by: DIANE SWIRSKY, PH.D.
"Why does American psychoanalysis seem to have bypassed the civil rights movement altogether? ... there seems no sense of urgency to address the effects of American racism in American analysis at all levels -- from the intrapsychic to local and national organizations" (Bass, 2003, p. 30).
"It is impossible to miss the obvious. The Division  is aging and the division is almost exclusively white. These two facts alone do not augur well for the future of the division or the future of psychoanalysis" (Ainslie, 2012, p. 32).
"If present trends in immigrations and birth rates persist in the United States, people of color will no longer be the minority, but the majority, by the year 2050" (Norcross, Freedheim, & Vandenbos, 2011, p. 756).
It seems to me that psychoanalysis and, by extension, psychoanalytic psychotherapy, has a two-fold problem: the first is difficulty attracting people of color to training sites, organizations and institutes, and the second is providing culturally competent treatment to people of color and publishing about the treatment.
There is no question that the women's movement and the LGBT rights movement have had an impact on the theory and practice of psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Further, those movements have led to an increase of women and LGBT analysts and therapists and a huge shift in attitude toward both groups. Why, as Bass asks, have we, as a psychoanalytic community, been so unable or unwilling to grapple with race? There are certainly historical explanations, but at a time when psychoanalytic theories have become more egalitarian, many institutes are hurting for candidates, and our big cities are increasingly diverse, why has the racial and ethnic make-up of our psychoanalytic organizations not changed very much?
What is even more puzzling to me is why we have been, for the most part, so complacent about this situation. At NCSPP, we have found that our events draw very few racial or ethnic minorities, and those events or courses that focus on race are usually under-enrolled. Furthermore, discussions about race often get confounded with discussions about income and class. The NCSPP board has begun the hard work of organizational examination, beginning with trying to understand what we are doing (or not doing) that keeps people of color away from our offerings. These are hard discussions. Not one of us, whether we are white or of color, wants to think about our own participation in maintaining the status quo. Our board and committees are more diverse than they used to be, and that's a good beginning. However, we need to do more. We are discussing various ways we could be perceived as exclusive, irrelevant, and "too white" as an organization. We have reached out to new, more diverse communities and heard about their distrust of NCSPP and of psychoanalysis. We are working on building bridges.
This is the time of year that we look for new committee members and board members. If you have an interest in helping us change the status quo so we can provide psychoanalytic education that includes more diversity, please let me know! We are very committed to changing, and we need the help of every member.
Diane Swirsky, Ph.D.
Bass, A. (2003). Historical and unconscious trauma: Racism and Psychoanalysis. In Moss, D. (2003) ed. Hating in the first person plural: psychoanalytic essays on racism, homophobia, misogyny, and terror. Other Press: New York.
Norcross, J.C., Freedheim, D.K, & Vandenbos, G.R. (Eds.) (2011). Into the future: Retrospect and prospect in psychotherapy. In J.C. Norcross, D.K. Freedheim, & G.R. Vandenbos (Eds.) History of psychotherapy: Continuity and change (pp. 743-760). Washington, D.C. American Psychological Association.
Prince, B., Ainslie, R., McWilliams, N., Thomas, N. & Axelrod, S. (2012). Roundtable on Division 39 practice survey. Division/Review, 5 (Summer).