- Section VIII on Social Media
Letter from the President
by Phyllis Cohen, Psy.D.
It’s hard for me to believe that nearly two years have passed since I began my tenure as president of Section VIII and first wrote a “President’s Letter.” I’m hoping through these letters to the Section VIII community, I have been able to convey the creativity, richness of thought, and connection that comes from being an involved part of this group. I have been connected with Section VIII for many years in various capacities, and have had the pleasure to get to know those who have been involved from its inception and the new folks who join each year. This feeling of connection comes from, I think, the curious, dedicated, hardworking, persistent couple and family therapists involved and get the work done, individually and collectively.
To learn what is important to our broader membership,I put the question out to our members in an email earlier this year. When asked what they think are the main attractions of being a member, the top response was the Monthly Clinical Inquiry. As one member wrote: “One of the gifts of Section VIII membership has been a chance to participate in our on-line monthly ‘clinical questions’-the opportunity to share and listen and learn from colleagues has been crucial and supportive to my own clinical growth.” For those who aren’t familiar with this, each month, overseen by Roberta Caplan, a board member or award winner puts out a clinical question about any aspect of couple or family work. These questions often spark lively conversations that include theory, clinical and personal experiences. The discussions reflect a variety of theoretical perspectives, levels of training, clinical settings (getting some of us out of our “private practice” mentality) and years of experience, all in an engaging, curious environment. Over the years there has been a strong effort to get new and younger members, as well those who read but may not feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, to take the leap and join in the conversations. The more voices we have leads to a more inclusive learning experience. In fact, the name “Clinical Inquiry” was recently changed to Clinical Conversation. This was done to highlight the sharing of ideas and experience, underscoring the conversational tone of the questions raised.
Members also noted the value of the Section VIII listserv as a platform for sharing articles and concerns about the ways our clinical work is impacted by broader socio-political concerns, such as the historic level of negativity in our political climate, terrifying climate/environmental issues and geopolitical ruptures, through a psychoanalytic lens. Recently, Wendy Greenspun described her very interesting and important work of “actively presenting and writing on the Global Climate Emergency” that “has been an outgrowth of my work with couples and families and the integration of analytic and systems theories.” (My apologies to Wendy for abbreviating her thoughtful description of what she actually does.) Cindy Baum-Baiker wrote about her work on the toxic effects of the current political situation through a family systems lens. Others encouraged us to do more. Claire Stein suggested we “look at the cultural and social (communal) world and how it transmits into our professional lives,” and proposed that we “present couples and families who receive and pass on this powerful political anxiety.” Yes!
I was also reminded of the ways we connect at the Division 39 Spring Conference. Each year our members have been an active part of the conference, bringing a psychoanalytic lens to a broad range of couple and family clinical issues. This past year was no exception. Sarah White’s beautiful and engaging presentation was a shining example of what Section VIII offers. Her topic, “Sex education in the evangelical community and explicit messages about sex across cultures, generations and families in general," lead to a deep and personal discussion about the impact of early, conservative religion-based sex education on personal development. This discussion was paired with the work of the 2019 Gerald Stechler Research Award recipient Tamar Bachrach, “Pillow Talk: Understanding Sexual Exploration and Satisfaction After Marriage in Orthodox Judaism.” In past years we have presented panels at this conference from a wide range of clinical and theoretical experiences, including in 2018, “Polyamory, Consensual Non-exclusivity and Trans-Inclusivity: Plus ca change…” At the next Division 39 Spring Conference in March, a joint discussion with Section X, Psychoanalysis and Technology, is already in the works for our conversation hour. We hope to see many of you in NYC!
In addition to the Gerald Stechler Research Award, we also gave four Scholar Awards for graduate students, early career professionals and/or candidates who have demonstrated a particular interest in couple or family work. You can read the conference reflections of this year’s recipients in this newsletter. It was great meeting each of them at the awards ceremony! We have a terrific yearly newsletter that contains member news, upcoming conference information, scholar and research award information, and articles of interest written by our members. This year, under our intrepid committee, guided by Sonia Kahn and Noa Ashman, we have made a successful transition to a fully online, tree-saving, medium. Check out past issues on our website www.sectionVIII.org. Our website was also recently updated! (Thanks to Sonia Kahn!) There are helpful links including membership renewal instructions and member directory.
I am going to end with what I think is most central to keeping us vibrant and active----what our members say is the highlight of the couple and family therapy section--the way it creates a feeling of family. Like all growing and changing families, we still have work to do and I have confidence we will continue to grow as the leadership is transferred to the very capable hands of Francine Godet in January. We welcome you to join our conversation and our journey to become a more diverse and inclusive organization that reflects the world we live in.
Member News and Announcements
Stacy Malin, PhD will be presenting a couples case at the upcoming Stephen Mitchell Relational Study Center conference on November 16, 2019 at the Riverside Church on the Upper West Side in NYC. In light of the conference theme, Surviving Destruction, she will present a case of a highly dysregulated couple with whom she made a dramatic embodied intervention in order to contain their mutual destructiveness. The event begins at 9:00am and costs $220 general admission for the whole day. Please visit www.mitchellrelationalcenter.org for more information.
Noa Ashman, LCSW-C will be presenting at the 7th International Congress on Couple & Family Psychoanalysis in San Francisco (February 6-9, 2020). Her presentation is entitled, "To Have And To Hold, Till Sex Do Us Part: An Existential Frame For Understanding Sexual Life In The Aging Couple." Her presentation will occur on February 8, 2020 at 3:45pm. For more information, please visit: https://cofapipa.org.
Claire B. Steinberger, PhD will present a second online Psychoanalysis and Couple Workshop entitled, “The Nuts and Bolts of Psychoanalytic Couple Therapy” for the Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Learning Center of the National Psychological Association of Psychoanalysis (NPAP). Her chapter “Fashion as Metaphor: Playing In the Transitional Space” in Psychoanalysis and Fashion (IPBooks, eds. Katz and Richards, 2018) emphasizes a multi-sensorial intersubjective view of couple treatment. This workshop will occur on December 14, 2019 at 10:00am. Please visit the NPAP Calendar of Events for more information.
NCSPP and PCPG were pleased to host Carla Leone, PhD who addressed how one thinks and works with couples through the lens of Self Psychology. In her presentation, she asked the question: How does a couple promote a connection that helps each member of the couple consolidate and maintain a positive, vitalized sense of themselves as individuals within the couple? Her presentation on October 26, 2019 at 9:00am at the Brower Center in Berkeley, California was entitled, "Promoting Self-Object experience Between Partners; The Application of Self Psychology and Related Theories to Couple Psychotherapy."
Ortal Kirson-Trilling, PsyD will be presenting at the 7th International Congress on Couple and Family Psychoanalysis in San Francisco (February 6-9, 2020). Her presentation is entitled "The Bonds that Bind; Diavowal of Vulnerability in Traumatized Couples.”
Please look into the 7th International Congress on Couple & Family Psychoanalysis, "Who is the Couple? Who is the Family? Creating New Therapeutic Possibilities" in San Francisco, CA on February 6-9, 2020. Diverse and rich presentations, both clinical and theoretical, from many of the leading Psychoanalytic Couple and Family clinicians. Check out the wonderful program on the conference website: https://cofapipa.org. Various conference registration fees will apply.
The SectionVIII Board at the Annual Board Dinner in Philadelphia
Two Encounters: Father and Daughter Reshaped by Pregnancy and Sobriety
by Sarah Jenkins, MSW, LCSWA, LCASA
Kate rubbed her belly the way she always does, but with an upcharge, given the impending encounter. She clutched her most recent ultrasound photos and two tie-dyed onesies, made lovingly for her unborn child by the other patients at the dual-diagnosis residential treatment center where I am a Primary Therapist. Kate was walking down with me to the clinical offices to see her father, whom she hadn’t seen in over 6 months.
Both father and daughter had recounted their last meeting to me. Kate had been high on methamphetamines, taking time out her day as a sex worker living in a roadside hotel to have dinner with her visiting Dad, as was their custom. When Dad and Mom divorced when Kate was 7, Dad moved out of state and kept going, as close as Texas to North Carolina and as far away as Europe. Kate, a self-proclaimed “Daddy’s girl”, idolized her father in his absence. He showered her with money due to self-proclaimed guilt. “I spoiled my child,” he said near-tears to me on our first phone call. He felt responsible for her substance use disorder and knew his “fixing” attempts translated to enabling.
The last time they saw each other, father picked up daughter in the parking lot of her hotel. He described her as wearing “clothes a dad never wants to see his daughter in”. He knew about the sex work but had to guess about the meth--she’d lost too much weight.
She recalls her shame after the fact--what she remembers most is the absence of feeling brought on by her chronic substance use. They never even made it to dinner. Dad was embarrassed to be seen in public with her. He gave her some cash, drove her back to the hotel, let her out, then cried alone in his car. She went inside to shoot up.
They are meeting again now for a 3-hour family therapy session, facilitated by myself and the Family Support Specialist, a therapist who has been having weekly phone sessions with Dad for the past two months. When father and daughter meet again, she is blushing, healthy-looking, pregnant, glowing, alert, bright, and 4 months sober. He is awkward and loving. He learns she is having a boy. He is looking at her. It’s hard for him to speak. She smiles; I notice her voice changes when she talks to him--softer, more high pitched, guarded, maybe? The session begins.
We talk about the divorce most of all. How messy her room would get as a child, the hoarded food under the bed. “You were just lazy. Lazy and filthy,” her father says. I feel a pain and a deep anger that I identify as a madness post-abandonment. It’s a quiet, sad, and empty anger for my client. I mention an eating disorder and the impact of trauma. I try to contextualize that kind of food hoarding and binging behavior in children. I mention childhood sexual abuse.
Dad gets it like a light bulb turning on. He puts his head in his hands.
“You’ve been sick for such a long time."
Kate begins to weep as the moment of recognition quietly moves over her. I think about her lonely childhood, how long ago she was left, and how drugs and sex moved in concert to fill the gaping holes in her attachment template. I think of the parallel process of how she will reparent herself through parenting her son as her father realizes the full magnitude of his daughter’s life. I am filled with the paradoxical presence of hope and grief, hoping that my willingness to hold the tension between these intense and opposing feelings will yield more psychic space for father and daughter in a reunion so pregnant with regret and possibility.
Then there were three: Working with couples with substance addiction through a psychoanalytic lens
by Jamie L. Loveland, PhD, LCSW
Winner of the 2019 Gerald Stechler Research Award
As the 2018-19 recipient of the Gerald Stechler Award, I am honored to present a brief description of my research which utilized Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (1). My purpose was to explore master couple therapists’ experience in treating couples with substance use disorders (SUD’s) to understand and identify psychoanalytic psychotherapeutic factors.
Most couples entering treatment for SUD’s are treated under the auspices of the biomedical and behavioral models. As such, addiction is viewed as a brain disease where the focus is on biological components that operate objectively and treatment that reduces or eliminates use. The using partner is seen as the “addict”, the non-using partner as “co-dependent”, and recovery is individually driven without consideration of the couple until much later, if at all.
The challenge with this modality is that it dictates that couple therapy be avoided in early recovery despite the lack of empirical support (2), and as such discounts research identifying relationship health and wellness as a strong predictor of successful long-term recovery (3). Additionally, it disregards research validating couple therapy as an effective treatment for many mental health disorders (4) and diminishes the conceptualization of addiction long understood as a family disease (5).
While the biological influences on the etiology and pathology of addiction are irrefutable, an unadulterated focus that “reduces individuals to a neurologically based craving” is restrictive (6) and neglects a balanced approach that considers addiction through an experience-dependent lens (7). For example, a husband’s withdrawal in the relationship might be completely attributed to his SUD allowing core factors such as his wife’s avoidant attachment style to remain unexplored. A goal of psychodynamic psychotherapy in SUD treatment is to reveal underlying dynamics, including emotional factors and defense mechanisms, that can influence use.