The Community Psychoanalysis Track and Consortium: An Overview

Rachael Peltz and Francisco J. González

In 2019, the Board of Directors of the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California (PINC) unanimously passed a motion to offer the Community Psychoanalysis Track (CPT) to its candidates as part of their training to become certified psychoanalysts. PINC requires three supervised psychoanalyses for progression (one case in addition to the two required by the IPA); the CPT would now allow candidates to complete a community project under a group supervision model we will shortly describe to count as the third case. We see this as a groundbreaking step in which the formal definition and scope of psychoanalysis is fundamentally transformed; it marks a sea change in what can be formally considered the domain of psychoanalysis, whom it serves, and what is deemed acceptable to be taught in a psychoanalytic Institute. It opens a horizon of recognition for the multiplicity of ways one can be a legitimate psychoanalyst and broadens the domain of psychoanalysis to include the forms it takes outside of institutes.

We are experiencing an extended moment of turmoil in the world and therefore within institutional psychoanalysis: almost universally, institutes and organizations have been confronted with a host of concurrent social traumas, from the pandemic with its lockdowns and remote work to economic instability and political upheavals, coupled with greater consciousness about racial inequality and the ravages of the climate crisis. These floods of distress and anxiety have impacted analytic work globally, the structures and frames of practice and training, and the psychic problems and material content of analyses, classrooms, and supervisions. We too are distressed by the relentlessness of these upheavals, but we also recognize here a window of opportunity. What feels different to us, in this moment, is a renewed and fervent interest in community psychoanalysis as a legitimate and even, dare we say, critical dimension of psychoanalytic training.

The notion of community psychoanalysis is hardly new. There have been many instances of innovative psychoanalytically oriented programs off the couch as well as a rich body of new and old theory in assorted corners of the psychoanalytic world. Indeed, community psychoanalysis has been a vibrant part of the discipline from early in its development, taking various forms and going by many names, but not formally recognized as a legitimate kind of training in contemporary psychoanalysis. By and large, institutionalized psychoanalysis promulgates a privatized form of practice, emphasizing the conventional set-up of the dyad in the consulting room. This has effectively resulted in a rigidification of what psychoanalysis is and concretized psychoanalytic theorizing around the analytic couple. Conventional psychoanalytic training structures depend on this privatized model: the candidate must have a fairly robust private practice from which to generate patients and sufficient income to pay for individual supervision. The concretization of this set-up as the exclusive and obvious form of training is a symptom, we feel, of a larger split in psychoanalytic thinking and practice, one which tends to divorce psychoanalysis from thinking about groups and community concerns, that is to say, from the sociopolitical dimensions of psychic life.

It was not always like this. A less known, but increasingly recovered, tradition begins with Freud's (1919) Budapest speech issuing the call for a psychoanalysis “of the people,” and extends through the early efforts of the many analysts who saw themselves as part of a movement and as, in the words of Elizabeth Danto in her 2005 book Freud's Free Clinics, “brokers of social change” (p. 4). This tradition was carried forward in the pioneering work of a host of community-oriented analysts like Stuart Twemlow, Bruce Sklarew, Sally Wilkinson, Neil Altman, Vamik Volkan, James Barron, Kimberlyn Leary, Lynne Layton, Ghislaine Boulanger and many others, along with the vibrant traditions of social work and community mental health. And we happily recognize the current exciting proliferation of programs—far too many to name—of community-based interventions organized by psychoanalytic institutes and organizations. Emblematic of this wave of engagement, the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA), under the leadership of Virginia Unger and Harriet Wolfe, has promoted the development of psychoanalytic community initiatives around the world, fostering them through awards and international forums. (We are proud of the fact that the CPT was a runner-up recipient for an IPA in the Community Award in 2018.) Like other paradigmatic responses to historical moments, the one we are championing was preceded by years of dedicated effort, both within institutional psychoanalysis and within community mental health, and is nourished in an environment of creative change. We build on this legacy and offer something new. Specifically, the innovation we offer is to bring community-based practice directly into the psychoanalytic institute as a part of training.

The CPT, then, aims to revive elements of a lost or repressed tradition in psychoanalysis in two ways: (1) by bringing the theory and practice of community psychoanalysis more directly and systematically into the formal training of psychoanalytic candidates; and (2) by advocating for a more active and collaborative relationship between psychoanalytic institutes and the vibrant world of community mental health. Both elements are essential for the evolution that is now possible and necessary. Such a move, we believe, will not only make psychoanalysis more relevant and accessible in addressing the urgent issues that press upon us today as individuals and collectives. As importantly, it will deepen and broaden our understanding of what psychoanalysis is, has been, and can become. We see this as a move toward one of the true horizons of our discipline, an exciting frontier that will call on us to formulate more profoundly what we mean by such ideas as framing, containment, authority, the field, intersubjectivity, objects of analysis, and—key to our model—collaboration.

While we have been referring to the CPT—that is, the track as training component—the intervention also includes the Community Psychoanalysis Consortium (CPC). From the beginning, the development of this initiative was a work of collaboration between formally trained analysts from the institute and experienced, psychoanalytically oriented clinicians actively working in community organizations. The training track emerged from and was designed by this intensive collaboration; it did not spring from within the psychoanalytic institute acting alone. The foundational quality of collaboration between institute and community is an intrinsic part of our model; we do not see how it could be otherwise. Community practitioners actively shape its form, structure, and values. Like the CPT, the CPC developed from this collaborative group, and it comprises a network of representatives from community organizations affiliated with the CPT. The CPC meets quarterly and serves as a think tank and support network for taking up the many problems inherent in the community sector. It also provides a seedbed for CPT projects, acts as a source for community faculty in the track, and has begun sponsoring annual conferences focused on community work. The CPC is a critical part of this endeavor, providing a bridge and portal between institutional psychoanalysis and the world of community analytic practice outside the institute. It is deeply invested in psychoanalytic ways of thinking and intimately linked to, but independent of, the training track.

If psychoanalysis is to remain true to its ethic of growth, change, and development, it will need to give up its too-often defensive rigidity about what constitutes “real” psychoanalysis.

We now turn to a more detailed description of the training track itself. The CPT Steering Committee oversees all track functions and reports to the PINC board. In order to provide a foundation in community psychoanalysis for all candidates at PINC, the CPT offers a required first-year course, Introduction to Community Psychoanalysis. All candidates take this course, regardless of whether they choose to take part in the CPT. This curriculum requirement gives all candidates a broader sense of the diverse ways to practice psychoanalysis, while also integrating the CPT into the fabric of institutional life. After completing this course, interested candidates can apply to the CPT, with the approval of their personal advisors. Once accepted to the track, they are assigned to an established project in a community agency, typically working in pairs with another candidate. Rather than providing direct clinical service, candidates facilitate reflective groups for clinicians working in community organizations. The community in question for CPT projects is, then, the community of practitioners at the community agency. Through collaboration with the agency, these projects have included the intention to carve out space for reflection and solidarity, in the thicket of the complex contingencies which beset the social service sector. A reflecting group helps expand the capacities of the individual clinician and the agency as a whole. At least as important, however, is the creation of reflective space for candidates to consider how a psychoanalytic sensibility finds a home through community. This model also makes it easier to teach candidates ways of applying the skills they have been learning as individual analysts.

To date we have had projects in an agency providing mental health services to refugee and asylum seekers; in the justice system working with social work staff; and in a community mental health agency working with peer counselors. Candidates spend three hours per week at the community agency for the duration of the academic year, and typically work in pairs. The experience involves three segments: co-conducting the group itself, meeting between the candidate co-facilitators to debrief, and meeting with a community liaison. The liaison, a senior member of the community mental health agency, helps teach candidates about the work being done at the agency through open, unstructured dialogue. The liaison does not supervise the group the candidates conduct. Instead, supervision for the project is the purview of the Core Seminar, which meets weekly for the duration of the project and operates on a group model.

Candidates present process material weekly to the Core Seminar; this material focuses largely on process from the project group they facilitate, but also includes reflections from the debriefings of working with each other and from the meeting with the community liaison. The Core Seminar listens and works as a group, consisting of the CPT candidate pair, a community psychoanalysis supervising analyst (CPSA) who is assigned to each candidate, at least one community consultant, and, for the time being, one of the CPT directors. The community consultants are senior clinicians working in community mental health; while specifically not trained as an institutional analysts, they work analytically. CPSAs must be credentialed according to a set of specific criteria, which includes immersion in both conventional dyadic psychoanalysis and community mental health experience. Before supervising, they must complete a yearlong CPSA supervision seminar, and once they begin to work actively in the CPT with a candidate, they continue training in a yearlong mentoring program with an experienced CPSA. The Core Seminar is thus a multidisciplinary group in which individuals occupy various positions by virtue of their specific roles. It is the group itself—poly-vocal, dynamic, pregnant with tensions and moments of meeting—that acts as the supervisor to the candidate couple. This can be an overwhelming experience at times, much as starting an individual analysis can be overwhelming, but the Core Seminar develops its capacity to hear itself on a collective level, as a group. This invariably resonates with the complex dynamics that emerge in the project group that the candidates conduct. And as a further aid to digesting the complexities of such group supervision, CPSAs meet individually with their assigned candidate at least quarterly during the year, and more, if needed.

Institutional psychoanalysis is undeniably at a crossroads. The clamor for change can be heard from almost every quarter of the psychoanalytic community, in institutes, national professional organizations, and the communities that support and surround the analytic establishment. If psychoanalysis is to remain true to its ethic of growth, change, and development, it will need to give up its too-often defensive rigidity about what constitutes “real” psychoanalysis. This means it will also need to implement structural changes to its ways of training candidates. We believe the PINC model of the Community Psychoanalysis Track and Consortium offers one such powerful intervention for the future of the discipline. APSAA


Rachael Peltz, Ph.D., is a personal and supervising analyst, faculty member, and co-director of the Community Psychoanalysis Track at PINC. She is an associate editor of Psychoanalytic Dialogues and has a private practice in Berkeley, California.

Francisco J. González, M.D., is personal and supervising analyst, community psychoanalysis supervising analyst, and faculty member at PINC, where he also helped found and serves as co-director of the Community Psychoanalysis Track.