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The English Patient

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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.

Dr. Mara Wagner (1)
Dr. Mara Wagner

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Research Note: Controlled Trials of Psychodynamic Therapy, Part II

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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.

Dr. Stephen Soldz
Dr. Stephen Soldz

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 »

Research Note: Controlled Trials of Psychodynamic Therapy, Part I

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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.)

Dr. Stephen Soldz
Dr. Stephen Soldz

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 »

Qigong as a Complement to Psychoanalysis

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By Dr. Joan White

“Qigong is to pull out the suffering at its root” – Dr. Yang Yang, Director of The Center for Taiji and QiGong Studies

Dr. Joan White (1)
Dr. Joan White

My daughter refers to it as the day I hit myself on the head with a rock.  I had unconsciously reacted to the death of a loved one in a destructive way; after working too hard in the garden, I fell and severely cut my head on a rock.  I thought that through work, writing a dissertation and the support of family, I was coping well with the loss.  But, here I was without words, being dominated by the death drive to join my loved one.

I am a student of the mind who is aware of the on-going struggle between the life and death drives.  Although I do not feel that death is a pathology – it is simply a part of life – I do believe that we can enjoy a more rich experience of life when we become aware of the ways we unconsciously sabotage ourselves, thereby avoiding those repetitions.

When I fell, it signaled to me that I did not have the availability of words to communicate my feelings, so I chose Qigong to help me work with a body/mind process.  This served to propel my awareness of the unconscious emotions to a place of understanding and acceptance. Read the rest of this entry »

Oliver Sacks Video

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By Dr. Stephen Soldz

The great neurologist Oliver Sacks, who died last weekend, was a great friend of psychoanalysis. In this 2011 interview he describes his own psychoanalysis, which at that point had extended for 46 years, as “one of the longest analyses on record.” With wry humor Sacks continued: “we’re beginning to get somewhere now.” Sacks goes on to describe the importance of maintaining proprieties such as use of last names between analyst and patient as a way of creating a safe environment that facilitates free

Watch this fascinating interview segment here:

The entire interview can be watched here:

A review of Senior Talks; making choices toward a full life

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By Kathleen Henneberry

We need to revise how we think about aging. The old paradigm was: you’re born you peak at midlife and then you decline into decrepitude. Looking at aging as ascending a staircase, you gain well-being, spirit, soul, wisdom, the ability to be truly intimate and a life with intention. –Jane Fonda   

Christina Healy and Marjorie Goodwin
Christina Healy and Marjorie Goodwin

On two evenings in May, Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis offered two workshops designed to explore the challenges of aging. Called Senior Talks, these discussions were led by Marjorie Goodwin, Psya. D., R.N. and Christina Healy, Cert. Psya., R.N., who are both faculty members at BGSP. They have a combined total experience of more than fifty years working with elderly patients and their families. They have dealt with problems such as Alzheimer’s, addictions, depression, dementia and other complicated conditions and situations brought about by entering old age.

The first workshop, entitled Positive Aging: Living the Fulfilled Life and Exploring what makes us Happy focused on the ways we can examine our desires, and define the life we want to have going forward in time.  Some audience members shared their recent personal experiences, noting  efforts they have made. They described reaching out and joining community groups, attending events, and staying engaged with church, and cultural and family life, yet oft times they still experienced loneliness and continued feelings of isolation. Read the rest of this entry »

Psychoanalysis and Social Justice

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Faculty Member Dr. Stephen Soldz took on the American Psychological Association, confronting social denial and co-leading the movement to remove psychologists from abusive interrogations.

Dr. Stephen Soldz
Dr. Stephen Soldz

For over nine years, BGSP faculty member Dr. Stephen Soldz searched for the truth about psychologist involvement in national security interrogations.  With the recent release of the Hoffman Report, to which Soldz and his colleagues contributed extensive research, Soldz says that the American Psychological Association was forced to lift its veil of secrecy and denial.

On August 7, 2015, the APA voted overwhelmingly to ban psychologist participation in national security interrogations.

As a psychoanalyst-activist, Soldz advocated for years against APA ethics policies that protected government psychologists involved in abusive interrogations from scrutiny.  Psychoanalysts, he comments, tend to have a “deep skepticism about the use of violence (such as torture) to solve social problems.”

An equally great struggle, Soldz says, was to counter the APA’s elaborate public relations strategy denying its collusion with the Department of Defense and other government agencies, and the resulting blindness of uninvolved leadership and membership.

Soldz’s recent successes in forcing change in the American Psychological Association build directly upon his work for the past decade in three areas of research and advocacy:

  • The role of psychologists in national security interrogations, including torture;
  • Collusion between the APA and the security sector; and
  • The appropriate ethical boundaries for psychologists working in national security settings.

With his colleagues, Soldz has worked over time to build alliances between activists, human rights oriented psychologists, and other sectors of the human rights community. He actively helped to reveal the roles of psychologists Mitchell and Jessen in the CIA’s torture program and likewise facilitated revelations of unethical behavior by Behavioral Science Consultants at the US detention center in Guantánamo.  Through his advocacy, he has cast attention upon unethical research by the CIA and questionable research by other sectors of the intelligence community and unveiled the collusion behind the APA’s PENS Task Force, highlighted in the Hoffman Report.

Since the release of the investigation report, the APA implemented several of the recommendations of Soldz and his colleague Steven Reisner, including firing the APA Ethics Director.  The report also resulted in the early retirement of the APA’s CEO and Deputy CEO, the resignation of its Director of Public Relations, and the resignation of a former APA director as Provost of Alliant International University. Most critical, however, was the 157 – 1 vote of APA’s Council of Representatives to ban psychologist participation in national security interrogations, bringing psychologists finally into line with the medical profession, which has an established ban on such activities.

Regarding these painful changes, Soldz asserts, “It is a real challenge to get through the social denial of the organization, to the truth.”  As in psychoanalysis, he adds, it takes a lot of mettle to “face up to your deficits and come to terms with who you are.”

Soldz’s next project is a conference hosted by BGSP and funded by the Meyer Foundation to call attention to the broader issues of the ethics of operational psychology – that is, what guidelines should “helping professionals” follow when consulting with security professionals?

To hear more from Dr. Soldz:


Democracy Now!

Background Briefing on WKPFK (LA) and other stations nationwide

WHYY radio interview

Democracy Now! 2



Huffington Post


The Guardian

The Guardian 2

Science Magazine

Truth Dig 

Counter Punch

University World News  


The Guardian 3


Huffington Post