Or How to Develop an Undergraduate Minor in Psychoanalytic Studies

Lawrence D. Blum, Richard F. Summers and Greg Urban

Lawrence D. Blum, M.D., is clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and adjunct professor of anthropology, at the University of Pennsylvania; and faculty at the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia.


Lawrence D. Blum

Richard F. Summers, M.D., is co-director of residency training and clinical professor at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania,; and faculty at the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia.


Richard F. Summers

Greg Urban, Ph.D., is Arthur Hobson Quinn Professor of Anthropology and chair of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.


Greg Urban

Blum and Urban are the co-directors of the undergraduate minor in psychoanalytic studies.

Undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania have a new opportunity available at few other academic institutions—a minor in psychoanalytic studies. The minor, which officially began in September 2015, and already has at least half a dozen students enrolled, is the fruit of a decade of collaboration between the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia (PCOP) and the university. The minor is built on a model that could easily be adapted to other organizations. (A minor in psychoanalytic studies is already available in a long-standing and extensive program at Boston College, at Colorado College under the leadership of Marcia Dobson and John Riker, and at Hampshire College. [See “Undergraduate Psychoanalytic Studies at Hampshire College,” TAP 49/4, page 17.] Since colleagues have expressed a good deal of interest in how the new minor at Penn came to be, the authors have provided a brief history of the PCOP–Penn collaboration, the development of the minor, and its structure.


The minor arose from a collaboration between academics and clinicians. The most concise expression of the principle for the development of such a collaboration is Lunch. Quite a few years ago, when Richard Cornfield and Larry Blum were co-chairs of the PCOP program committee, they became aware of the work of the professor of German studies, Liliane Weissberg, who for many years has taught a popular course for Penn students on “Freud: The Invention of Psychoanalysis,” and invited her to lunch. They were delighted to make a friend with common interests and a vast knowledge and appreciation of Freud and his era.

Additional useful lunches followed. Occurring roughly at the same time, also in the early 21st century, PCOP began a formal collaboration with the Penn Department of Psychiatry. The Collaboration Committee was chaired by Richard Summers, PCOP member and co-director of Residency Training in Psychiatry at Penn. Summers immediately broadened the committee representation to include interested Penn faculty beyond psychiatry, including the energetic and creative Weissberg.

Hoping to follow up on a lifelong interest, Blum asked Weissberg if anyone at Penn had an interest in psychoanalytic or psychological anthropology. She suggested he contact professor and chair of anthropology, Greg Urban. Another fine lunch with exploration of common interests. Urban had trained at the University of Chicago, and had worked with members of Kohut’s group on the application of self-psychological ideas to the study of culture. He has an abiding interest in self-psychology and a deep commitment to the importance of introspective methods in the social sciences and humanities. After some time, Urban announced he wanted to teach a course on psychoanalysis and anthropology and Blum offered to help. They have taught the course together four times in the last six years. It has been a lot of fun and they have had some wonderful students. As a member of the Collaboration Committee, Urban urged going beyond the interesting but ephemeral interdisciplinary panel discussion programs sponsored by the committee and focus on the place of psychoanalysis in the curriculum.

A letter from the Collaboration Committee to Penn faculty elicited a response from English professor Max Cavitch. Lunch. Cavitch proved to have a tremendous knowledge and clinical grasp of North American relational psychoanalysis. He joined the Collaboration Committee and has contributed extensively. Additional lunches led to the realization there were a number of faculty with significant psychoanalytic interest and sophistication, that not all of them were aware of each other’s interests, and there might be the nucleus for a minor in psychoanalytic studies, which would truly solidify the place of psychoanalysis in the curriculum.

The Collaboration Committee and interested faculty began work on a proposal for an undergraduate minor in psychoanalytic studies. The proposal focused on psychoanalysis as a developing body of knowledge that helps to understand how people feel and think, how they function as individuals and in groups, and which serves as a bridge across many disciplines throughout the humanities, social sciences and some of the natural sciences. Urban and Blum met with the undergraduate deans (helping to assuage concerns about potential cost), and with the outgoing and incoming chairs of the psychology department, who, while finding nothing of interest in the endeavor, were kind enough to understand it was not a threat. After about two years of fantasy, conversation, recruiting interested faculty and writing by committee, the deans allowed the authors to submit a proposal to the college curriculum committee, which voted to approve in October 2014, as did the full faculty, two months later. The webpage, still under development, is http://web.sas.upenn.edu/psys/.


The minor is conceived as a collaboration between Penn and PCOP, as a meeting between the academy and the clinic. Most of the courses are taught by Penn faculty, but some are co-taught, and others have some degree of participation by psychoanalysts. Each student enrolled in the minor has the opportunity to meet monthly with a PCOP member as a psychoanalytic “mentor.” Those who do this for the period of their enrollment will also be granted, at graduation, a certificate of accomplishment from PCOP. Students are required to take a minimum of six courses that are applicable to the minor, across several academic departments. This will allow them to experience the interdisciplinary possibilities psychoanalysis affords and will also expose them to multiple psychoanalytic viewpoints. (In addition to Urban’s interest in self-psychology and Cavitch’s knowledge of relational analysis, English professor Jean-Michel Rabaté, for example, is a renowned expert on Lacanian interpretation of literature.) Courses for the minor are available in the anthropology, English, German studies, history, and philosophy departments, as well as at the School of Social Policy and Practice (social work).

To develop such a psychoanalytic studies minor, it is necessary to have academics who are analytically sophisticated and interested in clinical psychoanalysis. Reciprocally, it is necessary to have clinicians interested in academics’ views of and contributions to psychoanalysis. The sometimes divergent languages of the two groups at times may need translation. Having broad, or multiple, analytic perspectives is in keeping with scholarly principles of the examination of competing ideas. It is not common for clinicians who teach in a college setting to be paid a great deal of money. They should be prepared to do it for interest, fun, intellectual stimulation, the pleasure of nurturing students, and as a contribution to the future of our field.

The experiment at Penn is barely under way, but is going well so far The model for the program could, in principle, be readily duplicated, which would please its creators. For further information about it, please contact Larry Blum at ldb@lawrenceblum.com.