A Landmark National Meeting

Harriet Wolfe

Harriet Wolfe, M.D., is president of the American Psychoanalytic Association.


Harriet Wolfe

For APsaA members who were not able to join us at the February 2018 National Meeting, and for those who were there and want to savor our progress, there are dramatic milestones to share. While the structure of the meeting was essentially the same, the location, tone and content were all quite different.

The location was the New York Midtown Hilton. As many noted, it was not the Waldorf. There were no gilded edges or velvet chairs. But the neighborhood was inviting and the hotel had a cleaner edge to it; it was not cozy but the spaces were airy, open and well suited to a modern professional meeting. Members gathered in all sorts of spaces to visit with one another, study the program, and view the research poster session and publishers’ exhibits.

The APsaA Community Vision guidelines were not just read aloud by people like me, they were being lived. APsaA’s large and small administrative and scientific communities—from Executive Council and committee meetings to plenaries, panels, discussion and study groups—conducted business and explored challenging issues in a constructive, collaborative manner. The meeting’s tone was inclusive, welcoming, tolerant of different points of view, and forward-looking. Passionate moments emerged in discussions of some of the sociopolitical issues of our times. I felt they reflected the experience of urgency and the potential polarization of U.S. citizens, from which analysts are not immune. It is a difficult task to contain one’s own level of distress when stirred by racism, immigration policy and presidential behavior, let alone the level of distress that is experienced as part of a large group dynamic. We were aided in becoming more reflective about our responses by the discerning comments of members who are experts in group dynamics.

Historic administrative actions were taken that ensure the continued positive evolution of APsaA as a membership organization and the enhanced value in being an APsaA member. Executive Council considered and enacted the final steps of the Six Point Plan. One step was the Council’s becoming a more structured and effective leadership body. Motions were approved to elect a lead councilor who will oversee the functioning of Council committees and constitute a Governance Committee to design self-assessment tools for the Council, and regularly review the functions of Council committees. Additionally, bylaws were passed that add two candidate members to Executive Council and four councilors as voting members to the Executive Committee. Elections of these representatives will happen at the June meeting.

The final significant step in the Six Point Plan was the approval of new APsaA Standards for Psychoanalytic Education. Also, procedures for continued adaptation of the standards were put in place. The Council is ready and able to accept its responsibility to be responsive to society, center and institute input about education as well as the input of individual members and the Department of Psychoanalytic Education (DPE). Council approved recommendations from the Institute Requirements and Review Committee (IRRC) regarding procedures for receiving broad input. Both the new standards and the procedures for adapting them are posted under Association Documents in the Members Section of the APsaA website. It is heartening to realize we are achieving a significant level of transparency and adaptability related to educational policies. The door is open to engage many minds in thoughtful, broad-based, orderly problem-solving. That openness bodes very well for APsaAapproved institutes’ continued evolution and success in providing excellent psychoanalytic training.

Another major action by Council was the approval of guidelines for online behavior. Many members have expressed discouragement over the tone and use of some APsaA online communities. Except for members’ experience of the Referrals community, which has been uniformly positive, many members have made clear they feel intimidated by online behavior at times and feel the expression of differing points of view is precluded because it feels dangerous to disagree. Alienation from APsaA including resignation from membership has occurred due to the experience of APsaA’s listservs. The new guidelines for online behavior—also posted in the Members Section of the website—will ideally never need to be used to intervene with fellow members. But the Council wished to take action to ensure that when harmful exchanges occur, and if members are unable to do the ideal thing and take up their negative experience directly with the colleague who has offended them, there is a mechanism to support the modification of online behavior.

Welcoming Experience

My focus on administrative events reflects my delight in the completion of a chapter in our history laid out for us in the Six Point Plan. The social and intellectual sides of the National Meeting were equally rewarding. The plenaries were outstanding and on both occasions the crowd was huge. The audiences were thrilled with the clinical depth and theoretical complexity of Stan Coen’s and Steven Cooper’s papers. Their colleagues’ introductions were deeply edifying and moving. There were, of course, many excellent sessions, most of which I missed by being in administrative meetings. But I did not miss the new event called the First Time Attendee Reception (which took place thanks to the creative energy of APsaA staffers, Scientific Program and Meetings Director Carolyn Gatto and Strategic Initiatives Director Lowell Aplebaum). You may have read about it in the February 18th New York Times article about the APsaA meeting and the state of psychoanalysis today. The positive energy and enthusiasm for psychoanalysis on the part of candidates; mental health students; fellows from the Fellowship Committee, the Teacher’s Academy and the DPE Community Outreach Section; and graduate analysts visiting from as far as Ottawa, Canada, were inspiring. A number of candidate and analyst visitors expressed interest in becoming APsaA members because it was such a welcoming experience.

It is an exciting time for APsaA and a moment in history when a psychoanalytic approach seems especially crucial. As a First Time Attendee said, people need help more than ever in finding their minds since societal pressures are so divisive and discourse so violent. It invades one’s sense of self. As was explored in the Presidential Symposium on the analyst’s place in the public domain, there are many ways for us as professionals to become socially active. It is an individual matter how public or private our engagement with issues becomes. But we have a way of thinking that is organizing, recaptures the thinking mind, and can have enormous positive social impact.

The advances being made by the DPE, the Science Department, the Membership Department, the Public Advocacy Department, the Social Issues Department, the Academic and Professional Affairs Department, and the Psychotherapy Department are immensely important. The DPE is up and running after just seven months. The Science Department is developing a strong research plan that you will be hearing more about. Someone said the committee chairs meeting should be videotaped so members can learn about all the activities their Association is engaged in on their behalf and to the benefit of psychoanalysis.

I am grateful to all who attended the National Meeting and to all who arranged it so successfully, our volunteer members and our excellent staff. We can look forward to welcoming more APsaA members to future meetings and to a more vibrant APsaA.