Mentoring Candidates in the Community

James W. Barron

Candidates frequently experience a disconnect between their psychoanalytic training and their community-based work and find it challenging to integrate that work into their emerging identities as psychoanalysts. Over the past three years, the Section of the Psychoanalyst in the Community of the APsaA Department of Psychoanalytic Education has invited candidates with a demonstrated interest in psychoanalytic/psychodynamic perspectives in community settings and organizations to apply for the Candidate in the Community Mentoring Award. The award provides an honorarium of $750 and pairs the candidate with a senior analyst with expertise in the candidate's area of community interest. Last year candidates from seven APsaA institutes received the award. In their own words, five of the award recipients and three mentors share their personal experiences of the mentoring relationship.

Sheri-Ann Cowie, Ph.D., Candidate, William Alanson White Institute

When I asked for a mentor, I was looking for an “old-school” analyst and consultant, someone who would hold the basics and early methods of psychoanalysis and group relations such as attending to the unconscious, using free association, thinking systemically, and relying on one's experience to explore human and organizational relations. What occurred when I showed up for my first meeting with my mentor, Dr. Paula Christian-Kliger, was informative. I was suddenly a young pupil who was awed by her work, smitten by her presence, art, and plants in her office, and clothed in her warmth and generosity. Though we were meeting virtually, many of my senses were engaged. I was on my way to making my mentor into a revered other who was going to teach me and train me to be a better consultant and analyst in the community of legal, educational, and religious organizations for which I was consulting. I planned to tell her about an organizational dilemma I was facing and then sit back and take notes. As I was slipping down the dependency pupil road, I found myself surprised when my mentor treated me as an equal partner rather than a student in need of remediation. She wanted my observations, associations, perceptions, and experience of being with my consulting and coaching clients. Importantly, I was aware of her ability to listen to me, tell me what she heard, and, at times, draw what she heard me saying behind my statements.

I found myself surprised when my mentor treated me as an equal partner rather than a student in need of remediation.

Dr. Kliger's interest in me and my mind stimulated my confidence and openness to share my associations and more about my personal history. I found myself thinking about one of my first university mentors, Dr. Philip DeVita, who, in his role as a cultural anthropologist, asked constantly of himself, me, and others: “How can we learn to better understand ourselves from the perceptions of others?” Dr. Kliger perceived me as her equal, capable of theorizing analytically about what lay beneath the splits and conflict in organizations or in coaching clients who wanted to develop leadership skills. In her presence, I saw myself as someone whose recollections and experience were sufficient to generate hypotheses that could be applied and tested in the communities seeking change. I became less nervous about not knowing or about saying something irrelevant—everything was relevant. We arrived at a term, “bridge facilitator,” to describe how we see each other. The bridge facilitator uses experiences and associations in the moment to play and work intersubjectively. This language led us to a rich discussion of Dr. Kliger's concept of the “collateral self-study parallel process” and Ogden's and Benjamin's work about the “third.”

One highlight of how the bridge facilitator or collateral self-study parallel process manifested was in my describing an encounter with non-lawyers and lawyers who held different visions of the organization's mission of transforming the justice system. The organization was split between the primary task of providing holistic and excellent legal representation to its clients and the ideological and sentient task of promoting justice within the organization itself through racial fairness and co-existence. Through rich banter about the intense dynamics and enactments I experienced in the organization and our shared associations, we uncovered unconscious intrapersonal, interpersonal, intersubjective, and systemic material that my mentor captured in an image that visualized the social defenses and splits in the organization. Later, I used this image with my clients to hypothesize about the rational organizational chart and the unconscious organizational structure which existed. Eventually, engaging in this process, we adjusted the image based on data the clients shared and used it to make recommendations to the executive director.

I have been fortunate to have strong mentors throughout my career, and Dr. Paula Christian-Kliger is no exception. She shared her expertise, patience, delight, and generosity, and I had a positive transference; it was as if she were one of my favorite aunties.

Paula Christian-Kliger, Ph.D., ABPP, Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute

Mentoring for me, especially related to supporting change and development within a community or organization, can feel like I am channeling Margaret Mead, who taught us much about immersion and becoming a “participant observer.” Not an analyst but an anthropologist, she cultivated being “experience near” as most meaningful in gaining a wider and nuanced view of a community or culture. The psychoanalyst “in the field” is a kind of psychoanalytic anthropologist and more.

What a pleasure it has been to work closely with Dr. Sheri-Ann Cowie. She demonstrates an ever-evolving appreciation for working within what Alexandra Woods, in a 2020 paper in Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society, calls a complex “socio-psychoanalytically-informed” framework to study and to identify ways she might educate and encourage individual and professional development with key leadership stakeholders.

Dr. Cowie allowed me to join her intersubjectively, as mentor, in her consultative journey with an urban community-based organization, providing legal services with a social justice mission. Exploring fresh psychoanalytic material made it possible for me to visualize and feel present in her work. Recognizing the dynamics of splitting, for example, as Dr. Cowie noted, was possible because she provided several vivid examples, including those enacted with her. These heightened my understanding of the repetition and the embedded systemic issues pervading the organization, which then allowed me to offer a picture to her to play with and fine-tune her own understanding of the multidimensional organizational dynamics. Dr. Cowie then formulated her way forward.

The success of this mentoring work, in my view, arose from our collaborative joining in an immersion experience. Our prior organizational consultations informed us, but also allowed us to widen our views to clarify what really needed analysis and, in turn, intervention, what Dr. Cowie described brilliantly as “uncovering our third.”

Ultimately, I believe that unearthing this analytic third when conferring with a colleague on an organizational consultation— what William Nixon and I have called a collateral self-study parallel process (Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 32/4: 393-411)—facilitates deeper and more satisfying outcomes within a complex organizational context. Mentoring Dr. Cowie has been a privilege.

Sonja Ware, M.Div., Th.M., Academic Candidate, Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia

In August 2021, four Christian congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted to implement a merger process in order to join together as one. For the past six years, I have been working to help these congregations develop healthy relationships with each other, before engaging in conversations about their merging together. I am not a therapist; I don't have an office with a couch. Rather, I am a Lutheran pastor.

In 2017, I started training at the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia (PCOP) as an academic candidate in the Adult Psychoanalytic Program. My aim was to translate this training into my work context with various groups while developing a partnership between the congregation I serve as pastor and various neighboring churches.

The APsaA Candidate in the Community Mentorship Award offered an important opportunity to widen my horizon beyond the institute. It could not have come at a more crucial time, as the four congregations prepared to vote amid a raging pandemic.

Dr. Laura Crain from Boston is an experienced analyst who is also familiar with the Christian Church as an institution, and with group processes. At first, we had to differentiate the purpose of our conversations from those with my supervisor, Dr. April Fallon in Philadelphia. Through my dialogue with Dr. Crain, I noted that the papers I write in the context of my supervision reflect on my work through a psychoanalytic lens, connecting what I learn in class. I became more curious about bridging what I learned through psychoanalytic training with the church, the wider realm of religion, and nonprofit organizations. Speaking from my experience in the Lutheran Church in America, many churches will confront significant change, leaving them with a choice of either joining forces with others or closing.

Dr. Crain and I are now reflecting on ways I could effectively share insights with other church leaders, possibly through a book project in which I describe in everyday language the utility of key psychoanalytic concepts that have informed my work such as transference-countertransference, projection, holding environment, and developmental processes of separation-individuation, to name a few.

On the day of the church vote, most members of the congregations were able to hold deeply ambivalent feelings, ranging from grief and loss for what was to hope and cautious excitement about future possibilities. I believe that our work together, guided and shaped by psychodynamic insights, contributed to the congregations’ enhanced capacities to experience ambivalence and to act constructively. Sharing these insights with other religious and nonprofit leaders in a language that engages them could enable them to embark on similar processes wherever helpful. I am excited to continue my reflections with Dr. Crain.

I am deeply grateful for the opportunity the Candidate in the Community Mentorship Award has provided. When I started, I was not sure where Dr. Crain's and my conversations would lead. What takes shape now was not in my conscious mind when Dr. Crain and I first met back in February 2021. What a powerful process—thank you!

Laura D. Crain, M.D., Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute

It has been a joy to work with Sonja. The changing church reminds me of the changing field of psychoanalysis. In each case, there needs to be less attachment to buildings and trappings and more investment in bringing important ideas to the community to alleviate suffering and foster connection. Sonja brought me a sense of hope, encouragement, and grounding. As an Episcopalian from a small town with five churches, I am familiar with the challenges of merging congregations and sharing real estate. I dislike times when my spiritual community struggles with feeling stuck in small cells and disconnected from the larger church. I often feel uncertain about how to be a person of faith in the psychoanalytic community, discouraged by the ambivalence toward religious practice embedded in the history of psychoanalysis. Sonja has been a breath of fresh air—an antidote to my discouragement. I am impressed by Sonja's remarkable accomplishment in leading a merger of Lutheran Churches. It is especially satisfying to know that her grasp of psychoanalytic ideas regarding group dynamics have assisted her. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to mentor Sonja and hope to continue our dialogue in years to come.

Robert M. Guerin, Ph.D., Candidate, Cleveland Psychoanalytic Center

Dr. Margulies and I meet once a month to discuss ethical issues in health care, professional development, and ways of integrating psychoanalytic perspectives in clinical ethics consultation and education. As an ethics consultant at a large academic medical center, I am responsible for assisting all clinicians, patients, and families with ethical issues that arise in health care, the most frequent of which involve disagreement over potentially non-beneficial treatment (futility) at the end of life. Dr. Margulies has been immensely helpful in understanding patients’, clinicians’, and families’ fears, desires, and defenses in these highly stressful situations. My competency as an ethics consultant is extending beyond knowledge of ethical issues at the end of life, reaching into the psychodynamics that might occlude either an appreciation of the disease and its implications for prognosis (on the part of the patients/families) or a compassionate stance in the face of death (on the part of the clinician).

Dr. Margulies and I also discuss professional development. Over the last few months, Dr. Margulies has reviewed my manuscripts prior to submission for publication, acted as a sounding board for new empirical research proposals, and strategized with me ways of negotiating new academic appointments. On the topic of academic appointments and promotion, Dr. Margulies is encouraging and supportive, while also expanding my network of support; he has, for example, provided multiple contacts across the country to assist with my research and teaching.

Finally, I want to note how important it is to have a senior psychoanalyst and national leader simply be present month after month for a junior academic/psychoanalytic candidate. Dr. Margulies has been receptive to my questions, generous with his time, and encouraging with each idea, however ill-conceived, I have thrown his way. The recognition and support are invaluable.

The changing church reminds me of the changing field of psychoanalysis. In each case, there needs to be less attachment to buildings and trappings and more investment in bringing important ideas to the community to alleviate suffering and foster connection.

Alfred Margulies, M.D., Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute

The request came out of the blue, an unexpected gift. Rob Guerin, trained in philosophy and now an ethics consultant at a major medical center, was hoping for conversation with a potential advisor and mentor. From the start we clicked, entering a searching conversation about psychoanalysis, medical centers, and the impossible ethical dilemmas that are the substance of his everyday work. To my surprise, the literature for hospital ethicists is remarkable in its need for understanding the basics of unconscious processes and their impact on crucial clinical decision making. This paucity on the fundamentals of psychoanalytic understandings and experience offers over-ripe opportunities to contribute—and Rob has devoted himself to this calling with great energy and heart.

Given my training, experience, and professional home in hospital settings, we had much to talk about, always coming back to the pressing realities of acute suffering in hospitals. We reviewed urgent clinical requests, how to teach staff, how to make clinical recommendations, and how to deal with inevitable group dynamics and responses to suffering, moral hazard, and overwork. Rob and I discussed his manuscripts, leading to publications. We shared each other's work in progress and our uncooked ideas. Most importantly, we sparked a personal rapport—and as with the best of collegial teaching—I learned a lot, too.

Tina Nguyen, M.D., Candidate, New Center for Psychoanalysis

I was honored to receive the Candidate in the Community award last year. The program has helped me further develop my professional identity both as a community psychiatrist in a busy urban psych ER and as a psychoanalyst-in-training. Knowing that there are other like-minded clinicians who apply psychoanalytic thought and curiosity to community work has been meaningful. As a candidate immersed in both these worlds, I can sometimes feel like I am living a double life, trading one hat for the other as I toggle back and forth.

I was paired with Dr. Jeffrey Taxman, a senior analyst with extensive experience in disaster psychiatry. This was the perfect match as the fast-paced, intense, and unpredictable environment of the psych ER is analogous to the chaotic aftermath of natural disasters or 9/11. He could truly relate to my desire to straddle both worlds. Dr. Taxman helped me better understand my own experience and learn to use my budding psychoanalytic knowledge within a crisis stabilization model. When I debated over the opportunity to do my own disaster work a few months ago, Dr. Taxman provided invaluable insights into his own experience as we considered what this type of work would mean for me. Overall, this mentorship has challenged me to explore the complex dynamics and motivations of all those involved in crisis situations, including my own. I am better able to contain the intense affective states inherent in psychiatric crises, allowing space for patients to metabolize and transform them. What others deem “unanalyzable” or extra-clinical settings outside of the traditional analytic frame I see as opportunities for innovative, modified psychoanalytic technique providing access to more diverse patient populations at all socioeconomic levels. By recognizing and supporting the value of psychoanalysis in the community, APsaA and the DPE are creating conditions for psychoanalysis to remain relevant and accessible to future generations.

Timothy R. Rice, M.D., Candidate, Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research

The opportunity offered by the Candidate in the Community Mentorship Award was a keystone in my last year as a child, adolescent, and adult candidate at the Columbia Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. I work as an inpatient unit chief for children and adolescents with psychiatric disorders in New York City. My mentor, Dr. Frederick Meisel, had similar experience as an inpatient unit chief in Boston. In our meetings, Dr. Meisel helped foster my psychoanalytic identity and guided me as I concluded formal training, wound down existing obligations, and explored new opportunities. I found excitement and a renewed interest in bringing an analytic approach to hospital-based work and encouraging younger trainees to meaningfully engage in their profession. Several of these trainees pursued further training at our institute, and many more I believe will bring an analytic mindset into their day-to-day work. APSAA

James Barron, Ph.D., is a faculty member and chair of the Board of Trustees of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, and the chair of the Section of the Psychoanalyst in the Community of the APsaA Department of Psychoanalytic Education.