Latest Event Updates

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

The ‘deus’ in ‘ex machina’

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By Wes Alwan, former BGSP student


While the “deus” is missing from the title of Alex Garland’s incredible film Ex Machina, it figures prominently in its reflection upon the nature of artificial intelligence. Would the advent of conscious machines aid humanity—even save it—by leading to the kind of super-intelligence that we could harness to our own ends? Or would it mean the end of human beings, their replacement by creatures with godlike powers? If the former, the end of the human story is more like the deus ex machina of ancient Greek drama, a plot device in which divine intervention saves characters from an otherwise irredeemable tragedy. If the latter, it has more in common with the contrived ending to which the phrase now generally refers: radically incongruent with the events that have preceded it, to sinister effect.

These alternatives might amount to the same thing. Perhaps it is not humanity that needs saving, but intelligence. Earth is a finite resource, and human lifespans ill-adapted to the scale of space-time. What is required then, is a smart new suit of armor, an immortal coil, to serve as a permanent vehicle for the universe’s improbable project of self-consciousness, once earth and flesh and even their cosmic center have long been displaced.

To eliminate the “deus” from “deus ex machina” is seemingly to sideline this question concerning the consequences of artificial intelligence in favor of the question of its possibility: to focus on whether consciousness could ever emerge out of a machine (a phrase evocative of the philosopher Gilbert Ryle’s criticism of mind-body dualism as involving a “ghost in the machine”). But then the question is how we could ever tell whether a machine is conscious, when computers are very good at producing simulations whose faithfulness implies nothing about their reality. The classic proposal for a method of making this distinction is the Turing Test, developed by computer scientist Alan Turing in his 1950 paper “Computer Machinery and Intelligence.” The test is premised on the notion that behavior is a good-enough criterion for sentience, and that if machines can “do what we (as thinking entities) can do,” then they must also be thinking entities. Consequently, we should be able to tell whether a machine has a mind simply by having a conversation with it: language is a complex enough phenomenon that a non-sentient machine would be easy to manipulate into producing a distinctively non-human response. A machine that consistently leads us to believe it is sentient—assuming we can communicate with it without seeing whether it is a machine or a human being—must in fact be sentient.

Read the rest of this entry »

Moral Injury Talks Pt. 2

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In early April, BGSP hosted a continuing education event, Moral Injury and the Long Road Home From War. This event featured a talk by Lt. Col. Douglas Pryer, with discussion by psychoanalyst-psychologist Jaine Darwin. Last week we posted the talk by LTC Pryer. This week we post Dr. Darwin’s comments.

Image from BGSP's Moral Injury Event
Image from BGSP’s Moral Injury Event

By Jaine Darwin, Psy.D., ABPP

I am pleased to be asked to discuss LTC Pryer’s talk, a talk I processed through multiple lenses as a psychoanalyst who has worked with trauma for the past thirty years, as someone who Co-founded and Co-directed a pro bono mental health project working with family of service members serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and as the daughter of a man who served and was wounded in WWII. First I would like to thank LTC Pryer for his service and to admire the curiosity and courage it takes to enter the alien culture of mental health and to ask the mental health professionals to enter the culture of the military.  This issue of culture impacts the concept of moral injury as I will discuss later.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were notable for their length, for the multiple deployments, for being fought by an all volunteer fighting force and for signature wounds, PTSD and TBI, Traumatic brain injury, that were invisible to the untrained eye. They involved 360 degree kill zones with no safe area. With IED’s, improvised explosive devices, and suicide bombers, the green zone was a concept, not a reality.  It was as if we were designing a breeding ground for injury and trauma, physical, emotional and moral. Read the rest of this entry »

Moral Injury Talks Pt. 1

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Image from BGSP’s Moral Injury Event

In early April, BGSP hosted a continuing education event, Moral Injury and the Long Road Home From War. This event featured a talk by Lt. Col. Douglas Pryer, with discussion by psychoanalyst-psychologist Jaine Darwin. We post here LTC Pryer’s talk. Next week we will post Dr. Darwin’s comments.

By Lt. Col. Douglas Pryer
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

So, where to begin? When writing about combat veterans, Dr. Meagher, the eminent classicist, likes to emphasize the role that stories play in helping veterans’ lives.  “For veterans,” he recently wrote, “stories are often a matter of life and death, sacred stuff, the road out of darkness, the path to healing.” Or, as Tim O’Brien wrote in The Things They Carried:

All those Stories. Not bloody stories necessarily. Happy stories, too, and even a few peace stories.… That’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story. Read the rest of this entry »


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By Dr. Mary Shepherd

Life is a race.  Out of death.  Against death.  Toward death.  Every move forward carries with it a weight of undoing.  Life is heavy-hearted.  A billion sperm lunge.  One wins.  A startled egg stirs.  Cells divide.  Begin dying.  A baby grows to bursting.  A mother evicts.  They survive.  The screaming killer devours.  Sleeps.  Devours.  Sleeps.  Dreams.  These are the first pictures.  This is mind.  Pictures painted on your retina by the forces of life and death, pleasure and pain.  Deep within the old reptilian brain, forces swirl toward.  And away from.  This is your engine, the boiler-room of your desire.  Blind lunging toward.  Away from.  Toward pleasure.  Away from pain.  Pain.  Pain.  Spit it out.  Squirm.  Cry.  Sleep.  Dream.  Pictures of fulfillment; pictures of rage.  What satisfies?  What blinds?  In this the rhythm of the first days, the patterns are formed, cuts and ruts form the runways of to and fro.  To the extent that pleasure is maximized and synchronized, the paths complexify, soften, bend, take new turns, seek new pleasures, make pictures of green and gold.  Life is union, expansion, multiplication.  To the extent that pain replicates, it congests, contracts, coagulates, chokes, distends, repeats.  The roads stiffen into limitation.  The ruts toward destruction deepen and dominate desire.  Death is older than life, tougher, darker.

Mary Shepherd, Psya.D., M.A., Cert.Psya.
Mary Shepherd, Psya.D., M.A., Cert.Psya.

(Pretty soon) there you are.  Barely animate bundle of desire straining against fixity.  Some mind.  Colors for the world you look out on.  Is it black, or green?  Is April the cruelest month? Or the most joyful?  Do you see what you have?  Or what you do not have?  What avenues are available to you to satisfy your desires?  Can you go down the road you want to, or do you get stuck?  Writhe?  Careen?  Hit trees?  Freeze?  Run in circles?  Shrivel up?  Go nowhere?  Go Backwards?  Mark time?  How congealed in you are the downward pulls?  How far did you get in the amalgamation of life and death which is character?

Read the rest of this entry »

Mental Health Professionals & Insurance Companies

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By Michael Birnkrant

Recent legislative changes affecting mental health insurance coverage coming about due to The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (2008) and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA, 2010) will result in more people than ever having access to mental health treatment, especially those who can’t afford out of pocket treatment.

Michael Birnkrant
                 Michael Birnkrant, M.A.

All good things can have a cost, though, which brings me to thinking about what it means to have a metaphorical third in the room. Today, the most commonly encountered third party involved in mental health treatment is the insurance company. As more people seek mental health treatment through their health insurance plans, it is a good time to slow down and have a dialogue about how these changes will affect the work.

How ethical and accurate is it to diagnose a patient on the first visit—which is required if the therapist wants to get paid right away? What will it mean to keep patient records electronically (a requirement of ACA for all providers by 2017)? I read almost daily about breaches in security and identity theft (see the recent attack of 2/4/15 on over one million Anthem/ Blue Cross Blue Shield customers). When a third party is paying, how much can they dictate the duration and type of the treatment? Currently, that is an issue for many who feel it is impossible to disclose to a client the duration of a course of treatment before it starts—even though that is included in some insurance company agreements with providers and in some fields’ ethical codes.

Read the rest of this entry »