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)


HB 1840 is nanny-state meddling and legalized assault against Tennessee's LGBTQIA+ communities

The practice of psychotherapy is not for sissies. An agreement to engage in a therapeutic relationship becomes, in many instances, an invitation for one human being to accompany another into the darkest, most terrifying spaces in the cosmos: the depths of the human psyche. It's a private space, the boundary of which is held and protected by the therapist so that the patient can explore those depths as far as they choose to without harm.

That's why I find myself at odds these days with the Tennessee Legislature and with Governor Haslam, who recently signed HB1840 -- the Counseling Discrimination bill -- into law. With his refusal to veto this bill, Gov. Haslam took us outside the boundaries of reasonable rules of practice into nanny-state meddling and legalized assault against the LGBTQIA+ community.

The state of Tennessee requires that I have a license to practice therapy. To maintain that license I have to play by the rules, which include completing a minimum number of continuing education (CE) hours every year. Not that many years ago, rules for professional counselors, marriage and family therapists and pastoral counselors were amended to require that 3 clock hours of professional ethics be included in the total number of hours required in each 2-year license renewal cycle.

Ironic, isn't it. My practice board (the members of which are generally appointed by the Governor) seems to value ethics competency enough to call them out specifically in the rules. Yet the Governor and legislators in Tennessee can make a law that specifically invalidates the codes of ethics for which professionals are held accountable.

Why do we have professional practice boards? Here's what the state of Tennessee says:

The mission of each board is to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of Tennesseans by requiring those who practice health care professions within this state to be qualified.

The mission of each board is to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of Tennesseans by requiring those who practice health care professions within this state to be qualified. - See more at: https://www.tn.gov/health/section/health-professional-boards#sthash.e3MVE7yX.dpuf
The mission of each board is to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of Tennesseans by requiring those who practice health care professions within this state to be qualified. - See more at: https://www.tn.gov/health/section/health-professional-boards#sthash.e3MVE7yX.dpuf
The mission of each board is to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of Tennesseans by requiring those who practice health care professions within this state to be qualified. - See more at: https://www.tn.gov/health/section/health-professional-boards#sthash.e3MVE7yX.dpuf

In other words, professional rules and standards are meant to protect the citizens using professional services. So why did Gov. Haslam sign a bill that changes the rules to protect therapists, instead, thus demonizing a specific subset of citizens?

Of course, supporters still insist that the bill also protects citizens needing counseling services.

Just days before Gov. Haslam signed HB 1840 into law, NPR's Steve Inskeep talked him on Morning Edition's special broadcast from Knoxville. During the interview, Haslam posed a question that I think is crucial to the whole discussion on HB 1840:

HASLAM: So on the therapist bill - I mean, the American Counseling Association says that you should always counsel from a valueless position. In other words, you don't put your own values into the conversation. You're there to help. I personally wonder, like - I think regardless of whether you're a religious person or not, everybody comes into every conversation with a particular worldview and things that you believe are right or wrong. And so I think the question is can you counsel from a totally non-value-based position?

When I heard him say this, I actually gave Haslam a spontaneous thumbs-up. What a great question! It goes right to the heart of the whole discussion about HB 1840. How can you counsel from a totally non-value-based position?

If you are a mental health professional, you have likely (I hope!) given huge amounts of time to study, contemplate, and consult with experienced practitioners on this very question. You think about the answer from your first day of professional training until you retire from practice...and maybe even beyond that. Really, can a human being do anything from a totally non-value-based position?

My answer is, we can't.

What we can do, though, is to cultivate awareness of our own values and worldviews. We can discover from the patient what they need to make the therapeutic space safe enough for them to do their psychological work. We can learn how to respectfully explore the subjective experience of people we see, rather than make people into objects. We can stay aware of the thoughts and feelings that arise when we're with someone, and explore these in self-analysis and with peers and supervisors to identify biases and unhealed aspects of ourselves that may create barriers to healing for the patient.

A decision about whether or not we can work together is best made collaboratively by me and the person seeking help. The standards of practice in my profession have always included ways to help people find the best care possible, even if it isn't from me. Respectful referral in a way that does not harm the patient is not a big mystery to those of us who do this work. We don't need interference from politicians to get it done.

One of the best ways we, as helpers, can be professionally accountable to the public is to take full responsibility for our own psychological health and development. That includes personal work that can take us into the dark and terrifying spaces of our own psyches.

Therein lies the gift, I think, that mental health practitioners of all kinds can offer to the world. Doing such work with ourselves and others allows us to see that discovery and full integration of human experience, no matter how dark and terrifying, is possible. Such a process, for one thing, liberates us from the inevitability of projecting our own fears onto others, seeing them as real, then needing to enact hateful, discriminatory legislation to protect us from terrors we have only imagined as out there.

 

See these related articles:

Counseling bill detrimental to clients' health (Letitia Flores, May 2, 2016 / Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Message from ACA CEO Richard Yep Regarding Tennessee HB1840 (American Counseling Association, April 27, 2016)

TN's HB 1840 Negatively Impacts the Mental Health of LGBTQ Youth (Statement from The Trevor Project)

Bill Would Discriminate Against Vulnerable Patients (Dianne Bradley, April 5, 2016 in The Tennessean)


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 www.psychologytoday.com

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.


Daniel Stern, Who Studied Babies’ World, Dies at 78 - NYTimes.com

Sad news...I read Dr. Stern's Interpersonal World of the Infant very early in my graduate work and psychoanalytic training, and continue to appreciate his work...

Dr. Daniel Stern, a psychiatrist who increased the understanding of early human development by scrutinizing the most minute interactions between mothers and babies, died on Nov. 12 in Geneva. He was 78.

The cause was heart failure, said his wife, Dr. Nadia Bruschweiler Stern.

Dr. Stern was noted for his often poetic language in describing how children respond to their world — how they feel, think and see. He wrote one of his half-dozen books in the form of a diary by a baby. In another book, he told how mothers differ psychologically from women who do not have children. He coined the term “motherese” to describe a form of communication in which mothers are able to read even the slightest of babies’ emotional signals.

Read more at www.nytimes.com


Some thoughts on the neurobiology of activism and social change

I got a link to a journal article this morning that inspired me to make note of some ideas about activism and social change that I've been exploring. Here's the abstract:

Brain-to-brain coupling: a mechanism for creating and sharing a social world

Cognition materializes in an interpersonal space. The emergence of complex behaviors requires the coordination of actions among individuals according to a shared set of rules. Despite the central role of other individuals in shaping one's mind, most cognitive studies focus on processes that occur within a single individual. We call for a shift from a single-brain to a multi-brain frame of reference. We argue that in many cases the neural processes in one brain are coupled to the neural processes in another brain via the transmission of a signal through the environment. Brain-to-brain coupling constrains and shapes the actions of each individual in a social network, leading to complex joint behaviors that could not have emerged in isolation.

via www.sciencedirect.com

I first became aware of the notion of interacting human brains in the late 1990's when I read Allan Schore's Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self: The Neurobiology of Emotional Development (1994). Schore's thesis here was that our early social environment, mediated by our caregivers, directly influences the evolution brain structure that is responsible for our future socio-emotional development (p. 62). Since then, Schore and others have developed such ideas extensively, and in 2012 many practitioners are learning to apply this knowledge in their clinical work.

In one sense I found Schore's book intimidating: 600+ pages, heavily referenced, and almost seeming to be written in code (at that time, my interest in neuroscience at this depth was just emerging). But in many places throughout these pages, my recognition and understanding of the profound nature of these ideas was intuitive. I embraced them, and have remained supercharged to explore them further.

I've especially been interested in how this idea pops up in multiple disciplines of knowledge, and how that information eventually gets translated for a multidisciplinary audience, i.e. how this idea has evolved, and how it is (or is not) being integrated into the practice of conscious evolution. More recently my focus has been on how neuroscience might inform the work of activists in social, racial, economic and environmental justice as they encounter the common spaces of their own emotional development and the emotional life of groups, organizations, and nations. In my own experience as an activist, I have found reflection on neurobiological underpinnings of human affective and cognitive systems to be invaluable.

As I see it, this is but one arena of human life in which the idea that "the neural processes in one brain are coupled to the neural processes in another brain" might have significant consequences for our success at creating a society that is just for all of its members, and simultaneously supports the evolutionary process of the living systems of Earth as a whole.

A big question in these challenging times is this: will the multi-brained human collective choose to take an evolutionary leap that reverses the course of destruction we've imposed on our Earth-home, or will we choose a devolutionary path that could well end the existence of our species on this planet? Nature itself teaches us that when an ecological system is stressed, greater cooperation among species improves the chances for sustainable conditions for life. Human beings have an option of making cooperation more conscious and intentional. If brain-to-brain coupling among humans indeed shapes the actions of individuals in social networks and leads to complex emergent behaviors, that's important to explore.

The bulk of the article by Hasson, et. al., digs way down into details of brain-to-brain coupling mechanisms. However, their conclusion expands outward to broader territories of possibility that were stimulated within me just reading their abstract. The call of the authors for "a shift from a single-brain to a multi-brain frame of reference" would, (in many fields, I think) serve our species (and others) well as we decide our collective direction at this evolutionary crossroads.

 


IN MEMORIAM: ELISABETH YOUNG-BRUEHL

Ouch! I had really enjoyed reading Elisabeth Young-Bruehl's blog -- Who's Afraid of Social Democracy? -- for the past year or so, and had subscribed to it via email to be notified of new posts. She wrote about politics and culture in our modern world with a psychoanalytic eye on things. It also seemed to me that she managed to embed a clear, vital spirit in her writing, which is why the news of her death took me so much by surprise, I think. Today, Dominique Browning cross-posted a tribute on Young-Bruehl's own blog, and I thought I'd share it here.

On Thursday night I went to a performance of Philip Glass' opera Satyagraha, about the early life of Gandhi. I left in a trance, spellbound by the music and the puppetry. In front of Lincoln Center a large crowd had gathered; it took me a moment to recognize the barricades, the police vans lining Broadway, the gorgeous blue-green sheen of a large puppet of the Statue of Liberty, covering her eyes in shame, or was it misery? It was a peaceful demonstration; the protestors were chanting; it seemed as if sidewalk had become proscenium. The audience surged forward for another performance. Several people were standing at the entrance to the opera house, giving away copies of a broadsheet: The Occupied Wall Street Journal. I took one, and went home.

I was restless that night, even though it was late; I couldn't sleep. Glass's music is lyrical and lulling and I kept humming fragments that bubbled up. So I sat and read The Occupied Journal. I began thinking, intensely, of my friend Elisabeth, who has written so much about revolution and democracy. Elisabeth was due to arrive on Sunday for a week of lectures and research work in the Winnicott archives, an enormous project into which she had just thrown herself with her usual whole-hearted, single-minded absorption. I kept thinking, as I read the Occupied, how much she would enjoy the essays in the paper--the entire movement--and how much I would enjoy talking to her about its profound significance. I set the old-fashioned broadsheet on top of a pile of books and magazines I had put aside to share with her when she arrived.

Early the next morning came the terrible, choked phone call from Elisabeth's beloved spouse, Christine Dunbar, that Elisabeth had suddenly collapsed and died as they were walking home from a concert.

Read the whole post at www.slowlovelife.com

You can also read Browning's tribute at Who's Afraid of Social Democracy?

 


What Happened to Obama’s Passion? - NYTimes.com

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.

via www.nytimes.com

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)

 


Joel Weinberger: The Dark Side of the Political Personality Redux: Weiner, Schwarzenegger, and Edwards

I haven't had time to post much lately, but questions about political personalities have certainly have certainly been on my mind the past few weeks. I generally find the media's obsession with stories such as Donald Trump, Sara Palin, Newt Gingrich, John Edwards and Anthony Weiner have recently inspired annoying. But looking at such things from a perspective of psyche and culture is much less so for me. That's why I found this piece by Joel Weinberger--in response to the coverage of Schwarzeneggar, Edwards and Weiner--interesting enough to post as a link:

Let me briefly review the psychological and emotional reasons that can lead to this kind of behavior and why politicians are more likely to have these characteristics. The interested reader is also referred to my previous column for a bit more detail. Space prevented then and prevents now a comprehensive review but here it is in a nutshell: There are four psychological factors that make this behavior likely; politicians are likely to have all four. These are: Narcissism, Power Motivation, High Risk Taking, and a False Self.

via www.huffingtonpost.com

When I'm thinking about behavior of leaders and those who follow them, I find the works of Kohut, Winnicott (quoted by Weinberger in his article) and Lacan (now that I've thought more about his theories) to help organize my contemplations.

Weinberger does not include a link to his earlier article on John Edwards, so I'll include it  here.