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Conservation and Innovation: Past president’s address at spring meeting

During her address at the spring meeting, the past president reflects on the division's progress and challenges

By Mary Beth Cresci

Four and a half years ago, when I was the new President-elect of Division 39 I attended the APA Division Leadership Conference sponsored by CODAPAR, the Committee for Division and APA Relations. This program in Washington, DC was enlightening in many ways. It introduced me to the APA staff who were available to support our divisions and gave me the opportunity to meet the leaders of other divisions to exchange information and become aware of common interests. One particularly significant moment for me was listening to an APA consultant, Jean Carter, who discussed our responsibilities as division presidents. She said that our job was not just to come up with new projects and goals for our divisions but to preserve what we already had. She emphasized that we should be able to look back on our division when we left office and see that it was as strong or stronger than when we began.

That presentation made a lot of sense to me. Up to this point much emphasis had been placed on the new initiatives that a president should be proposing. The idea that we also needed to conserve the momentum and strengths of our Division opened up a new dimension in my thinking. I realized that I wasn’t dealing with either/or choices. Rather, I needed to see conservation and innovation as two sides of the same coin, both vital and important for the benefit of our Division.

When I began my presidency in January 2009 what were the important qualities of our Division that required preserving and enhancing? Our Division’s unique role within APA has been to provide a home for psychologists with an interest in the specialty of psychoanalysis. Our role entails representing that specialty within the APA community, a vast body of psychologists with a broad range of interests and agendas, as well as representing psychologists with an interest in psychoanalysis to the wider community of psychoanalytic professionals and to the public. It also requires us to provide educational opportunities for our members and other APA members to learn about psychoanalysis as a significant body of knowledge. In addition, our Division has a commitment as stated in our Bylaws to support research in psychoanalysis. Having opportunities to socialize with each other, such as at the receptions at these spring meetings, was certainly an important benefit that needed to be preserved.

In January 2009 Division 39 was already a remarkable organization. The Division was one of the largest divisions within APA with well over 3,000 members. We had a highly-regarded journal, Psychoanalytic Psychology, published by APA with a record of many citations in psychological writings, as well as a quarterly newsletter edited by Bill MacGillivray that had grown to 96 pages per issue. We had a spring meeting in different locales throughout the United States and Canada that attracted hundreds of registrants each year. We sent as many or more representatives to APA Council each year as any other division or state organization. We had established psychoanalysis as a designated specialty within APA and had developed a diplomate in psychoanalysis within the American Board of Professional Psychology. In addition to having a number of interest groups within our division as represented by various sections and having a range of active committees, we had established over 25 local chapters of the Division to foster an interest in psychoanalysis throughout the United States.

All of these accomplishments spoke to a strong organization led by a cadre of dedicated members and supported by several loyal and capable administrators, namely our overall Administrator Ruth Helein and our conference coordinator, Natalie Shear, along with their fine staffs. Clearly, the Division was a complex, vibrant organization. At the same time, these many programs and initiatives could not be taken for granted. They required ongoing support and attention to maintain their vitality.

There were, on the other hand, some concerns about the direction of the Division and of psychoanalytic psychology. Within the Division one significant problem was the fact that we had been spending a lot of our money and had limited reserves. Unlike the federal government, we could not operate with a deficit. So we needed to address this problem before we got to that stage.

Another problem was that we had not been doing enough to fulfill our mission to support psychoanalytic research. Section VI, the Research Section, was essentially defunct and had only a limited number of members supporting it.

Another issue was our limited capability to communicate with our members via the internet and to present our Division to the public through a well-functioning website. In addition, our quarterly newsletter did not give us the opportunity to make announcements and discuss current issues in a sufficiently timely fashion.

We also had a difficult membership issue that had not been addressed. We had a number of members, many of them quite active in the Division, who had withheld dues from APA because they were in strong disagreement with APA’s stance on allowing psychologists to be onsite in prisons where detainees were being held in conditions deplored by the International Committee of the Red Cross. These Division members were now poised to lose their full Division membership rights because our Bylaws do not allow psychologists who are eligible to join APA to be members of our Division without also joining APA.

In a more general way, a recently-conducted survey of the Division membership showed that the median age of our members was considerably higher than the average age for APA members—60 compared to 55. Our membership also showed little diversity in its composition. There was a need to attract graduate student members and early career professionals, as well as to attract members of racial, ethnic, sexual and gender diversity and to encourage these members to seek positions of responsibility within the Division.

Within APA there were also significant issues. The APA presidents were encouraging APA members to consider other avenues of practice than the traditional model of private practice. There were questions about the recognition that the Practice Directorate and the Education Directorate were giving to psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy as forms of evidence-based psychotherapy and as a legitimate focus for doctoral study programs.

In the wider lay community, the attacks on psychoanalysis continued to occur using outdated stereotypes and suggesting that newer treatments, especially CBT and the “miracle” psychotropic drugs, were more efficacious and cost-effective. For every Consumer Report article pointing to the value of talk therapy and the importance of the therapeutic relationship there was a Sharon Begley in Newsweek saying that old-fashioned psychodynamic psychotherapy was unscientific and that APA was not doing enough to insist that practitioners and doctoral program curricula follow the dictates of science.

I would like to say that during my presidency all of these problems were solved. Alas, such is not the case. However, we have made strides in several of these arenas, thanks in great part to the hard-working members of the Division who have devoted countless hours to serving the Division and our profession. I’d like to give you a few highlights of those efforts to emphasize how we have both conserved what is good about the Division and taken initiatives to shore up the weak areas and pursue new directions.

First, let me turn to the structure of the Division itself. I had mentioned that our financial picture was not as sound as it needed to be. Fortunately, we had the good services of Marsha McCary for six years as the Division’s treasurer. She tackled this problem on two fronts. In terms of conservancy, she set a goal of putting aside a set amount each year until we had a year’s worth of operating budget in a reserve fund. We accomplished this goal last year!

In terms of initiatives she saw the need to have a separate fund that could be used to promote worthy projects such as scholarships for candidates in psychoanalytic training or non-profit organizations that operate from psychoanalytic principles. She got a cadre of us together with the leaders of APA’s American Psychological Foundation and got us started on developing our own fund within APF’s umbrella, the Division 39 Fund. To date we have collected money and pledges to meet the minimum of $100,000 needed to start this fund. In a year or so we will be in a position to start making grants to appropriate beneficiaries.

With regard to supporting research, we have made some strides but have not seen the steady progress we saw with respect to our financial picture. Under Nancy McWilliam’s presidency, the Research Section’s President, Bill Gottdiener, had instituted a poster session at our Spring Meetings and at the APA conventions, a means of showing the new research studies occurring in our field at graduate schools and research centers. And we had the good fortune to have Jonathan Shedler’s article published in The American Psychologist. His article summarized the many studies that demonstrated the efficacy of psychodynamic psychotherapy. We took full advantage of the opportunity to publicize this data. We arranged for Jonathan to make a special presentation at the Chicago Spring Meeting which was very well attended, especially by graduate students and early career professionals. We also featured him in a panel at the APA Convention in San Diego.

However, as I mentioned, the Research Section was not maintaining its membership and providing a venue for psychodynamic researchers. It became clear during my years as President that this problem was not just an issue for the Research Section. Many sections have, in fact, been losing membership and have fallen below the level of 150 members required to have a voting representative on the Board. While this is a general problem for all sections, it was particularly critical for the Division with regard to the Research Section since supporting psychoanalytic research is one of the Division’s stated purposes. We eventually decided as a Board that we needed to establish a Research Committee that could call upon the Division for operating funds and sponsor presentations at our meetings. This newly-formed committee, under the leadership of Woody Waldron, is moving forward with this mission.

With regard to our efforts to communicate with our membership and to support psychoanalytic scholarship, we have made several significant innovations. Under the indefatigable leadership of Henry Seiden, the Chair of our Publications Committee, our publications umbrella was expanded to include cyber communications and outreach to the interested lay public. Henry was faced with the unenviable task of finding someone to succeed Bill MacGillivray as Editor of our Newsletter which had grown into a highly-respected and well read quarterly. As it happened, Henry needed to find several people to fill Bill’s role and several publications as well. Henry recognized the need for greater use of the internet to reach our members as well as the need to preserve the intellectual life of the Division that Bill had fostered in the newsletter. So he convinced the Board to establish two different publications—a monthly online newsletter and a sophisticated quarterly publication to include book reviews, movie reviews, and other essays. He proposed two excellent editors for these publications—Tamara McClintock Greenberg and David Lichtenstein.

Henry also worked with APA to ensure that ours was one of the first divisions to benefit from the new website formatting that APA had undertaken. And he convinced us to hire an Internet Editor, Barry Cohen, to handle the content of our newly-revised website. All of these efforts have improved our communications with our members. In addition, our journal Psychoanalytic Psychology under the editorship of Elliot Jurist continues to gain stature as a quality publication.

With regard to membership issues, the most controversial aspect of my presidency was the Board’s decision to back bylaws changes that would have given our psychologist members the freedom to be members of our Division without also being members of APA. The Board came to this decision after reviewing the options at every Board meeting for several years. We eventually decided that the most reasonable way to include our withhold dues members in the Division would be to make the decision to be an APA member as well as a Division member a matter of individual choice. Entering into our decision was the realization that many APA divisions were allowing non-APA psychologists to join their divisions and that APA was accepting of this policy. Unfortunately, I and others who saw the wisdom of this direction did not do enough to consult with members who had not participated in our deliberations to educate them about the value of giving our members these choices. In a complicated series of votes the bylaws amendments were defeated. At this point psychologists who want to belong to the Division but do not want to belong to APA have the option of being Affiliate Members but do not have full membership with voting rights. We have yet to see what impact this restriction on membership will have on the Division.

With regard to other membership issues there have been many positive developments. Our Graduate Student Committee under the chairmanship of Jonathan Slavin and Tanya Cotler continued to attract graduate student members to the Division and to attract graduate students to our Spring Meetings. The committee also planned special programming for graduate students at the Spring Meetings and APA conventions. The Early Career Professionals Committee under the chairmanship of Marilyn Charles and Winnie Eng also was active in providing services for our ECP’s, including an active listserv and activities at our Spring Meetings. To support their outreach to ECP’s the Board voted to reduce dues for ECP’s to $50. We have also considered ways to support diversity of membership and leadership within our Division. A gratifying result of our outreach efforts is the fact that membership has increased steadily over the past 4 years. Our concerns that our membership was declining as the age of our members was rising has most fortunately not been realized.

To turn to the Division’s relationship with APA is to consider a topic with many facets. Our Division benefits on a daily basis from the support we receive from APA central office. Whether we are talking about handling our finances, keeping track of our members, obtaining legal advice, or providing access to our journal through APA Publishing we are dependent on APA support in a multitude of ways. The improvements they provided in revamping our Division website and the greater visibility they provided us through links with the APA website have been invaluable. In terms of our ability to influence APA policies and provide a presence for psychoanalysis there is no doubt that our representatives to the APA Council of Representatives have been able to speak for the causes that matter to our members. As an example, the significant amendment to APA Ethics Code 1.02 which removed following a superior’s orders as justification for engaging in unethical behavior was spearheaded by then-Council Representative Laurie Wagner. Our representatives participate in a number of caucuses within the COR, including the divisions concerned with practice issues and the divisions of social justice. We have had a new group of Council Representatives this year and they are enthusiastic about making our voices heard in Council.

Nevertheless, the need to monitor and influence APA policies is a never-ending task. Oftentimes, policies affecting psychoanalytic practice and education are implemented at levels outside the purview of APA Council. We must continue to speak for the value of psychodynamic treatment and practice issues within the Practice Directorate, and we must continue to be alert to biases in accreditation policies for doctoral programs and internship sites that work against programs with a psychodynamic orientation. Thus, we need members who are willing to keep tabs on other areas and advocate for our positions. An example is Marilyn Metzl who succeeded Frank Goldberg last year as our Federal Advocacy Coordinator. She is keeping track of activities within the APA Practice Organization that can have significant effects on private practice of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy. We need a similar strong voice monitoring the work of the Education Directorate.

Another area in which the Division has put considerable effort has been our efforts to work with the other major psychoanalytic organizations to establish accrediting standards for psychoanalytic education and find ways to work together to promote psychoanalysis. Division 39 is one of four members of the Psychoanalytic Consortium which also includes representation from the American Psychoanalytic Association, the American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work, and the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry. Eleven years ago the Consortium members were able to agree on a set of standards for psychoanalytic institutes that was not bound to any particular psychoanalytic theoretical orientation. A separate organization, the Accreditation Council for Psychoanalytic Education, was then formed and became available to oversee accreditation of institutes. ACPE recently began the process of applying to the US Department of Education to become a recognized accrediting body for psychoanalytic education. To date, there is no such accrediting body in the United States.

The Division has supported both the Consortium and ACPE in several significant ways. We are the one member organization of the Consortium that has kept some of our representatives onboard since the Consortium’s inception. Jonathan Slavin and Laurie Wagner have been there from the beginning and often provide historical context to Consortium discussions and decisions. We Presidents and Past Presidents come and go as representatives to the Consortium. It is reassuring to know that our delegation includes representatives who have this longer perspective. While the standards for psychoanalytic education have been agreed upon, it is important that these four organizations continue to work together to further the cause of psychoanalysis as a profession.

With regard to ACPE, our Division, along with the other Consortium member organizations, has provided much of the funding for ACPE’s development. ACPE has many volunteers who have dedicated themselves to the task of making ACPE a recognized accrediting body. While I was President, ACPE made a further appeal to the Consortium for the funds necessary to make the application to the US Department of Education. The Division Board gave this request serious consideration and decided to make the contribution. We are hopeful that ACPE will soon be able to support itself financially with funding from the educational institutions who are accredited by it. During my presidency we have made some inroads in reaching the public with a positive message about psychoanalysis. While it often seems like an uphill battle, the greater discussion in the public media about the value of talk therapy and the drawbacks or ineffectiveness of psychopharmacology is notable during the past few years. To help open up this discussion and distinguish psychoanalytic psychotherapy as the treatment of choice for individuals who want to understand themselves and make long-lasting change in their lives, during my presidency our Division established a Public Relations Committee under the leadership of Nina Thomas and Ankhesenamun Ball. This committee has been able to attract some of our newer members who can help us use the internet and other outreach activities to provide the public with a better understanding of psychoanalysis and its value. During and after the Chicago Spring Meeting the Public Relations Committee conducted a survey of our members to help us define psychoanalysis and its benefits. They are now working to translate the results of that survey into information points for outreach to the public.

During the past year and a half as your Past-President I have been in a most enviable position. I have seen our current President, Bill MacGillivray, take to the job like a duck to water. One of his many innovative ideas was his decision to have a retreat for Board members and committee chairs during the days preceding this Spring Meeting. The last such retreat took place 10 years ago during our last Santa Fe meeting. I wasn’t there for that one, but I was here for this one. It provided our leadership with an invaluable opportunity to talk together and set new directions for the Division in the coming years.

It has been a fulfilling experience for me to head the Division for two years as President and to be part of the Executive Committee for five. I thank all of you for your support during that time. I look forward to continuing to work on behalf of the Division and on behalf of psychoanalytic education and practice.