Race and Culture in Psychoanalysis: the African American Experience

January 5, 2016
Panelists: Dionne Powell, MD and Anton Hart, MD

Since the early 20th century, African Americans have pursued psychodynamic and psychoanalytic training, treatment and application despite tremendous obstacles. We will explore pertinent aspects of that history as relevant to psychoanalysis. Slavery, Jim Crow, explicit and implicit racism continue to affect all Americans as the current racial climate has seen an explosion of injustices toward African-American people, exemplified by Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, The Emanuel AME Church in Charleston SC, Sandra Bland, James Blake, Tamir Rice, Lacquin McDonald and others. The analytic community has been been relatively silent about these events in our writings, on the couch, in our supervisions, and in the classroom. The body of psychoanalytic candidates and faculty fails to represent our nation’s diversity. Moreover, given that inquiries about race as issues emerge in society and in our consulting rooms are valuable openings for understanding and insight regardless of racial pairing, this is a lost clinical opportunity. Tonight we explore our collective silence and consider the factors that make addressing these issues so difficult for psychoanalysts. The panelists will share their ideas about both the individual and societal conflicts and anxieties that result in our avoidance of discussing race and diversity.

Clinical examples along with video excerpts from the film “Black Psychoanalysts Speak” will be presented. And (with special permission) we have a rare opportunity to view excerpts from a videotaped conversation between Drs. Ellis Toney and Ralph Greenson, circa 1976. (Ellis Toney, MD a graduate of the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, was in analysis with Greenson from 1948-1954. He is one of the earliest black psychoanalysts). We will take this material as our point of departure in initiating long overdue dialogue about matters of race and discrimination in psychoanalysis and in broader society.

Dionne Powell, MD is a Training and Supervising Psychoanalyst at the Columbia Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. Most recent contributions include: The African American Experience: Psychoanalytic Perspectives, edited by Salman Akhtar, 2012 Aronson Press. Contributor, book chapter: Psychoanalysis and African Americans: Past, Present and Future. Presenter, Presidential Symposium Diversity, January 2015, meetings of the American Psychoanalytic Association, New York, NY.

Anton H. Hart, PhD is a Fellow, Training and Supervising Analyst and on the faculty of the William Alanson White Institute. He was associate co-producer for the film, Black Psychoanalysts Speak, (available for streaming on PEP Web) in which he also appears.

Learning Objectives: After the meeting, the participant will

  • increase their understanding of our own and societal resistances to discussing race in and out of the therapeutic situation.
  • increase their comfort with and curiosity in exploring these issues with their patients, peers and society at large.