Adrienne Harris: The next generation of psychoanalysts should understand the importance of freedom


Adrienne Harris is one of the leading personalities of Relational psychoanalysis. Among other things, she is an Associate Editor of Psychoanalytic Dialogues journal and edits the Stephen Mitchell Relational Book Series (which has published over 35 books in its series).  Her professional interests are the analytic subjectivity and relation between psychoanalysis and gender, and development. This interview took place in Prague during the „2nd Fenichel’s conference: Psychic change“ in October 2017.

This article is the second part of the interview with Adrienne Harrs (part one).

Jakub Kuchař: What do you think about the future of psychoanalysis? Do you have any idea where it will head to? Or where it should head to?

Adrienne Harris: Well, I don’t. It’s hard to imagine it. I actually don’t think about the future in the sense of where something will head to. I’m much more interested in right now: Who are the young people in psychoanalysis? Who’s the next generation? How do we help them get ready to be the leaders? So I think that psychoanalysis has changed, and has changed a lot. It’s more sensitive to the political and the social than I think it was forty years ago. But each generation will need to build the psychoanalysis for the world they live in. So I’m less concerned at what’s going to happen in the future than what is happening right now. What do the young analysts need in the way of support and authorization? The relational group that I was part of was started, among others, by Stephen Mitchell. And Mitchell was incredibly good at motivating younger people to step up. Write something. Teach something. Speak. He wanted people to find their voice. So, I would say that what I would hope for the near future, is that analysts in my generation authorize the next generation to find its voice. In the lecture we just heard there was something very interesting the historian said about after the first world war: all these people who were fighting for freedom were killed in the war and then you don’t have a surviving generation that knew how to build. In some sense there wasn’t that spirit of a wish for freedom. So, what I would hope, is that we would inspire your generation to feel the importance of freedom. That there are issues that are really important to work on around race, around equality, around safety in a community. And how do we integrate these terrible crisis migration, climate and not really destroy ourselves? I would want to inspire the next generation to work for freedom. I know that is a very global thing to say, but I think it’s an important one: that psychoanalysis is a vocation of help for other people. A vocation of curing, helping, allowing people to live more reflectively. More consciously. That vocation has got tremendous political meaning, and I think the goal of my generation is to want to say to your generation that it is an important project: the establishment and conditions of freedom and reflection and being able to think and remember. Do it in the world. Do it in the clinic. Find your own path.

When you are talking about this what comes to my mind is the necessity of communication of psychoanalysis. To communicate our ideas and values to each other or to the public. Do you think that psychoanalysts do it right? Or do you think we can still work on it? Or what is your idea about communication?

  1. Well I think we need to do it, we need to keep at it and, as communication methods change, we need to be up for them. I think this online journal that we have at the IPA (International Psychoanalytical Association) is such an attempt. It’s open to everybody. We have a social media part of it. We put portions of it on Facebook. The speaker today was talking about the danger of these other forms of communications that create bubbles in communities. So, how do we try to speak to a wider audience? And you have to invent that over and over again. You have to be a teacher. You have to be a communicator. You have to take advantage of these kinds of possibilities for broad communication. The IPA e-journal is transferred into five languages. We have topics:  one is on migration, one on violence, one on intimacy. And we invite different people to write. We translate them. So, we’re trying to disseminate. We put some things on Facebook and sometimes there is ten thousand hits of people. You just have to be very patient. It is a long work, and psychoanalysis is slow. Every hour that you’re with the patient, something slowly changes. Same is true I think for this. We do need to communicate as broadly as we can and be inventive about it.

Yes, I personally totally agree with you. The last thing I would like to ask about is Otto Fenichel. When we were arranging this interview two days ago, you also mentioned you would like to say something about his coming to the U.S.

I think that there are different periods in any country’s political and social life, where communication is open and where it is closed down. And to me, the tragedy of Fenichel in the U.S is that when he arrives in America, he’s a refugee. So there’s the trauma of being a refugee. And then there’s the trauma of what America was like as he is arriving and as he continues to try to live there. And so, he arrives as all the refugees did. And the cold war starts and very repressive times in American politics take over the house on American activities. McCarthyism. People like Fenichel would have had F.B.I files because they were considered dangerous. And everybody knew that this was going on and it’s no accident that he writes the “Rundbriefe letters” in Germany, doesn’t communicate all these really interesting ideas he had into a social field because it’s very, very closed down. So, we can read Fenichel now and open it up in a different way because there is a different political and social climate. His life was saved in the sense that he got out of Europe, but he died very young after he spent a night working in a hospital doing things that a twenty five year old internist, not a fifty year old analyst with a bad heart, usually does. This happened to a number of these figures who come to America in the course of being immigrants: they died early of heart attacks and stress. But also, Fenichel arrives in America in a time when his politics, his ideas, would have been dangerous. And he knew that. That is why getting him translated and having his work more available is a very important mission. The world opens and closes but Fenichel and the other analysts come into America as refugees, came at a frightening time. The terror of having to leave, flee. But also the politics of America in the fifties, more recent fifties, is incredibly constrictive. People have just privatized their lives and their ideas and it doesn’t open up again until the sixties. Nowadays, there is similar worrying about that  in the world of the current political environment there is a kind of an attack on free speech as well.

Ok, that is all. Thank you very much for your time. It was my great pleasure and honor to speak with you about these interesting things.

Mine too. Thank you.

Adrienne Harris, Ph.D. is Faculty and Supervisor at New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. She is on the faculty and is a supervisor at the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California. In 2009, She, Lewis Aron, and Jeremy Safron established the Sandor Ferenczi Center at the New School University. She writes about gender and development, about analytic subjectivity, about ghosts, and about the analysts developing and writing around the period of the First World War.


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