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Letter from the Director of Training

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Dear Colleagues,

It is spring and the end of another academic year. I’m writing this letter on Memorial Day weekend. Spring and Memorial Day. How apropos, the juxtaposition of the two. As I step outside in the morning, the fresh smell of spring's verdure brings me hope and a moment of untrammeled joy. But then, my habitual perusal of the morning paper brings me back to sober reality. Ukraine, where untold lives have been cut short in a shockingly senseless war. Uvalde, Texas, where a young gunman killed nineteen children. And 6.3 million deaths worldwide from COVID-19.

May 6th marked 166 years since Freud’s birth. The IPA, in remembrance, put out a lovely video in which analysts from around the world reflected on this anniversary. How much has changed since Freud’s time? What remarkable advances in science, medicine, technology, and human rights! In our still fledgling field of psychoanalysis, there have been significant advances in understanding this “talking cure” we practice, study, and contribute to.

Still, reading the morning news, I’m struck by how little has changed from Freud’s time. We are still the same human beings, struggling to come to terms with the facts of life, still caught between our instinctual drives and the expectations, influences, and prohibitions of society, the same wondrous and woeful creatures of Freud’s epoch. Freud was in his seventies when he wrote Civilization and Its Discontents. World War I, in which 10-12 million died, was only a decade in the past and Hitler would soon be appointed chancellor of Germany. Here is Freud’s final paragraph in Civilization and Its Discontents:

The fateful question for the human species seems to me to be whether and to what extent their cultural development will succeed in mastering the disturbance of their communal life by the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction. It may be that in this respect precisely the present time deserves a special interest. Men have gained control over the forces of nature to such an extent that with their help they would have no difficulty in exterminating one another to the last man. They know this, and hence comes a large part of their current unrest, their unhappiness and their mood of anxiety. And now it is to be expected that the other of the two ‘Heavenly Powers’, eternal Eros, will make an effort to assert himself in the struggle with his equally immortal adversary. But who can foresee with what success and with what result?

Freud’s words are as timely and poignant now as they were when he wrote them. Eros versus Thanatos. Narcissism versus Socialism. Good versus evil. We might not all agree on the theoretical underpinnings of the existence of a death drive, but the basic and eternal struggle within and among human beings is indisputable.

Sitting down to write this letter, I found myself scribbling a poem on a scrap of paper:

How much has been lost?

What boundaries have we inexorably crossed?

Where are we bound?

Terra firma? Solid ground?

What will be recovered?

An inner strength discovered?

What must be born?

What must we mourn?

This Spring term, our analytic candidates returned to in-person classes, or more accurately, hybrid classes, in which some students and instructors were in-person while others were online. This is our ‘new normal’. Our two-year Fundamentals of Psychoanalysis course continues to be offered exclusively online. This may be a new normal as well. Teleconferencing technology has opened new opportunities for training and practicing. As we adopt these new ways of connecting, we also, inevitably, mourn what was. Our institute is growing and changing in other ways in response to a changing world. A year ago, I wrote the following in my letter for this newsletter:

An analytic institute is shaped by the society in which it is imbedded. It changes and adapts to the times in order to remain relevant, in alignment with societal norms and sensibilities, or else it becomes anachronistic and out of step. On the other hand, if an institute reacts to every societal spasm, it can lose its focus, and stray from the fundamentals. An institute needs to find a balance between permeability and boundedness, stability and change.

A year later, this paragraph remains relevant and reminds me of something a supervisor offered. She advised me to help a patient differentiate between growing pains and the pains of stagnation and stuck-ness. Her advice could be extended to the NPSI Institute and to our struggling nation.

Reviewing what I’ve written, I find myself trying to see how the first part of this letter and the latter portion fits together. I believe they do, in that the impulse towards death/destruction/violence is, to one degree or another, a reaction to change, an attempt to control ‘catastrophic change’ (in the Bionian sense). As psychoanalysts and psychotherapists, we witness the eternal conflict between the libidinal and destructive instincts and attempt to intervene on behalf of Eros. I believe our work, one patient at a time, contributes to humanity’s struggle. With each individual, as with humanity as a whole, we can’t “foresee with what success and with what result” our efforts will have. But we continue to work and, in so doing, make our contributions.

Keep up the good work!

David Parnes, LICSW, FIPA

Director of Training

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