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By Dr. Carol Panetta
“It’s time for you to look inward, and begin asking yourself the big questions: who are you, and what do you want?” It’s not exactly the stuff of your average American cartoon program, but this quote captures the essence of Avatar: The Last Airbender, an animated TV series aimed at 6-to-11 year olds that aired on Nickelodeon from 2005 to 2008. The series wonderfully combines elements of Chinese martial arts such as kung fu and tai chi, which provide the action and excitement, with Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. More surprisingly, it presents the audience with an unexpected level of character development, revealing a psychoanalytic process of unconscious conflict, repetition, and emotional resolution through relationship.
In the series, the primary lessons in psychoanalysis reside in the relationship between the antagonist, the young and impetuous Prince Zuko, and his uncle, the staid but clever Uncle Iroh. As the viewers come to know Prince Zuko, they learn about the internal, unconscious conflicts that bedevil him. They watch him fight the same inner battles over and over in a colossal repetition compulsion. Zuko’s Uncle Iroh demonstrates a psychoanalytic posture with Zuko, refraining from passing judgment while Zuko rejects his uncle’s guidance and projects his conflicts onto Uncle Iroh. Through the relationship between nephew and uncle, Prince Zuko gradually comes to internalize his uncle’s guidance and face his inner demons, demonstrating an analytic process of transference, resistance, and working through his conflicts.
We are committed to advancing psychoanalytic understanding of and dialog about important social phenomena. We therefore welcome psychoanalytically-informed submissions expressing varied perspectives on the current political campaigns.
By Dr. Mary Shepherd
I had dinner the other night with an 87-year-old friend of mine, a poet and member of the Hungarian aristocracy, who had fled in 1987 with her husband, who had survived three years in the Gulag, and landed here with only the clothes on her back. “I like to watch my Trumpy on TV,” she said with a wry grin. “Why?” I asked. “Because in Hungary I couldn’t say “I hate”. I couldn’t say I hate Stalin, I hate Lenin, I hate the Communists. I would have gone to jail.” “So, ‘Trumpy’ can say everything that political correctness prohibits, and it’s fun?” “Right,” she says. “Hitler was elected by popular vote you know.” Like the poet she is, my friend quickly juxtaposed her admission of a profound truth about human nature with her abhorrence of demagogy, vulgarity, and xenophobia. Human nature elected Hitler and may elect Trump: it’s really fun to just let fly with all our most destructive, primitive urges; out of fear of the unknown, out of our terror of the “other”, or out of our wishes to be superior and omnipotent. Nobody wants to admit that this is really how we are. But now a candidate for president legitimizes this, celebrates it, even glories in it. Now we can hate ’til our hearts content. Read the rest of this entry »
BGSP alumni demonstrate the importance of recognizing and learning how to navigate negative feelings when working on the front line in mental health institutions.
Negative feelings, such as anger, envy, hopelessness, fear and disgust, are part of being human, but they often present the biggest challenge when working with patients, colleagues, or institutions. This is especially true for frontline mental health workers who work with complicated and challenging cases. This Fall, a panel of BGSP alumni presented examples of dealing with difficult feelings in a variety of mental health settings, including a hospital diversion program, a group home and a home-based treatment program. Read the rest of this entry »
By Dr. Mara Wagner
My class this semester, Unconscious Dynamics in Film, recently discussed The English Patient , and with their permission, I decided to write it up as an example of what goes on in a course such as this. The film offered what one student called “a great primer” for the beginning of the semester (Bianca Grace). The weekly assignment had directed the students to think about wishes in conflict, to seek and document evidence of their inferences about unconscious dynamics, and to discover the wish represented as fulfilled in the film as a whole, as if it were a dream. We looked at clinical challenges and transformations in the characters as well. To these ends, we engaged in much the same process as the mis-identified patient, piecing together the unconscious story that was layered throughout the film and uncovering as much meaning as we could in the limited time we had.
Here is how IMDbPro summarized the film (with a few of my corrections in parentheses):
Set… during World War II, The English Patient is a story of love, fate, misunderstanding and healing. Told in a series of flashbacks, the film can best be explained by (restructuring) it into its two chronological phases.
In the first phase, set in the late 1930s, the minor Hungarian noble Count Laszlo de Almásy (Ralph Fiennes) is co-leader of a Royal Geographical Society archeological and surveying expedition in Egypt and Libya. He and his English partner Maddox (Julian Wadham) are at heart academics with limited sophistication in the swirling politics of Europe and North Africa. Shortly after the film begins, both the morale and finances of their expedition are bolstered by a British couple, Geoffrey and Katherine Clifton (Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas) that joins the exploration party. The Count is taken with the gorgeous and refined Katherine. When Geoffrey is often away from the group on other matters, an affair takes wing.
By Dr. Stephen Soldz
In Part I last week, I discussed the Bastos et al. study out of Brazil that found long-term psychodynamic therapy (LTPDT) to have better outcomes than fluoxetine after 24 months of treatment. This week I’ll take a look at another recent study involving another randomized controlled trial (RCT) of LTPDT (called by the authors Long-term Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy or LTPP). In a study out of Britain, Peter Fonagy and colleagues examined the value of LTPDT as a therapy for treatment-resistant depression.
Patients in this study were in an episode of major depression that had already lasted at least two years and had a minimum of two failed treatment attempts. (In fact, the mean number of prior treatments was nearly four.) One hundred twenty-nine patients met inclusion criteria and were randomly assigned either to receive 60 sessions of PDT therapy over 18 months or treatment as usual (TAU), following British government guidelines. Both groups received about the same number of medications. In addition to the medications, TAU included brief psychosocial treatments such as CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) or counseling. Patients were followed and administered a battery of assessment instruments several times over three and one half years (42 months); follow-up thus extended two years after the end of the PDT treatment. Read the rest of this entry »
By Dr. Stephen Soldz
Psychoanalysis and empirical research have not always been on friendly terms. Recent decades, however, have seen an increase in psychoanalytically-informed research. One area where this research has expanded is in assessing the outcomes of psychodynamic or psychoanalytic therapies. (In brief, psychodynamic therapies are based upon psychoanalytic principles but may not include all the features, such as use of a couch, of traditional psychoanalysis.)
Much of the research on the outcomes of psychodynamic psychotherapy has focused upon short-term, if not explicitly time-limited treatments. In general, this research demonstrates that short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy is better than no treatment and is roughly equivalent in outcomes to other types of treatment.
Study of long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy (LTPP) has proven more difficult. Random assignment, the preferred technique for making strong conclusions regarding therapy efficacy, is difficult when patients are assigned to long treatments, due to patient resistance to randomization and their tendency to drop out of longer treatments that are either not working or working well enough that patients feel they’ve had enough. Read the rest of this entry »