IPA Podcast: ‘Psychoanalysis On and Off the Couch’

Harvey Schwartz

Psychoanalysis as a field will survive, perhaps thrive, if we let others know about the power of intimate insightfulness to alter their lives. Speaking to ourselves in our own language(s) is necessary but certainly not sufficient if we are to have a presence in the general community and the communal mind.

In 2017, the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA), under the leadership of Virginia Ungar, set out to remedy our traditional inward focus with an IPA in the Community orientation. She inaugurated eight different committees (law, health, culture, climate, refugee, education, violence, and humanitarian organizations) for the purpose of reaching out to our wider areas of interest and application. Harriet Wolfe and Adriana Prengler will be building upon this foundation and creating an IPA in the Community and the World program.

During these times of disruption, the podcast provides a way for the most senior members of our field to share their personal recollections of our history as well as their own personal evolution.

Establishing the IPA podcast, Psychoanalysis On and Off the Couch, is one of the efforts that Virginia and the Board enthusiastically supported when I proposed it at the 2018 IPA Board meeting. At that time, podcasts were just beginning to become popular, and this was an effort to get ahead of the outreach curve. Since then, my colleague Steve Rolfe and I have produced over 100 episodes focusing on psychoanalysts who apply their theory and clinical skills in remarkably varied venues, from prisons to dialysis units, from police departments to corporate board rooms, from classrooms to refugee centers. I, as well as others, have been surprised to learn of the many “off the couch” activities that engage our fellow analysts. “I didn’t know analysts worked in all these areas” is a common refrain from listeners.

Starting in March 2020, we added to our focus the methods far-flung IPA communities are using to cope with the pandemic—from Russia to India, from Brazil to Portugal, from South Africa to Israel. We discovered many similarities as well as differences within our international psychoanalytic family. Some cities carefully followed lockdown regulations, for example, and some didn’t. Some clinicians were comfortable with online work, some less so.

I’ve also spoken with a number of the elders of our field to learn their perspectives on this unique moment in history and in psychoanalysis. During these times of disruption, the podcast provides a way for the most senior members of our field to share their personal recollections of our history as well as their own personal evolution. We learn of their changes in technique and understanding of abstinence over their many years of practice.

The pleasures I gather from this project are considerable. In addition to learning a new interviewing skill, I’ve met so many remarkable colleagues worldwide. Some have become friends. I’m moved by the thoughtfulness and dedication of our fellow analysts, and I’ve learned from each conversation. Many analysts I’ve spoken with serve as links to the early psychoanalytic free clinics in Europe in the 1920s and ‘30s. Our founders’ vision of making analytic engagements widely available is being realized, albeit with little fanfare, in these out-of-office contexts, often pro bono and with people who would not otherwise seek private treatment. Other analysts on the show function as virtual career advisors to prospective candidates who wonder if there are applications for our hard-earned analytic skills outside the consulting room. I ask each analyst I interview what they bring from their identity and practice as psychoanalysts to their off-the-couch lives. No spoiler here—you need to listen to hear their responses.

Our next task as a field is theory building; we intend to study the many settings and interventions in which psychoanalysts are involved and collect our observations to better understand the essence of this work and, therefore, better appreciate and teach it. It’s worth recognizing that off-the-couch work isn’t watered-down analysis but each experience becomes something unique.

In that spirit, Steven Marans, the director of the Childhood Violent Trauma Center at the Yale Child Study Center (I recommend my two interviews with him: #16, #65), and I are creating a community psychoanalysis curriculum utilizing hands-on experiences depicted in the podcast.

Psychoanalysis On and Off the Couch can be heard and subscribed to through our website IPAOfftheCouch.org or at your favorite podcast platform.

In the interest of turning further outward to the community at large, I’ve started a second podcast, The Mind, Body and Soul in Healing, that is oriented toward the general population. In one show, I interviewed an analytic candidate from Johannesburg who described her emotional struggles with becoming a mother. In another, I spoke with a psychotherapist who described the differences between dynamic therapy and other forms of psychotherapy. I’ve interviewed a memory specialist neurologist about preventing Alzheimer’s Disease as well as a psychologist/microbiome researcher on the latent microbiota communication that exists between mother and infant. Other shows have been on Zen and psychotherapy, the placebo effect, and depression throughout history.

I invariably look forward to meeting and learning with each interviewee. I appreciate the feedback I receive from clinicians and lay audience alike. They too, it seems, look forward to our next conversation.

Thanks for listening. APSAA

Harvey Schwartz, a Training and Supervising Analyst at the Psychoanalytic Association of New York and the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia, co-chairs the IPA in Health Committee and hosts Psychoanalysis On and Off the Couch and The Mind, Body and Soul in Healing, available at HarveySchwartzMD.com