Who Will Teach Psychodynamics in the Future? A 10-Year Follow-Up

Anthony F. Tasso, Kevin Barrett, and Bindu Methikalam

The American Psychoanalytic Association has a 100-plus year record of accomplishment in sustaining and advancing psychoanalysts as they explore theories, practice, and research. APsaA serves as home base for psychoanalytic practitioners, proffering a place to educate, commiserate, and promulgate psychoanalysis. In other words, APsaA functions as a professional home for those who identify as psychoanalytic. This is no small accomplishment and perhaps never more necessary than today, given the ever-growing inhospitable, and even antipathetic, mental health environment for psychodynamic clinicians and educators.

With the laudable foci of supporting psychoanalysis and assuring that the next generation of psychoanalytic scholars are poised to represent the future of psychoanalysis, APsaA took the initiative in 2011 to develop the Psychoanalytic and Psychodynamic Teachers’ Academy—a fellowship program aimed to support educators in the mental health field who are not psychoanalysts. This program helps clinical educators expose graduate and undergraduate students to sound, accurate ideas about what psychoanalysis is, and what it is not. Psychology textbooks are often peppered with caricatures of, and outright misinformation about, psychodynamic theories and treatments. The average undergraduate reader of most introductory psychology books would conclude that only Sigmund Freud had anything to say about psychoanalysis; that the field lacks empirical support; and that psychoanalytic treatments only consist of long-term, intensive modalities that are economically inaccessible for most people. Today’s learning environment repeatedly paints psychoanalysis as a concept of mere historical relevance rather than one with contemporary significance. These prejudices persist, and even accelerate, as more clinical training programs all but shun psychodynamic thinking. Clinical faculty vociferously harboring disdain for psychoanalytic ideas, occasionally with ad hominin attacks against those identifying as psychoanalytic, has become increasingly common. The result is the marginalization, if not vilification, of educators who identify as psychoanalytic and imbue psychodynamic thinking into their pedagogical work.

APsaA took the initiative in 2011 to develop the Psychoanalytic and Psychodynamic Teachers’ Academy a fellowship program aimed to support educators in the mental health field who are not psychoanalysts.

With this backdrop, the 2020 fellowship class came together to participate in the Psychoanalytic and Psychodynamic Teachers’ Academy at the New York annual meeting less than a month before the world changed due to Covid. Six fellows—Kevin Barrett, Raji Edayathumangalam, Laura Levin, Bindu Methikalam, David Songco, and Anthony Tasso—trained, dined, and laughed over the course of five days and nights, forging a bond anchored in our passion for psychoanalysis and associated desire to infuse social justice into our work. As such, we took to the fellowship with alacrity, immersing ourselves in the courses and the challenges we face both as educators and clinicians.

In 2011, Melissa Grady and colleagues chronicled, in an article published in TAP, their experiences in the inaugural APsaA Psychoanalytic and Psychodynamic Teachers’ Academy fellowship class. They highlighted the ethos of the academy by focusing on its aim to create a holding environment for psychoanalytic educators. The 2020 fellows also felt held during their experience. Lara Sheehi, chair of APsaA Teachers’ Academy and alum of the program, set the stage for productive and meaningful experiences during our week together and beyond. Besides our formal meeting times, Lara was available to guide us throughout the initial week and has continued to guide us through the year.

The Teachers’ Academy offers a master class exclusively to fellows. The instructors—Lara Sheehi, Andrew Furman, William Gottdiener, Beth Steinberg, Cynthia Chalker, and Tom Barrett—afforded another level of support as each class delved into varying aspects of psychoanalytic theory, research, and practice. These teachers provided the space for us to weave pertinent psychoanalytic tenets into broader sociocultural themes. Whether the class was metatheory, pedagogy, or technique, social justice themes underscored much of our training. Each instructor offered lectures that broadened our understanding of psychoanalysis while enhancing our teaching skillset. The master class experience enabled us to learn nuanced information from these well-established psychoanalytic educators, researchers, and clinicians in an intimate setting of six. This, we argued, allowed us to utilize psychodynamic theories and techniques, and postulate about applying them to the social sphere. The centrality of this goal was evident throughout, as it facilitated closeness and cohesion among us, and allowed us to experience each other as secure and supportive colleagues. As psychodynamic psychotherapists who have not had formal analytic training—at least not yet— many of us arrived in New York assuming we would learn how to teach psychodynamic theory in a systematic way. However, we came away knowing that there is no one way, that theory and practice are as diverse as the group of teachers tasked with leading each master class, mirroring the uniqueness of each of us six fellows. We also came to understand the place of psychoanalysis in the humanities, the importance of theory and technique as well as how to think about diversity, equity, and inclusion in our home institutes. Finally, we left with a sense of renewal along with a deeper appreciation and commitment to psychoanalytic thought.

APsaA’s support for the teaching fellows extends well beyond the New York City conference, with each fellow assigned a psychoanalytic mentor—Nancy Caro Hollander, Genie Dvorak, Anton Hart, Gennifer Lane Briggs, Monisha Nayar-Akhtar, or Lara Sheehi—with whom we have one-on-one meetings throughout the year to focus on our respective teaching projects and other analytic and academic endeavors. The content and process of these meetings vary from fellow to fellow, ranging from concerted attention to a fellow’s proposed teaching project to discussions of social justice vis-à-vis psychoanalysis, from specific teaching techniques to the practicalities of initiating psychoanalytic training. Our mentorship experiences allow for individualized development as psychodynamic educators and clinicians. These compassionate mentors not only imparted tangible wisdom but also accentuated the holding environment created during the initial week.

Peripheral to the explicit intent of the APsaA Teachers’ Academy mission, yet solidly established by our fellowship cohort, is the bond developed among us. From the first group meeting with fellows and mentors, through the five days and nights in New York City, and during the rest of the year, we have connected over our professional circumstances, desire to grow as clinicians and educators, and concern for sociocultural issues at large. Our semi-regular Friday Zoom meetings have further stimulated our professional development and supported us personally during a time when teaching and practicing looked radically different than they had before.

For a century, the American Psychoanalytic Association has facilitated the advancement of psychoanalytic and psychodynamic theories and practice in addition to ensuring that the field remains viable in the future. The future of psychoanalysis is a mere illusion without efforts to educate and expose students not already affiliated with psychoanalytic training institutes. With an increasingly unwelcoming academic environment for those of us who identify as psychoanalytic, intensive efforts to train and support psychoanalytic educators are indispensable. This is particularly important during today’s time of strife and complexity, when psychoanalysis offers an understanding of the human experience and the origins of pain and division, and functions as a pathway to healing. As such, APsaA’s Teachers’ Academy, now a decade old and counting, is advancing the association’s overarching goal of securing the success of psychoanalysis for generations to come. APSAA

Anthony F. Tasso, Ph.D., ABPP, is Professor of Psychology and Deputy Director of the School of Psychology & Counseling, Fairleigh Dickinson University, NJ. He also has a psychotherapy practice in Whippany, NJ.

Kevin Barrett, AM, LCSW, is a lecturer at the Crown Family School of Social Work at the University of Chicago and has a private practice in Chicago, IL.

Bindu Methikalam, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor and the Assistant Director of Clinical Training at Chestnut Hill College in the Clinical Psychology doctoral program. Her clinical interests include working with ethnic identity, acculturation, grief, adjustment, depression, family, and relationship concerns.