THE FAULT LINE: What can the neuroscience of volition tell us about the boundaries between mind and body?

THE FAULT LINE: What can the neuroscience of volition tell us about the boundaries between mind and body?

Presenter: Alice Flaherty, M.D., Ph.D.
Discussant: Andrew J. Gerber, M.D., Ph.D.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023 at 8 PM

Location: Register via the button below to receive the Zoom link

When illness makes sick people feel powerless, clinicians of every persuasion may try to restore their sense of control with maxims like “You can’t choose your symptoms, but you can choose how you react to them.” In this way, modern medicine and psychiatry attempt to draw a fault line around ill bodies that leaves only the brain’s voluntary action system still subject to praise and blame. Conditions that neurologically affect choice-making, such as Parkinson’s, depression, trauma, and addiction, strand patients in a fraught medical and moral no-mans-land. Yet any patient can find themselves in that DMZ, as bystanders debate whether their cough is an involuntary muscle spasm or an attempt to avoid work.

It is not the problem of free will, but the problem of the perception of free will, that influences care and healing. This talk will consider cases in which both the patient’s agency and the clinician’s assessment of that agency stem from brain systems that are very vulnerable to disruption. Understanding how we perceive volition in ourselves and others can guide care, not only of complex neuropsychiatric conditions but of all illnesses in which we wonder whether, if we just tried harder, it wouldn’t hurt so much.


Alice Flaherty, M.D., Ph.D. is associate professor of  both neurology and psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and directs the Massachusetts General Hospital Movement Fellowship. She treats patients with deep brain stimulators for movement and mood disorders. She was a site principal investigator for a trial of the first successful genetic treatment of Parkinson’s Disease. Her books include one on creativity and the brain (The Midnight Disease), a children’s picture book (The Luck of the Loch Ness Monster), and a handbook of neurology. All her books have multiple translations and national awards. With Marlene Goldman, she is coediting a book based on their multidisciplinary seminar, Medicine as Theatre; Theatre as Medicine. The NY Psychoanalytic Society held a webcast and art show based on her work on hypergraphia. She has spoken at conferences on rumination, alternatives to empathy, and at an International Psychoanalytic Society roundtable on time perception. She has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBC, NBC, German PBS, Japanese PBS, and TEDx. The NY Times, London TimesDie Welt, WSJ, and The New Yorker, have interviewed her or reviewed her. She was a protagonist of the award-winning podcast The Great God of Depression, and the film Bedside Manner, which received a festival nomination for the 2017 short documentary Oscar.


Andrew J. Gerber, M.D., Ph.D. is President and Medical Director of Silver Hill Hospital, a private non-profit psychiatric hospital in New Canaan, Connecticut. Prior to joining Silver Hill, Dr. Gerber was Medical Director and CEO of the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Dr. Gerber serves as associate clinical professor in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center and as associate clinical professor at the Child Study Center, Yale University. He is the former co-director of the Sackler Parent-Infant Program at Columbia University, former director of the MRI Research Program at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and former director of research at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research.

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Unmasked: Frame Alterations during the Time of Covid and Other Plagues

Unmasked: Personal Transformations, Frame Alterations and Making the Conscious Unconscious During the Traumatic Times of the Covid and Other Plagues

Presenter: Tony Bass, Ph.D.
Discussant: Natasha Chriss, M.D. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2022 at 8PM

Location: Register via the button below to receive the Zoom link

As we approach the third year of living and working in the shadow of COVID-19, Anthony Bass will discuss some of the paradoxes, challenges, and opportunities we have faced in these treacherous COVID times. We all, patients and analysts alike, have faced great strains and threats to our physical and mental well-being that have forced changes in our ways of living, working, relating, and being that have radically transformed our ways of working with our patients and our analysts. Some of these changes will be part of our history, others part of our future.

These changes have forced us to reconsider some aspects of the frame or our work that we have taken for granted for all our professional lives. In this presentation, Dr. Bass will consider what we have learned about ourselves, our patients, and the nature of our work as we have negotiated the challenges that COVID and other plagues have wrought. His paper presentation will be followed by a conversation with Dr. Natasha Chriss about the light that our challenges have shed on our work as we make decisions about returning to work with our patients in our offices. How will our experiences of the last three years change our sense of doing psychoanalytic work as we move forward into an increasingly uncertain future?


Anthony Bass, Ph.D. is on the faculty and is a training and supervising analyst at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. He is an associate professor and clinical consultant (supervising analyst) at the NYU Postdoctoral Program for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy. He is an editor emeritus of Psychoanalytic Dialogues, the International Journal of Relational Perspectives, and the founder and president of the Stephen Mitchell Relational Study Center.


Natasha Chriss, M.D. is a training and supervising analyst at Columbia Psychoanalytic Center and Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell, where she teaches and supervises psychiatry residents. She is in private practice in New York City.

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Psychodynamic Formulation: an Expanded Approach

Psychodynamic Formulation: an Expanded Approach

Panel: Shirin Ali, M.D;. Ruth Graver, M.D.; Aaron Reliford, M.D.; Anna Schwartz, M.D.;  Susan Vaughan, M.D.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022 at 8PM

Location: Register via the button below to receive the Zoom link

The COVID-19 pandemic brought significant individual, community, and societal changes as we all faced concerns about health and safety while also being forced to reckon with longstanding issues of structural racism and racial injustice highlighted by the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubery, and Brianna Taylor at the hands of law enforcement. Biases are also embedded in the institutional and systemic racism present within our field of psychoanalysis and its psychodynamic psychotherapeutic treatments.

In 2020, The Psychodynamic Formulation Collective formed a group, consisting of the original authors of Psychodynamic Formulation (Wiley Blackwell 2013) and additional new authors, to revise this important text to create an expanded approach to psychodynamic formulation. We undertook this new edition of the book to examine biases within our profession and to present a reinvigorated emphasis on the impacts of culture and society on psychodynamic formulation. The book emphasizes the importance of lived experience in how we formulate patients and how bias in the therapeutic relationship can contribute to the perpetuation of trauma. In our approach that we will present, we have attempted to highlight blindspots in our field, to place their evaluation within our field and with our patients front and center, and to give equal and heavy consideration to the impact of inequities and the impact of society in a new approach to psychodynamic formulation.


Shirin Ali, MD is a clinical and academic psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. She lectures on psychopathology and psychodynamic formulation to Columbia residents and supervises residents in psychodynamic psychotherapy and supportive psychotherapy. She also co-chairs and teaches in the Process and Diversity curricula to psychoanalytic candidates at the Columbia Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. Dr. Ali is the recipient of the Columbia Psychoanalytic Center’s John F. O’Connor award for teaching psychodynamic concepts to medical students. She is in full time practice in Greenwich Village with a focus on mood and anxiety disorders, psychosis, identity, emerging adulthood and psychosis. Prior to starting her private practice, she worked as an inpatient attending at the New York State Psychiatric Institute for several years. Her academic interests include psychoanalysis and culture.

Deborah Cabaniss, MD is the  Associate Director of Residency Training and Director of Psychotherapy Training in the Department of Psychiatry, . She is also the Director of the Virginia Apgar Academy of Medical Educators at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and is a Training and Supervising Analyst at the Columbia University Center for Training and Research.

Dr. Cabaniss’s research interests primarily involve psychoanalytic and psychiatric education and she has authored many articles on this topic. She has been the recipient of many teaching awards, including a 2014 Presidential Teaching Award for Outstanding Teaching from Columbia University. She is a two time Teichner Scholar of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry, and is the lead author of “Psychodynamic Psychotherapy: A Clinical Manual” and “Psychodynamic Formulation” which have become core reading in psychiatry residencies across the country and Canada and which are being translated into Mandarin, Korean, and Farsi.

Ruth Graver, MD is a Training and Supervising Analyst at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research where she is co-chair of the Writing Program and former co-chair of the Curriculum Committee (2013-2017).  She teaches in a variety of courses in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy and is the 2016 recipient of the Howard Klar Teacher of the Year Award from the Center.  Dr. Graver has a wide range of interests in psychoanalysis and psychiatry including clinical theory, technique and Attachment Theory.

Aaron Reliford, MD is Vice Chair for Diversity Equity and Inclusion and Associate Clinical Professor of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship Training Director at NYU, and both the Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Associate Medical Director of Behavioral Health Sunset Terrace Family Health Center of NYU Langone Brooklyn. Dr Reliford graduated from the University of Chicago where he completed his undergraduate BS degree in Biology with honors. He received his MD from NYU School of Medicine. He subsequently completed his adult residency training at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, and completed his child psychiatry fellowship at the NYPH Child & Adolescent Training program of Columbia and Cornell Universities. He completed psychoanalytic training at the Columbia Psychoanalytic Center in 2019. Prior to starting his work at NYU, he served as the Director and Chief of Service of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Harlem Hospital, where he also served as the Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship Training Director. Dr Reliford’s clinical research interests telepsychiatry, racial health disparities in pediatric mental health, identity development in minority youth, cultural psychiatry, pediatric psychopharmacology, effects of early trauma on development of psychopathology, child parent psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, and dynamic/insight oriented psychotherapy.

Anna Schwartz MD is a faculty member of the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research and the co-chair of the psychotherapy division at the Center.  She is also an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia, where she teaches and supervises psychiatry residents.  She has a private practice in New York City.

Susan Vaughan, MD is distinguished psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, educator, and scholar. She has written three best-selling books: The Talking Cure: The Science Behind Psychotherapy about how psychotherapy changes the brain, Half Empty Half Full about optimism and Viagra: A Guide to the Phenomenal Potency-promoting Drug. Dr. Vaughan is Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons where she serves as the Director of Columbia University’s Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research.  She is also a training and supervising analyst at the Columbia Center. Dr. Vaughan graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College and received her medical degree from Columbia’ Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (Alpha Omega Alpha).  Following medical school, Dr. Vaughan remained at Columbia where she completed her psychiatry residency, and NIMH-funded research fellowship in affective and anxiety disorders, and psychoanalytic training.

The Psychodynamic Formulation Collective is a group of psychiatrists and psychoanalysts who came together following George Floyd’s murder and nationwide protests against police brutality to address the historical neglect of sociocultural context in psychodynamic formulation, in particular the effect of social oppression.

Learning objectives: 
After attending this session, participants should be able to:

  1. Apply an understanding that psychodynamic formulation of patients must factor in the larger influences of society and culture on the development of the conscious and unconscious mind, including the influence of inequity and discrimination.
  2. Describe how culture, identity, and the biases of the clinician affect the creation of psychodynamic formulations.


A Short Good Life: Her Father tells Liza’s Story of Facing Death

A Short Good Life: Her Father tells Liza’s Story of Facing Death; Philip Lister in Conversation with Lisa Gornick


Presenter: Philip Lister, M.D.
Discussant: Lisa Gornick, Ph.D.

Monday, October 3, 2022 at 8 PM

Location: Register via the button below to receive the Zoom link

It is an unusual privilege to be granted close access to a child’s thinking during the magical early years of childhood. It’s rarer still when the child in that phase is facing her own death. Liza, an ardent child with a deep love of cows and the color purple, was diagnosed with leukemia at age four and died two years later in 1996. Liza was an unusually expressive child, and her parents, both child psychiatrists and psychoanalysts, were uniquely oriented to appreciate the richness of a child’s mind, most especially the mind of their own child. Through writing a book about the experience, Liza’s father strove to reveal the inner world of a child’s mind—and a parent’s mind—under devastating circumstances that nonetheless needed to be traversed with truth, sensitivity, and developmental attunement. At its center, this is the story of a child’s psychic growth as she grappled to understand all that she could grasp of her experience and of a family finding a way to support this process and accompany their child at every step of the way.


Philip Lister, M.D. is an adult and child psychiatrist. In addition, he is an adult and child psychoanalyst and graduate of the Columbia Psychoanalytic Center for Training and Research, where he is also on the faculty of the Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy Program. He is the author of the memoir we will discuss tonight: A Short Good Life, based on the experience of his family as his second child faced her death due to cancer.

As well as working full-time in private practice, he teaches at various medical centers on the subject of death and dying, teaches in the Child Psychiatry Fellowship at Mount Sinai, and is involved with MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), working as a therapist in the research study using MDMA-Assisted Therapy for the treatment of PTSD.


Lisa Gornick, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and graduate of the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, where she is on the voluntary faculty. She is the author of three novels—The Peacock Feast (FSG, 2019), Tinderbox (FSG, 2013), and A Private Sorcery (Algonquin, 2002)—and a collection of linked stories, Louisa Meets Bear (FSG, 2015). Her stories and essays have appeared widely, including in The New York Times, The Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, Real Simple, and The Wall Street Journal.