Visiting Professor Week: November 10th through 17th, 2013

Visiting Professor Week
November 10th through 17th, 2013

The program “A Day With Claudio Eizirik,” on November 16th, gathered a lively, enthusiastic crowd. Below are the remarks made by Beth Steinberg, Ph.D, in response to some of Dr. Eizirik’s ideas about the position of psychoanalysis in the world and
their relationship to changes at SFCP.

Introductory remarks for “A Day With Claudio Eizirik”

The San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis:
Facing the Challenges of the Interface with the Outside World in the Time of “Liquid Modernity”

Before turning the podium over to Catherine Mallouh, who will introduce Dr. Eizirik, I’d like to tell you what’s happening here at the Center, and I’d like to do so using some of Claudio’s own ideas to frame what I have to say.

While serving as the president of the International Psychoanalytic Association, Claudio published several articles addressing the interface between psychoanalysis and the outside world, which I think are particularly relevant to SFCP’s mission to advance the vitality and value of psychoanalysis in Northern California.

I’ll add that my thoughts here are also inspired by Leon Trotsky’s famous remark, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” I think our paraphrase would be, “We may not be interested in confronting the radical changes all around us, but they are certainly confronting us.”

Describing our current world, Claudio borrows the idea of “liquid modernity” from the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman. This idea captures the effects of massive, ongoing change in nearly all spheres of contemporary life, and highlights how the dissolution of traditional social containment structures have led to instability and fragmentation. Security is increasingly scarce, and the gaps between those who appear to have it and those who don’t -- the “strangers” that are felt to live outside of society’s borders -- are ever more extreme and disturbing. And, with the erosion of traditional frameworks to cling to, the individual’s quest for safety is more and more often reduced to frantic flight from one briefly held commitment or superficial identity to another.

This development is all too readily met and encouraged by a consumer culture, fueled by corporate power and greed. A 24/7 media blizzard distracts and sells endless images of excitement, gratification, simplicity, power, mastery, beauty, wealth, or certainty to an audience often overwhelmed by the complexity of our current reality. All of this contributes to our ever deepening, widely noted “culture of narcissism,” where complicated, time-consuming human relationships tend to become increasingly provisional or meaningless.

Claudio describes how these developments present new and profound challenges to psychoanalysis, both clinically and institutionally.

Clinically, we see greater frequency of what Claudio refers to as ‘new maladies of the soul’: disorders informed by trauma and radical deficiencies of containment, constant threats to the integrity of the self and severe problems with symbol-formation, but masked by increasingly normative forms of perversion and narcissistic organization. Such patients have extraordinary difficulties tolerating the psychoanalytic method and often scoff at its long-term, complex and relational dimensions.

The ethos of our current environment poses profound challenges to psychoanalysis as a practice and social institution as well, which is reflected to some degree by training and treatment statistics worldwide. In our current marketplace of ideas, where speed and mastery, not duration and mystery are what matter, we stand at a distinct disadvantage as purveyors of patience, of not knowing, of facing our feelings and limitations, of taking the great gamble of emotional intimacy, and in asserting that the ego is still not the master of its own house. In doing so, we are more than ever likely to be seen as the “strangers,” or the “have-not’s” as I referred to earlier -- a wildly inefficient, unscientific, offline ‘brand’ that takes far more than 140 characters – the limit of a tweet -- to describe; a relic of a forgotten age with a quaint but outmoded interest in the messy, alleged inner life of the individual.

(And let’s face it: in this sound-bite world of catchy slogans we’re not exactly a marketer’s dream. Taglines like ‘Welcome to the Depressive Position!’ or ‘Leave behind your neurotic misery for some good old fashioned ordinary unhappiness!’ probably aren’t about to go viral.)

It’s hard to deny that these are dark times for our perspective, values and commitments. I think we all feel this at some point nowadays as analytically oriented clinicians. Considering our situation, it seemed to me that the poet W.B. Yeats’ famous words are apropos once again: Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.

But I also find hope in Claudio’s work, through his encouraging reflections on the stubborn durability of psychoanalysis over the course of our first century, which saw us survive multiple dire global crises. He writes, “[T]he lessons of the past and the resilience of both our patients and the many millions of human beings who have been subjected to pain and physical and psychic suffering give us the strength and determination to never surrender.” He goes on to describe how the psychoanalytic movement is rising to the challenges of our time, meeting “change with change” through increased institutional transparency and internal dialogue, greater engagement with neighboring disciplines and the broader culture, clinical innovations, and claiming a rightfully important place at the forefront of the international struggle for the freedom of critical and independent thinking.

I want to report to all of you that, in this spirit, SFCP is moving forward and confronting our challenges within and without.

The Center is presently engaged in a period of emergence from a long “splendid isolation” with a move to our new home, the formation of new lines of communication with the wider world, and a consequent transformation of our organizational identity. Now in our second year here at our new building, we are still dazzled by the beauty of this space and the wonderful technology that is allowing us to provide distance participation for many of our programs. As we are beginning to settle here in this complex urban landscape, we can no longer keep our distance from the wider society as we were able to up on the north side of town. Indeed, here on Natoma Street we are situated concretely and psychically right between two facets of the liquid modern world -- on one side of us, the Fifth Street side, where we are seeing the ever expanding hustle and bustle of the corporate world, and on the other side, the Sixth Street Side, where we are confronted with those outside of “borders” of society. Increasingly, we are forced to be aware that we are not above the “nitty-gritty” of either side. We are aware of the necessity to “make it” fiscally in that Fifth Street world, and yet, our psychoanalytic experience helps us to remember that in responding to this demand we must not disown our otherness. At the same time, we must hold onto ourselves and our fundamental values; our vital center.

And I do believe that our vital center, this Center for Psychoanalysis, will indeed hold.

We may not have an IPO at our backs, unlike Twitter, just a few blocks away, but we have something much more valuable and powerful to guide and support us: the accumulated wisdom of one hundred years of psychoanalysis and a committed, creative society of talented members. Together, in this exciting time, we are finding innovative ways to reach out and bring psychoanalysis to many more diverse groups of mental health professionals. At the same time we are expanding as an organization and becoming more integrated and more visible.

Let me a bit more specific. In addition to offering training to become a psychoanalyst, SFCP offers many other educational programs and opportunities to mental health professionals. As the Chair of the PPED, my vision involves providing non-analyst mental health professionals at every level of familiarity with psychoanalytic theory and practice, from graduate students and psychiatric residents to seasoned clinicians with decades of experience, with educational experiences that will foster their curiosity, interest and inspiration in psychoanalysis. We now have three two-year psychotherapy training programs drawing mental health professionals from all disciplines from San Francisco, the East Bay, the South Bay and the Sacramento/Davis area. In addition, we have a multitude of other programs for clinicians with an interest in psychoanalysis, from morning or evening events to yearlong courses.

We also offer programs of interest to the general public, professionals and academics interested in psychoanalytic applications within their disciplines. We provide funding for psychoanalytically informed research and offer multiple services through our Child Development Program. We offer programs in applied psychoanalysis, like our Opera on the Couch, Poetry and Psychoanalysis Programs, and the Woody Donovan annual film lecture. For individuals seeking psychoanalytic treatment, but lacking the financial resources for standard fees, we offer a Low Fee Referral Service.

Our website contains information about all of these programs, upcoming events, training open houses and application deadlines, so please surf over to for more information.

Although SFCP is, like psychoanalysis, in Claudio’s words, a “work in progress,” where many of our fundamental presuppositions are being critically discussed and revised and our educational models re-examined, I believe that we are not only facing the challenge of taking in and being more in the world but we are also reaching out and bringing psychoanalysis more into the world.

I want to take this opportunity to encourage those of you who aren’t members of this organization to join SFCP as a Community Member. Along with discounts on all SFCP programs, benefits of Community Membership include use of the Erik Erikson Library, a listing in our directory, access to our Mentorship Program and opportunities to participate on many of the Center’s committees.

So now, on to today’s program. Each year we bring a psychoanalyst from outside our local area that has made significant contributions to contemporary theory and practice to serve as our Visiting Professor. By combining a formal paper and discussion with a clinical presentation, the “Day With” series provides the Bay Area’s mental health community a unique opportunity to highlight these contributions and to directly experience an exceptional analyst at work. The SFCP has been dedicated to inviting thinkers with a wide range of perspectives to this series, introducing sensibilities and approaches from diverse regions and cultures. We planned the 2012, 2013, and 2014 to feature three different South American perspectives. Claudio is the second of these, and today he will share his highly developed view of pluralism with us. Next year, Virginia Ungar, Ph.D. will join us from Argentina, followed by Dominique Scarfone, from Montreal, in 2015.

I would like to acknowledge and thank the SFCP Day With/Conference Committee: Michael Loughran, Terry Owens, Bronwen Lemmon and Chair Catherine Mallouh, along with our generous volunteers who are helping out today.

We are also extremely grateful to Kevin Hibbitt, who has coordinated outreach for this program, as well as Ellen Russin, Sheena Craig, Lara Weyland, Laura Coleman, K. Sue Duncan, A Raja Hornstein, Craig Forte, Jacob Sacks, Adam Blum, Sachi Inoue, Aaron Chow and Lynda Connelly.

I would also like to thank Mike Levin who helped me with this introduction.

Finally I would like to introduce Dr. Catherine Mallouh, who will be introducing and moderating today’s program. Dr. Mallouh is the Chair of SFCP’s Community Outreach & Service Division and the Day With/Conference Committee. She is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCSF and is in private practice in San Francisco.

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