Issue 2: Winter 2016: “Vulnerability and Its Discontents”


The Online Journal of the International Forum for Psychoanalytic Education (IFPE)

2016 Editorial Staff

Executive Editors – Farrell Silverberg and Judith E. Vida

Triage/Reviewing/Editing Team –

George Bermudez

Martin Gliserman

Richard Raubolt

Joyce Rosenberg

General Introduction to Other/Wise 2016:

This final issue of Other/Wise concerning the 2015 conference Vulnerability and Its Discontents presents an array of papers taking up multiple facets of vulnerability, and how vulnerability itself can be put to constructive use. Dorothea Leicher’s theoretical musings lead us to Rachel Saks’ explorations of vulnerability experience in training and supervision. Barbara Schapiro leads us, through the work of Jhumpa Lahiri, to consider the power of art and dreams in the transformation of vulnerability into strategies for survival. Debra Gitterman and John McInerney use their experiences of writing collaboration to bring that very process into immediate experience, which finds a quiet resolution in Mary Dougherty’s poetic meditation on unfathomable loss. A brisk turn is afforded by the unique vision of Paul Zelevansky, followed by Sara Bressi’s “treatment” of Frozen’s Elsa. A dimension of vulnerability that the intervening passage of time has rendered even more acutely relevant is Andrea Rihm’s questioning of the intrapsychic struggles of immigration, followed by Leticia Castrechini-Franieck’s continuing work with severely traumatized refugees. George Bermudez and Craig Kramer challenge psychoanalysis to address traditionally neglected intersections of self with community, while Lynne Tenbusch examines resentment and devaluation as too-convenient defenses against helpless vulnerability and proposes “skillful vulnerability” as a more humane and adaptive solution. We conclude with Judith Vida’s highly personal approach to newly plumbed layers of personal vulnerability.

Paper Summaries (Please click on the link to view each paper, or the complete pdf below)

Dorothea Leicher – Affect in the Management of Vulnerability

Dorothea Leicher opens her collection of musings about vulnerability with the declaration that she will look to affects, as theory and as experience, as the mind-body bridge that facilitates development. Along the way, she shares rich insights about the interplay of movement and gesture, and extends her view to mythology and art, with some clinical implications.

Rachel Saks – Holding and the Dilemma of Inadequacy: Reflections on Group Supervision of Practicum Students

This paper explores the many levels of vulnerability that therapists experience in their training, and also that their supervisors experience. There is fear, shame, self-consciousness, hesitation, self-doubt and pain. But as Rachel Saks continues to learn, even at an advanced point in her own career, vulnerability is easier to tolerate in a playful, supportive environment.

Although she does not make a direct connection between her experience and her students with those of patients/clients, learning to accept our vulnerability is a hoped-for outcome of therapeutic work. Rachel Saks and her supervisees do understand that owning our vulnerability makes us better clinicians.

Barbara Schapiro – Vulnerability and Narrative: The Hazards of Exposure in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Fiction

Barbara Schapiro’s beautifully written paper accomplishes several things: it provides superb summaries of Jhumpa Lahiri’s short stories, exploring the dilemmas inherent in the human yearning for intimacy—the profound intersubjective vulnerability required and the attendant risk; it links, further illuminating with a psychoanalytic perspective, these stories of secret selves longing to be known and understood to the remarkably insightful writings of Winnicott, who felt that we all suffered an existential dilemma: the “co-existence of two trends, the urgent need to communicate and the still more urgent need not to be found”; and finally, it reveals the artist’s own personal struggle with vulnerability, yearning for mirroring and the equally powerful yearning for privacy. Picasso famously pronounced “Art is a lie that reveals the truth.” This evocative paper reminds us of the existential/psychological service that art (like dreams) provides for our species: metaphors that both reveal and conceal the vulnerable human self; metaphors with which we can both witness our human condition and distance ourselves from the unbearable transparency.

Debra Gitterman & John McInerney – Two Essays From A Field Study On Vulnerability In The Creative Process

John McInerney and Debra Gitterman, writing collaborators in real life, here offer the reader’s version of their collaborative presentation of two essays composed in response to the prompt of vulnerability in the creative process. The way in which McInerney and Gitterman have experienced that vulnerability generates the content and the form of their essays. Then there is the music of their inimitably unique voices which rise from the page. The role of editing is here given unusual consideration in the journey of words to page to eye and ear. Undoubtedly there can be complementarity of writing and editing, but the possible intrusion of a critical, criminalizing running commentary that stops the writer’s heart cold is also considered. These two essays attest to the writers’ efforts to vanquish that hateful commentary, as their liberated voices ring with humility, possibility, care, beauty, and gratitude.

Mary Dougherty – When the Therapist is in Mourning: Exploring the Impact on Clinical Practice

Mary Dougherty’s lovely essay is written both inside of and about her experience of unfathomable loss and its inevitable resonance in the clinical practice that proved to be steadying for her. This is a very quiet paper without any large gestures. Mary Dougherty invites us into her presence much as it seems to have been for the four patients glimpsed here. Almost before we know it, we too are in touch with “a feeling of sadness so alive between us.”

Paul Zelevansky – Empathy for the Double

The uniquely creative Paul Zelevansky provides a wandering yet cohesive, reflection on the power of visual metaphor and iconic representation to evoke and facilitate identification and empathy. The content ranges from the metaphoric use of animated household objects, expressing romance, personal transformation, and self-actualization, to photographs and other visual images, reflecting social and political purposes. Throughout, his deeply ironic and paradoxical reflections educate us about the imagistic and enactive unconscious.

Sara Bressi – Unfreezing Disney’s Snow Queen©: Consolation Through Vulnerability in a Modern Fairy Tale

Sara Bressi offers a case history of perhaps the most realistic – and truly vulnerable – female character in a Disney animated film, Queen Elsa. Bressi analyzes Elsa as if she were a patient – and in fact, Elsa is so authentically drawn that she resembles the adolescent females that clinicians see in treatment.

Andrea Rihm – Immigration and its discontents: Challenges and tensions between vulnerability and growth

Andrea Rihm raises questions about the intrapsychic struggles and changes that appear to be inherent in immigration – the immigrant isn’t just someone trying to adapt or assimilate in a new place. Immigrants may end up undergoing self-examinations and they may reassess the past while also dealing with their current vulnerability of being among strangers. Migration can lead to a new adolescence of sorts, with questions like, “Who am I? Who was I? Who should I be?”

Leticia Castrechini-Franieck – Giving deeply traumatized refugees the space they need in which to reconstruct the boundary they have lost between reality and fantasy, while they face language and cultural barriers

This moving paper is a testament to many years that Leticia Castrechini-Franieck has been searching for increasingly effective ways to engage therapeutically with extremely vulnerable populations, earlier with street children in Brazil, and here with severely traumatized refugees flooding into Germany from ravaged corners of Asia and Africa.

Winnicott’s invaluable concept of the transitional object informs the introduction of external objects into an unusual configuration of the therapeutic situation, which includes the translator to augment the more usual dyadic process into a triadic one. Though far from what is considered ideal psychoanalytically oriented treatment, the term-limited fortnightly sessions with refugees have been shown to make a considerable improvement in not only symptom reduction but strengthened sense of self.

George Bermudez & Craig Kramer – The Vulnerable Self and the Vulnerable Community: A Challenge/Problem for Psychoanalysis?

This powerful presentation by George Bermudez and Craig Kramer is a scholarly masterwork of exploration, delving deeply into the intersecting configurations of self and community that have too long confounded psychoanalysis and exposed its severe limitations. With evenly divided attention between the needs of the vulnerable self and the requirements of the vulnerable community, Bermudez and Kramer craft new paradigms for addressing foreground and background issues at the same time. Nestled within this strongly reasoned new framework is a remarkable quantification of the critical mass needed to supply that simultaneous containment and vitality. This is groundbreaking work.

Lynne Tenbusch – Resentment as a defense against skillful Vulnerability

In this original paper, Lynne Tenbusch introduces the psychological attitude of resentment as a defense against affective dysregulation or more severe psychic fragmentation. In alignment with Hegel’s formulation of the Master-Slave Dialectic and Nietzsche’s elaboration of “slave morality”, she contends that resentment and devaluation of others is an ever present defense or psychic coping whenever there is the self-state experience of helpless vulnerability. Building on Ghent’s distinction between submission and surrender, she suggests that “skillful vulnerability” is a developmental achievement, a mature solution beyond resentment and devaluation as defenses against self-fragmentation.

Judith E. Vida – Crushing (Work in Progress.)

“Activated” by her enslaving mother’s death, Judith Vida describes the inchoate process/journey that began with the unconsciously organized accidental “stumble”—reading a fictional dialogue between Thomas Jefferson’s slave/lover (Sally Hemings) and his daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph. This “activation” continues to drive (hence the title, “Work in Progress”) Vida, with “no definable purpose”, through a library of works on otherness, enslavement, and Blackness—an outward exploration towards otherness, an immersion in the language of traumatized and colonized otherness, that seems to be propelled by a healing process (nature’s healing , making the self whole, as Jung proposed). It is a haunting and poetic narrative, capturing the “stumbling” intuition we all experience as we struggle to embrace our unformulated experiences of loss, grief, trauma, hope, and dread.

Judith Vida leaves us the traces of her journey so far, a superbly comprehensive bibliography on the Black experience in America, ranging from the seminal W.E.B. Dubois and Frederick Douglas through James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni, continuing on to the contemporary era with Joy DeGruy (“Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome”) and Michelle Alexander (“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”).

Volume 2 Winter 2016

pdf View/Download Full Issue in PDF Format


Image (Artist Credit):Marlene Dumas, The Image as a Burden,
1993, Oil on canvas, 15 3/3 x 19 2/3 inches,
Courtesy of the artist and David Zwiner, New York.


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