Rethinking the death instinct

April 3, 2018  8:00 pm
Presenters: Bob Michels, MD and Jonathan House, MD, in discussion with Joel Whitebook, PhD

We are bombarded daily, as Freud was during WWI, by disturbing, unsettling news and events that call into question our familiar way of making sense of the world as we knew it and, perhaps, impose an imperative to rethink the death instinct. In this APM event, Joel Whitebook will guide us into an exploration of his recent book Freud: An Intellectual Biography and his thesis of making sense of the death instinct as it relates to primary narcissism, the early mother and symbiosis. Drs Bob Michels and Jonathan House will take this thesis as a point of reference in order to discuss and debate their views on the death instinct, its relevance, or lack thereof, to our current world and current clinical practice.

Joel Whitebook, PhD is a philosopher and psychoanalyst who maintains a private practice in New York City. He is currently on the faculty of the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, and he is the Director of the University’s Psychoanalytic Studies Program. He is also the author of Perversion and Utopia (1995) and numerous articles. He is the author of Freud: An Intellectual Biography (2017).

Robert Michels, M.D. is the Walsh McDermott University Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry at Weill-Cornell Medical College. He is also Deputy Editor of The American Journal of Psychiatry, and former Joint Editor-in-Chief of The International Journal of Psychoanalysis. In the past he served as the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Cornell University Medical College and Provost for Medical Affairs of Cornell University, and is a former Training and Supervising Analyst at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. He also served as the Barklie McKee Henry Professor and Chairman of Cornell’s Department of Psychiatry, and Psychiatrist-in-Chief at The New York Hospital.

Jonathan House, MD was trained in psychiatry and psychoanalysis and is on the faculty of Columbia’s Department of Psychiatry and its psychoanalytic institute where he is a Training and Supervising analyst. Dr House also teaches at Columbia’s graduate school at the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society. He serves on the Conseil Scientifique of Fondation Laplanche and he is responsible for the translation of his works into English.

This activity has been planned and implemented in accordance with the accreditation requirements and policies of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) through the joint providership of American Psychoanalytic Association and the Association for Psychoanalytic Medicine. The American Psychoanalytic Association is accredited by the ACCME to provide continuing medical education for physicians.”
The American Psychoanalytic Association designates this Live Activity for a maximum of 1.5 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.
IMPORTANT DISCLOSURE INFORMATION FOR ALL LEARNERS: None of the planners and presenters of this CME program have any relevant financial relationships to disclose.

LEARNING OBJECTIVES  At the conclusion of this activity, the participant should be able to:

1. Distinguish between two conceptualizations of the death instinct, one as a biological aim towards the tensionless state of death, and another as more psychologically complex drive to return to a state of primary narcissism and fusion with the mother.
2. Summarize contemporary arguments for and against the clinical utility of the concept of the death instinct.