential ways too. If you don’t believe your Freudian therapist, just ask Samantha Jones, from HBO’s Sex and the City.

    2) Every Part of the Body is Erotic: Freud knew that human beings were sexual beings right from the start. He took his inspiration from the baby nursing at the mother’s breast to illustrate the example of a more mature sexuality, saying, “No one who has seen a baby sinking back satiated from the breast and falling asleep with flushed cheeks and a blissful smile can escape the reflection that this picture persists as a prototype of the expression of sexual satisfaction later in life.” He knew, too, that sexual excitation is not restricted to genitalia, as pleasure is achieved through erotic attachment to potentially any idiosyncratically defined area of the body. Even today many people have great difficulty accepting this idea.

    3) Homosexuality is Not A Mental Illness: He noted that gay people are often distinguished by especially high intellectual development and ethical culture. In 1930, he signed a public statement to repeal a law that criminalized homosexuality. And in his famous letter to a mother wishing to cure her son of homosexuality, Freud wrote that, “Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation; it cannot be classified as an illness”. This was in 1935.

    4) All Love Relationships Contain Ambivalent Feelings: Among Freud’s various discoveries was the ambivalence involved in all close and intimate relationships. While we may consciously feel genuine and realistic loving towards a spouse, partner, parent or child, things are never exactly what they seem to be. In the world of the unconscious, beneath even the most loving and caring involvement are feelings, fantasies, and ideas that are negative, hateful, and destructive. Freud recognized that this mixture of love and hate in close relationships is part of human nature and not necessarily pathologic.

    5) We Learn to Love from our Early Relationships with Parents and Caregivers: Our early relationships with parents and caregivers help us to form a “love map” that persists throughout our lives. This is sometimes referred to as “transference”. Freud pointed out that when we find a love object we are actually “re-finding” it. Hence the often recognized phenomenon of individuals who select partners that remind them of their mother/father. We’ve all seen it.

    6) Our Loved One Becomes a Part of Ourselves: Freud noted that the characteristics, beliefs, feelings and attitudes of those we love become incorporated into ourselves–part of the psyche. He termed this process, “internalization”. His conception of the depth of connection between people is contained in such expressions as referring to our loved one as “my better half.”

    7) Fantasy is an Important Factor in Sexual Excitement: Freud observed that sexual excitement comes from three directions: the external world (relationships, sexual history), the organic interior (sex hormones) and mental life (sexual fantasies). In our sexual fantasies we often conjure up all kinds of strange and “perverse” scenarios which add to sexual excitement and hopefully lead to climatic pleasure. This is quite normal and it doesn’t mean that we actually want to engage in such scenarios (or maybe we do). Think about it, Valentine’s Day is a sexual and romantic fantasy. Many of us love the day, others loathe it, some are ambivalent and scared. All perfectly normal. So choose to engage or don’t.


  • Thursday, February 04, 2016 6:41 AM | John Waide (Administrator)

    The "Couch" blog of the New York Times, on 2 Feb 2016 features an account by Steven Reisner of his final session with his former analyst, Martin Bergmann.

    Reisner, Steven. (2016-02-02) "Just One More Question, "New York Times"


  • Tuesday, February 02, 2016 6:10 AM | Anonymous

    The Nashville Center for Psychoanalysis & Psychodynamic Psychotherapy (NC3P), formerly known as the  Nashville Psychoanalytic Study Group, is developing a new website. Built on the "Wild Apricot" platform (WildApricot.com), this new site will allow for dynamic content, membership management, and much much more. Stay tuned for more developments.

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