Psychoanalysis, Obama and Education Speech

As a psychoanalyst working therapeutically with high school students at an alternative high after their expulsion from the regular high
school, I am alarmed by these irrational reactions to President Obama
speaking directly to high school students about the importance of hard
work and and staying in school.
Our Analytic Service to Adolescents Program (ASAP), a joint program of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis and Morton Alternative High School (visit http://www.chicagoanalysis.org) focuses on emotional difficulties usually related to trauma, that interfere with students wanting to work hard, and graduate. Many are the first in their families to do so. Is there anyone, Republican or Democrat who could be against that?

I fear that since the election of President Obama we are operating out of fear giving way to irrational responses. With two wars, severe economic stress, and uncertainty about the future, the President has become the object of this fear and subsequent rage. Our president is not the enemy, but anxiety about the unknown or uncertain future is.

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Psychoanalysis Hits the Streets: A letter to the New York Times

Re: Well-Behaved Street-Corner Sculpture
7.24.09

As a psychoanalyst committed to taking psychoanalytic ideas out into the world, especially to address social issues, I loved your article about outdoor sculpture that included Franz West’s “The Ego and the Id.” The piece is on the street and interactive—viewers, especially children, can sit at its base. With bright colors and twenty foot loops, it is lively, alive and connected to the community around it. The caricature of the analyst sitting back and disconnected from his couch bound patient or the world, is as old as outdoor sculpture only about heroes, as the article describes. And where does Mr. West, the artist, live, “love and work?” In Vienna, of course, where another fairly well known artist of the mind once lived and worked around the turn of the century.

Mark D. Smaller, Ph.D; Chairman, Committee on Social Issues, American Psychoanalytic Association

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Our Fascination with Michael Jackson: A Psychoanalyt’s Perspective

Bob Herbert’s column in the New York Times today (“Behind the Façade,” 7/04/09) was one of the first I have read that at least wondered about the compelling fascination of the public and the press with Michael Jackson’s death. Herbert believes that behind the fantasy or façade of the celebration of Jackson and his music, there is a denial of the reality of this life that involved child abuse and generally a tragic life. Herbert concludes, “As with many things, we don’t want to know.”

It is striking that amidst two wars and one of the worst economic downturns in our history with rampant unemployment disrupting individual and families’ lives, the lead stories are about Jackson’s alleged addiction to prescription drugs, whether his ex-wife will want custody of their children, and how many thousands of people will attend his memorial service. Is it really easier to think about those things than the real problems of our everyday lives? Probably yes.

What was or is it about Michael Jackson with which many identify remains so compelling? Maybe something about the fact that we watched him grow from a childhood star to adulthood, even as his personal life unraveled—a sort of precursor to our culture’s desire for the current “reality” shows—is par of it. We saw the Jackson Five skyrocket to fame during the early 1970’s, a family from Gary, Indiana making out of the pollution and poverty at the foot of Lake Michigan next to Chicago. Yet as the years went on, the dysfunction and problems of this ‘successful” family became known, we could see that talent, fame and fortune do little to address that dysfunction. Isn’t that something we are all aware of but sometimes deny? Children are used, if not exploited for the benefit of others. That is a common story that keeps psychoanalysts in business.

Combine this with the brilliant music, the dancing, the performances and the videos and we begin to see how intense feelings are stirred and might be what is behind the attention paid to this the fallen icon. President Obama said that Michael Jackson’s music is what he and many of us grew up with, yet even he was quick to acknowledge the problems in Jackson’s personal life. Though Farrah Fawcett died only five hours before Jackson, and also with fame and a personal life filled with domestic abuse, drugs and personal pain, hers was not enough for public consumption. The cover of people magazine only gave her a small corner photo on its cover compared to Jackson.

Herbert is on to something in terms of the denial of the realities of Jackson’s life, but he must also consider that to some degree it is a kind of denial we all at times need. Realities are sometimes too hard to do otherwise.

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See You in September, or Maybe Not: State Deficits and Summer School Cuts

Today’s article in the New York Times regarding state cuts for summer schools was troubling. In response this letter was sent:

See you in September: Maybe Not: “Facing Deficits, Some States Cut Summer School
Growing up in a small Midwestern town, it never occurred to me that when a teacher said to me, “See you in September,” that I might not. In our Analytic Service to Adolescents Program (ASAP), a joint in-school treatment and research project of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis and Morton Alternative High School, we are desperate to keep our kids in summer school. For our students who have been expelled from the regular high school for violent or gang related behavior, school is the only safe, reliable and predictable place in their lives. Summers are scary times resulting in dropping out, and worse, not being able to survive a summer of street violence. What does it say about us that we are not using every drop of our educational stimulus funds to provide this safe environment for our children? Their lives depend on it.

Mark D. Smaller, Ph.D., Founding Director, Analytic Service to Adolescents Program (ASAP)

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Neuropsychoanalysis: Who Needs It?

Having returned from our 10th Annual Neuropsychoanalysis Congress in Paris, I remain inspired about the future of neuropsychoanalysis and psychoanalysis.

Mark Solms’s presentation may have been one of his best, emphasizing and with great clarity, that neuropsychoanlaysis is about the mutual benefits for psychoanalysis and neuroscience each enhancing the other.  More importantly analysts must consider that neuropsychoanalysis is about continuing the work started by Freud.  To deny its importance in our field would be to deny the work of our founder.  Psychoanalysis emerged from Freud’s work as a neurologist.  Without the benefit of today’s technology,  Freud developed a depth psychology and theory of the mind but always hoped neurology and psychology could someday be integrated with a greater understanding of the the mind and brain.  Neuropsychoanalysis, based upon empirical research has allowed for that integration to happen.

Mark spoke of what neuropsychoanalysis is–a discipline based upon research, and what it is not.  It is NOT about taking contemporary psychoanalytic theory and using certain neuroscience findings to “prove” the correctness of the theory especially among current theoretical debates.

Yet neuropsychoanalysis provides direction in developing research that may expand our metapsychology, but most importantly enhance theory as a means to be more effective clinically.  Although a challenge to us as psychoanalysts,  our future and the future of our field may depend on it.

Yoram Yovell, an important contributor to the field gave a presentation that highlighted this point.  The example that he described was about anxiety both from a psychoanalytic and neuropsychoanalytic perspective.  Utilizing Jaak Pankseep’s work on brain systems, anxiety could be understood both as a separation anxiety and a fear of annihilation which exists in most mammalian brains.  Such findings would have important implications for how this anxiety is understood and responded to in our patients.

Our Research Day included 30 presentations of empirial research from literally around the world.  Whether it was about the neuropsychoanalytic treatment of stroke patients, the impact of strokes on couples relationships, primary and secondary processing, anosygnosia or the denial of stoke symptoms, REM sleep research, or empathy in mothers for their newborns, the findings were compelling.

These were personal highlights but there was so much more. Next year we look forward to Seattle and our 11th Congress titled, “PLAY”.

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Research on Depression Gene; Rising levels of depression

Reading about new research that brings into question that a certain gene can raise risk for depression…but one study did find that high levels of stress such as divorce or job loss can raise the risk of depression by 40%!  The impact of the economy on individuals, parents and children is huge. Add to that the stress of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan and it might really be an epidemic of depression.

Psychoanalytic treatment is critical, now more than ever!

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President Bush’s veto of the Children’s Health Insurance bill, and yesterday’s vote that did not override the veto is alarming.  The bill would insure another 4 million children in addition to continuing coverage for 6.6 million children who would otherwise be uninsured.  As pointed out by the Children’s Defense Fund, since the 110th Congress opened 288 days ago, 530,216 children were born in this country without health insurance.  What has gone wrong in one of the richest country’s in the world where children will go without proper medical help?  Can we as parents and professionals imagine not taking our sick child to the doctor because we cannot afford the proper help?  And worse, how does a child experience a parent who is helpless in obtaining that help?  How can that child ever feel safe in his or her world?  And, without that security, how does one develop emotionally, physically, cognitively, or interpersonally?  I urge everyone to write their respective Senators and Congressmen to support this bill, especially those of his who are committed to helping children. 

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