Thoughts on DAPL and Siblicide

Yesterday I was in Knoxville all day for the Appalachian Psychoanalytic Society's fall conference with Jeanne Safer who spoke on Siblings -- the family members Freud forgot. Today I'm reading reports of ongoing over-the-top attacks by police against peaceful water protectors at Standing Rock. Mainstream media prefers to focus on Trump, journalists who try to document what's happening in North Dakota get arrested, and others at the camps report that they are under surveillance and that attempts to share reports with the world are being blocked. Many accounts of human and civil rights violations against water protectors who are being arrested -- 83 of them yesterday -- make some wonder why President Obama and the Department of Justice remain silent.

All of this has set me wondering today about parallels with sibling violence and siblicide. What connected me to Standing Rock news today was Dr. Safer's discussion on Saturday of siblings doing harm to other siblings, while, in some cases, parents make excuses for the abusive sibling or otherwise fail to intervene. (Sibling violence and siblicide have been studied in humans and animals.) Several times while writing this post I felt the undertow that taboos -- such as the power and influence of sibling relationships in our lives -- generate to keep us quiet about them.

When I see things happening out in the world that media, leaders and ordinary folks don't want to talk about, I sometimes forget to subject it all to a psychoanalytic lens. Such an omission is likely one way taboos work to shut me up, after all, psychoanalytic exploration has a pretty good track record for exposing what's unseen and unspoken.

I guess this brings up a question of how any subject gets to be taboo, and, understanding that, how to think about dismantling the ones that cause huge amounts of suffering by remaining hidden. These are questions that, when I can remember to think about them, have sustained my interest in social and environmental justice work, and using psychoanalytic thinking out in the world.

I read two books this past year that have significantly expanded my thinking about collective engagement to change oppressive systems, and, in this blog, I hope to write more about what they brought up for me: Toward Psychologies of Liberation (Watkins and Shulman) and Environmental Melancholia (Lertzman).

It's Lertzman's work that I'm especially connecting with today as I consider the situation at Standing Rock with the Dakota Access Pipeline as a siblicide-in-progress. While Lertzman uses psychoanalytic ideas to explore human response to environmental degradation, I suspect that many of her discoveries can inform new ways to think about human responses to oppression of other humans based on race, gender, class and a host of other -isms and -cides.

What's going on at Standing Rock is one of those all-of-the-above deals -- ecocide, siblicide, genocide. We, the people, need to break the taboos and bring to light all processes now operating in the shadows of psyches and systems that sabotage love and justice.


More stuff to read on this:

Protest Response Puts North Dakota on the Wrong Side of History (Grand Forks Herald, 10/22/16)

Human Rights Abuses Escalate at DAPL Prayer Services in North Dakota (Huffington Post, 10/21/16)

"It's time for a grand jury" (Tom Isern, Facebook post, 10/21/16)

Obama's Legacy Rests on Whether He Stops the Dakota Access Pipeline (Indian Country Today, 10/17/16)

Why Psychology Should Be Part of the Fight Against Climate Change (Huffington Post, 1/18/16)

Terrorism, Shared Trauma and Citizenship 2.0

Less than two months after 9/11, I had the opportunity to hear Vamik Volkan speak on terrorism, religious and ethnic identity issues, and mourning over loss in the wake of this shared national group trauma. So, I couldn't be happier that Dr. Volkan will be in Knoxville on October 26th to present a conference on Terrorism and Its Effects on Politics and Society – the morning session of which is open to the public. He will focus on topics from his latest book, Enemies on the Couch: A Psychopolitical Journey Through War and Peace.

The opening chapters of Enemies on the Couch trace the evolution of psychopolitical thought from its more narrow focus on individual growth and development to expansion of our understanding of large group trauma and international relations.

In his books, Volkan writes of both popular and professional resistance to ideas about how we come to identify others as enemies or friends, how we engage in relationships with them, and how the effects of external, historical trauma are passed on to the children of those who suffered the consequences directly. But the idea of historical trauma has, for some time, also been acknowledged among people and groups who have experienced its intergenerational effects.

I became aware of this when I practiced in New Mexico in the 1990's. There, many Native Americans were already working with the notion of historical trauma to heal themselves and their communities from traumatic effects of physical, emotional, social, and spiritual genocide, endured for more than 500 years, and imposed under European and American colonialist policy.

Here in the South (and elsewhere) descendants of both slaves and slave holders now use a "transforming historical harms" framework to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the history of slavery in the United States.

Professional attitudes began to change in a concrete way, says Volkan, with the initiation of a series of dialogues facilitated by the American Psychiatric Association's Committee on Psychiatry and Foreign Affairs between Egyptians and Israelis from 1980-1985. He describes the dialogue process, and his participation as a facilitator, in fascinating, inspiring detail.

After 9/11, the International Psychoanalytic Association formed a Terror and Terrorism Study Group. In 2011, the American Psychoanalytic Association's outgoing president Prudence Gourgeuchon urged psychoanalysts to be more active in providing information regarding the human behavior behind traumatic events lest statements by people with less knowledge prevail. 

In a 2007 essay about my own shift toward using psychoanalytic ideas to understand the world beyond the consulting room, I wrote: "The space between changing the world one consciousness at a time and influencing social change on a larger scale has always seemed like a huge leap." 

Hearing Dr. Volkan in 2001 (and several times thereafter), I have relied on his work as a major source of information for my continuing professional interest in the transformation and healing of collective trauma. I also use it to inform my day-to-day citizenship, and my participation in social and environmental justice projects.

So, yes, I see knowledge of political psychology as having very practical applications. What attracts me or you to a specific issue or political position? Why do political relationships become so polarized and unmovable? What are the psychological dynamics that shape and drive relationships between leaders and followers? It’s possible to shed more light on such questions when a psychological perspective becomes part of the exploration.

More and more it seems to me that the space between changing the world one consciousness at a time and social change on a larger scale isn't so huge after all.

If you can be in Knoxville on October 26th, I hope you will join my colleagues and me to hear what Vamik Volkan has to say about terrorism -- a topic about which many Americans have fearful concerns -- and how shared traumas such as 9/11 impact our politics and social fabric. 

For more information on the conference:

If you are on Facebook, you can go to the Appalachian Psychoanalytic Society's event page for Terrorism and Its Effects on Politics and Society. People may register at the door, but can take advantage of a lower registration fee if they sign up by October 22nd.

Download the registration form for the public session, or

Download the professional participant brochure and registration form at the APS website: scroll down to the link under Part 2. (CE's available for professionals attending the full conference!)

Here are some links to Dr. Volkan's earlier books:

The Need to Have Enemies and Allies: From Clinical Practice to International Relationships (1988),

Bloodlines: From Ethnic Pride to Ethnic Terrorism (1998),

Blind Trust: Large Groups and Their Leaders in Times of Crisis and Terror (2004), and

Killing in the Name of Identity: A Study of Bloody Conflicts (2006).


Embedded link correction, January 24, 2015.

Frank Summers: Psychoanalysis in the Age of "Just Do It" | Psychology Today

I found a link to this great piece by Frank Summers on Facebook today. The post is his presidential address to APA Division 39's Spring Meeting in Boston. Here's an excerpt:

The analytic stance and Nikeism stand in stark opposition, and to see who is more popular one need only contrast Nike’s undisputed perch at the top of the shoe sales pyramid with the paucity of clinical psychology programs offering any meaningful representation of psychoanalytic ideas.  As analysts we do not “Just do it” nor are we “faster;” in fact, little is slower than a psychoanalysis.  The essence of analysis is not quick action, but the use of affective and cognitive depth to initiate meaningful action.  Psychoanalysis is a rare contra-position to Nikeism, and the Nike slogan exhorts op-position to psychoanalytic thinking.  Akin to Heidegger’s call to listen to Being, psychoanalysis is likewise a call, a call to listen to oneself, to explore the Being given to us in our experience.  Where Nikeism says ignore the world of one’s experience, psychoanalysis says that is all we have, the beacon that can be ignored only at our peril.  In psychoanalysis, one learns to listen to one’s experience in all its complexity, to explore the thought and feeling as the basis for our very human way of acting.

Read the whole post at

I just started reading Frank's new book, The Psychoanalytic Vision, which contrasts psychoanalytic psychotherapy's focus on the world of the experiencing subject with an American culture that seems to prefer and occupy -- ever more tightly -- objectivist, materialistic and quantifiable spaces.

The tension between these worldviews feels so present in the world right now. I sense it both inside the consulting room and out in the world as I try to apply what I've learned through psychoanalytic study and practice to conscious evolution, social healing, and transformation at personal and planetary scales.

I feel my own sensitivities to being objectified -- or pressures to objectify somebody else -- becoming more fine-tuned. I love that Summers hears the voice of the rebel in psychoanalysis. Already I have been able to bring some gnarly questions from my work in social, racial and environmental justice into a new light by thinking of my experiences in terms of subjective versus objective privilege. I have suspected for some years now that psychoanalysis has much to offer those who seek love, justice and liberation for all sentient beings.

So far, Summers' book is helping me to bring some of my understanding about such things into a more symbolic order.

What Happened to Obama’s Passion? -

Drew Westen's latest article in the New York Times is well worth reading -- so good that I even tweeted it to @WhiteHouse:

When Barack Obama rose to the lectern on Inauguration Day, the nation was in tatters. Americans were scared and angry. The economy was spinning in reverse. Three-quarters of a million people lost their jobs that month. Many had lost their homes, and with them the only nest eggs they had. Even the usually impervious upper middle class had seen a decade of stagnant or declining investment, with the stock market dropping in value with no end in sight. Hope was as scarce as credit.

In that context, Americans needed their president to tell them a story that made sense of what they had just been through, what caused it, and how it was going to end. They needed to hear that he understood what they were feeling, that he would track down those responsible for their pain and suffering, and that he would restore order and safety.


Westen is a professor of psychology at Emory University and the author of “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.”

After reading Westen's OpEd today, I found it interesting to review these articles from 2007, the year The Political Brain was published:

Book Review: Drew Westen's "The Political Brain" (Daily Kos)

Stop Making Sense (David Brooks)

Dissecting the Political Brain of David Brooks (Drew Westen in response to a review by David Brooks)


Arnold Mindell -- ProcessMind: A User’s Guide to Connecting with the Mind of God

Interesting article (actually, an excerpt from Arnold Mindell's book by the same name) in the May, 2011 issue of Noetic Now. Excerpt:

Today, about a century after the discoveries of quantum theory and relativity, cosmologists are still wondering about “the secret of the Old One.” Stephen Hawking and Paul Davies refer to the intelligent force Einstein sought as the “mind of God.” Some theoretical physicists hope to find this “mind” in unified field theories or related concepts. C. G. Jung, Roberto Assagioli, and other depth psychologists speak of a “collective unconscious,” the “transpersonal Self,” or some type of transcendent or “unitive” consciousness. Quoting sixteenth-century alchemists, Jung and his friend Wolfgang Pauli, a Nobel Prize-winning quantum physicist, speculated about a unified psychophysical region of experience – the “Unus Mundus.” Religions have always spoken of the design, powers, and wisdom of the universe in terms of a Self, a God, or gods.

I call Einstein’s “Old One” the processmind. By processmind I mean an organizing factor – perhaps the organizing factor – that operates both in our personal lives and in the universe. Studying and experiencing this processmind will connect the now separate disciplines of psychology, sociology, physics, and mysticism and provide new useful ways to relate to one another and the environment. The processmind is both inside of you and, at the same time, apparently connected to everything you notice . . . Processmind is in your brain yet is also “nonlocal,” allowing you to be in several places at the same time.


Elisabeth Young-Bruehl: A Perfect Storm of Prejudices

[Cross-posted from Raising Cain.]

Recently I discovered a great blog -- Who's Afraid of Social Democracy -- by psychoanalyst Elisabeth Young-Bruehl. Today she posted an article on the subject of prejudice, and I thought I'd say a few words, toss in some quotes and post a link to it here at Raising Cain.

On her blog, Young-Bruehl writes about current affairs and reflects on contemporary political issues and questions. Prior to her psychoanalytic training, Young-Bruehl was a doctoral student of the political philosopher, Hannah Arendt, and eventually wrote her biography. Young-Bruehl has also written many papers and books on gender issues, as well as a book very relevant to her blog post today, The Anatomy of Prejudices.

Since I formalized my anti-racist journey by becoming an activist in organizational anti-racism transformation, I've spent much time integrating what I'd previously discovered about human relating and relationships from my psychoanalytic training and practice. The intersection of the individual psyche and the collective mind of society has become an edge of tremendous interest and discovery for me personally and professionally.

That edge is not an either-or space: we need to know a lot about how people come to be who they are AND how the collective mind and societal systems come to be as they are if we want to get beyond racism. The individual and society co-create each other psychologically just as, in a parallel process, a baby and her mother co-create each other. If we would like to change ourselves and the systems in which we live, I believe we'll have to become aware of these complex dynamics.

I have a sense that Young-Bruehl's last two blog posts have opened doors and moved my thinking about all of this forward.

Speaking about a changing view of the nature of prejudice after World War II, Young-Bruehl says:

That decade of psychoanalytic work was extremely important because it opened up for exploration the whole domain of unconscious motivation. But, to my mind, it was also very flawed and replete with misleading generalizations. For example, in Adorno’s and Allport’s books, there is no prejudice against women because all prejudice is against minority groups and women are not a minority group. (By the same crazy logic, there would be no prejudice against blacks in South Africa because the blacks are not a minority group there…) During the Civil Rights movement of the late 1950s, the ethnocentrism synthesis began to unravel under pressure from people whose victim experience it misconstrued or overlooked. People of color pointed out that racism is not just like anti-Semitism. Look, they said, did the white people who invented tests to show the inferior intelligence of people of color also try to show the inferior intelligence of the Jews who supposedly masterminded the international Jewish banking conspiracy?

She follows the evolution of this notion further into the feminist "gender-race-class" discussions of the 1970's, but notes:

Meanwhile, prejudices continued to flourish in ever-changing appearances. Nonetheless, many hoped to be able to interpret America as a nation marching in the direction of being “post-racial,” and many hoped a “post-feminist” era was dawning because women have made considerable social progress. These hopes, it seems to me, reflect the still-prevalent confusion about prejudices and how they operate. Even if the acts and appearances that are typical of a prejudice do abate or ameliorate, the needs or unconscious purposes served by the prejudices remain –and can rise up again or reassert or take new directions as circumstances change. There’s not much lynching going on now, but huge numbers of black men are hung up in jail, and that is not very “post-racial.”

With that, I'll leave you to your own investigation of Young-Bruehl's ideas. I get uneasy sometimes excerpting from pieces that seem so coherent as Young-Bruehl's impress me, so I hope you'll read her entire article.

She references her previous post as well, and you can access that one here.

Speaker and Listener: a tale of mutual brain work

Cross-posted from my Speaking blog:

Many years ago when I first read Alan Schore's Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self, one of the ideas that blew some new doors open for me was the idea that the brains of infant and mother work together in a mutual project of creating a self. This idea has profound implications for all kinds of relationships and can inform our work toward personal and planetary healing and transformation.

Here's an excerpt from the abstract of a study that looked at nuerological detailed of mutual brain work:
Verbal communication is a joint activity; however, speech production and comprehension have primarily been analyzed as independent processes within the boundaries of individual brains. Here, we applied fMRI to record brain activity from both speakers and listeners during natural verbal communication.


The paper in filed at PNAS as open access. You can download the full text pdf here.

Further note on Schore's work: I found this first volume in Schore's now voluminous work almost overwhelming, primarily because of extensive references to studies at that time. He since has written several updated books that are much less packed and much less expensive. The page for the book linked above has links to several other of his books as well.

Some of his papers are also available online. If you are intrigued but not familiar with his work, you may want to start here and check out some of the Google search results.

Thanks to Norm Holland on the PsyArt listserv for the heads-up on the PNAS paper by Stephens, et al.

t r u t h o u t | Joe Brewer | The Death of Self-Interest Fundamentalism

So the birth place of modern market fundamentalism, in the guise of “rational choice theory”, was the military think tank that gave us the disastrous arms race. Untested and theoretical, it quickly spread throughout the highest levels of government during the tenure of Robert McNamara at the Department of Defense, then whipped through the economics departments of many prominent universities, spurred the creation of public policy analysis as a “scientific” field, and undergirded today’s global institutions of economic governance.

But things are starting to change.


Cathie's Notes: Joe Brewer's article has threads of connection (via Antonio Damasio's book, Descartes Error) to my recent post on Miki Kashtan's Empathy and Good Judgment piece at Tikkun. Brewer's article takes the discussion further into the realm of behavioral economics. Interesting stuff.

Mind Over Meds -

After J.J. left my office, I realized, uncomfortably, that somehow, over the course of the decade following my residency, my way of thinking about patients had veered away from psychological curiosity. Instead, I had come to focus on symptoms, as if they were objective medical findings, much the way internists view blood-pressure readings or potassium levels. Psychiatry, for me and many of my colleagues, had become a process of corralling patients’ symptoms into labels and finding a drug to match.

Leon Eisenberg, an early pioneer in psychopharmacology at Harvard, once made the notable historical observation that “in the first half of the 20th century, American psychiatry was virtually ‘brainless.’ . . . In the second half of the 20th century, psychiatry became virtually ‘mindless.’ ” The brainless period was a reference to psychiatry’s early infatuation with psychoanalysis; the mindless period, to our current love affair with pills. J.J., I saw, had inadvertently highlighted a glaring deficiency in much of modern psychiatry. Ultimately, his question would change the way I thought about my field, and how I practiced.


Cathie's notes: Daniel Carlat's candid article is well worth reading. He also has a great blog that you can access from Hawk's Blogroll in the left sidebar.

Some Thoughts on Miki Kashtan's Article: Empathy and Good Judgment

I really appreciated Miki Kashtan's argument yesterday in her post on empathy, emotion and reason:

The concern about empathy reflects a long tradition of valuing rationality, and the Enlightenment’s imperative to overcome instincts, passions, and emotions through exercising reason. This exclusive focus on reason applies across the board: to moral theory, to the law, to professional conduct, and to our assessment of our own choices and decisions.

I want to challenge the idea that we make better decisions without emotions.

Kashtan goes on to talk about the cross-wiring of human mental and emotional systems being explored by neuroscientists such as Antonio Damasio, author of the very readable and thought-feeling provoking book, Descartes' Error.

I happened upon Damasio's work many years ago when I became interested in the emerging field of neuro-psychoanalysis. His work and others inspired a huge shift in the way I felt-thought about who I am and how I experience being human -- alone and in relationship to other people and to nature. I think about the systemic interconnectedness often, but perhaps not often enough. That in itself speaks to the way that threads of Descartes' "I think, therefore I am" are so tightly woven into the rug of assumptions on which we daily stand, and from which we make meaning of our experiences.

That's why I'm especially grateful when other people revitalize discussion of this fundamental relationship of feeling and reason as mediated by the brain, and continue to explore contexts in which such an idea can be played with more consciously. Kashtan has done this by relating this broader discussion to the possible values of empathy as a key emotional capacity to advance social and political transformation.

Kashtan makes reference to the backdraft discussion that occurred when Barack Obama suggested that empathy is a desirable capacity for a Supreme Court judge. The fiery debate that later shot its flame toward Sonia Sotomayor left hot evidence of the national feeling about reason versus empathy in our judicial system. (See her article for some great links about this.)

I, along with fellow grassroots activists for environmental justice, encounter similar resistance to the emotional roots of reason all the time. Recently activists got some suggestions from a federal agency that offered this bullet point on public comment writing:

“Leave the heart out". The agencies are looking for facts and will ignore emotion.

They didn't leave us totally without official avenues for emotional expression, however, suggesting that we take the emotional stuff to our Senators and Representatives. Not a totally bad idea, I suppose, unless your Congressperson happens to be among those who have publicly devalued the "heart" of the matter or demonstrated profound lack of empathy.

Here's the problem I have with such categorical dismissals of empathy, of resistance to matters of heart-mind. If cognitive and emotional systems are in fact cross-wired in the brain, the natural consequences of that structure -- most of which (for most of us) are beyond conscious control -- continue to operate nonetheless. Without awareness of this, humankind can continue to believe that it's possible to carve out territories of reason and feeling that can actually be enforced. This illusion makes it possible to believe in such things as righteous exclusion, marginalization, exploitation, oppression and killing.

When we choose, on the other hand, to cultivate awareness of our inherent heart-mind wiring, we free ourselves up to look inside, to explore how we identify ourselves, and how we relate to fellow beings and to the Earth, our home. Then we can begin to insist that we be allowed to speak both heart and mind -- any time and any place -- to mediate, as Kashtan suggests, the unconscionable suffering of people and nature:

The gift of empathy is that it integrates mind and heart in the very same act as it brings together self and other. When we ignore empathy, we pay an enormous price in the form of depression, apathy, victimization, and anger on an individual level, and crime, neglect, alienation, bullying, even war, on a societal level. When we cultivate empathy, our emotional health improves, and in addition also our sense of hope, and our capacity, both individually and collectively, to act as moral agents in addressing the enormous challenges facing us today.

If we can help each other get that far, maybe we can entertain an even wider-scale, collective integration of spiritual dimensions with those of body(brain)-mind-emotions.