IARTA was delighted to welcome the Keynote speaker for their 2013 annual conference, who was Dr Lew Aron. Lew spoke about some of the topics from his latest book co-authored with Karen Starr entitled A Psychotherapy for the People. He focussed in particular on mutual vulnerability in the therapeutic relationship and the concept of thirdness as well as offering a fascinating overview of the history and development of relationality in psychoanalysis.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Lew Aron (pictured right). Dr.Aron has received the New York State Psychological Association (NYSPA) Distinguished Service Award and the Division of Psychoanalysis (39) Leadership Award. He holds a Diplomate in Psychoanalysis from the American Board of Professional Psychology and is a Fellow of both the American Psychological Association and of the Academy of Psychoanalysis.
Lew was one of the founders, and is an Associate Editor of Psychoanalytic Dialogues and is the series editor (with Adrienne Harris) of the Relational Perspectives Book Series, Routledge and is the Editor of the Psychoanalysis & Jewish Life Book Series, The Academic Press.
Lew's second keynote, which took place after lunch, was followed by a panel discussion where Lew was joined by Carole Shadbolt, Ray Little, Andrew Samuels and Paul Kellett van Leer. The pane was chaired by Charlotte Sills. Panellists started by responding to the day's stimulating talks and then opened the discussion to the floor.
Pictured here are some of the conference delegates who took part in small group discussions and large group plenaries. Feedback from the day was very positive
Brian Fenton writes his personal reflection on the day:
The annual IARTA conference was once again held at the NVCO in Kings Cross, London. This venue, set by the water, is becoming a familiar scene for the Relational TA conference and has perhaps evolved as something of a tradition in itself. The setting was complimented with fine food and as well as being an intellectually stimulating day, there was opportunity to both catch up with old friends and make some anew. A warm welcome was received by conference delegates, with some coming from far and wide.
The keynote speaker was Dr Lew Aron - an authority on relational psychoanalysis who read from his paper ‘Mutual Vulnerability: An Ethic of Clinical Practice'.
Lew’s speech focussed on the history and contextual development of Psychoanalysis, and how this tradition emerged on the margins of society. Not quite science and not quite art, Lew used the term ‘monster’ to capture the nature of the beast. In particular he spoke of the setting of Freud’s writings where anti-Semitism was rife in Europe and where Jewishness itself was seen by many to be less than human. Within this context, circumcision situated Jewish men as lacking and not ‘quite’, which led to them being feminised, with all the attacks femininity entailed, such as being viewed as irrational, weak minded and vulnerable. Lew proposed one effect arising from the extreme vulnerability of being Jewish was the emergence of a tradition of psychoanalysis from a group of Jewish men led by Freud, which was that it was steeped in psychological defences that projected, displaced, and disavowed vulnerabilities into others (The patient). This left the all-knowing therapists being valued as male, endowed with the attributes of maleness such as being rational and strong. This was combined with an attempt by those within the field of psychoanalysis to align with hard science.
In particular Lew spoke of the effects of adopting a position which disavowed vulnerability on psychoanalysis as a discipline today in its struggle to incorporate a two person psychology. Two person has a central premise of intersubjectivity which inherently incorporates bi-directional effect. Accommodating his notion is a challenge to therapies in general, and to psychoanalysis in particular, as bi-directional effect includes notions of mutual vulnerability within the here-and-now therapeutic relatedness. As intersubjectivity is in essence, a term for a third subjectivity; one that is neither self nor other but exists between both, and is in a sense, a shared subjectivity, this leads to concepts of thirdness. Lew notes that this has the effect of loosening boundaries and signifies a shift away from value laden binaries towards a position of less certainty and what he terms ‘undecidable thirds’.
At this point we broke into small groups in order to reflect on and digest the presented material and to formulate questions for Lew. Among the themes that emerged in the group were those of practitioner vulnerability in relation to therapists being ill and working through, or not. This led into other factors such as social situation and choices. What came to my mind was Lord Nelson’s death. As he lay dying he is reported to have said ‘kiss me Hardy’ to his close compatriot Captain Hardy. These words have been a point of debate ever since. While it is accepted he said this, the discussion questions Nelson’s sexuality and whether or not he may have been gay. Relating this to notions of vulnerability and maleness this potentially illustrated an example of rather than a man simply express vulnerability, contextual norms push for him to be feminised (in more recent times at least) through dubious links with ill-informed notions of homosexuality.
In the second part of Lew's keynote which took place after lunch, he delved further into the context of the genesis of psychoanalysis, and termed psychoanalysis itself a ‘holocaust survivor’- where a group of mainly male immigrants in New York, who originated from a very small geographic area in Vienna, sought to represent humanity within their theory. He proposed that with hindsight this approach has many shortcomings, citing one current effect of this being how difficult it can be for readers of psychoanalysis to find themselves in psychoanalytical writing. He pointed later of the difficulties of embracing a two person approach and for the need to rewrite everything from (I believe) a post-modern perspective, and noted the enormity of this task. Lew’s suggestion that Freud managed to omit contextual ant-Semitism from his dream interpretations was fascinating. In a sense Freud missed out the real fires raging around his clients, preferring to focus his attention on deeper processes originating from intra-psychic and drive based conflicts. This omitted the more obvious source of these dreams being here and now anxieties related to socio-political factors of the time.
Lew’s talk was then was followed by a panel discussion where he was joined by Carole Shadbolt, Ray Little, Andrew Samuels and Paul Kellett van Leer. The panel was chaired by Charlotte Sills. Panellists responded to the day's stimulating talks. Among the topics were themes of political vulnerability within the current economic crisis and what was suggested as disavowments of this vulnerability. The establishment in the form of the current government being described as well versed with the processes of disavowment at a personal level, through their having been raised within a culture of boarding school. This disavowment it was proposed as potentially the root of seeming hatred of and the attacks on the most vulnerable people in our society; those who claim benefits and those who most need a strong NHS. Lew then pointed to therapy itself as being elitist, which led back to an earlier point that there are few if any working class people depicted in psychotherapy books.
Near the end of the day the audience had a final opportunity to have a dialogue with Lew and the panel and at that point chairs were moved from rows into a circle which filled the room. Among the topics were the parallels between Berne’s life story and Freud’s, and there was discussion on the difficulties and discomfort of working with disability, in relation to vulnerability. There was also comment on the idea of free clinics and a 'therapy for the people' (the title of the book by Aron and Starr) which had originally been initiated by Freud. Then Lew raised a salient point on how it was only when psychoanalysis became associated with medical models that the scientific status that came with it seemed to trigger an inflexible psychoanalytical approach; perhaps in a misguided attempt to demonstrate experimental rigour.
The conference concluded with the fourth AGM where the steering group, and those IARTA members who stayed behind for the meeting, said a fond farewell (for now) to Ray Little, and welcomed in new members David Tisdel, Mica Douglas and myself. Aside the usual business the fine efforts made by the conference organisers Heather Fowlie, Carol Faulkner and Heidi Amey were acknowledged and appreciated.
Note. The above comments on Lew Aron’s speech are my interpretation and are not intended to be an accurate account.