Getting to Know our New IARPP President, Chana Ullman

Interview by Maria Tammone (Italy)

Maria Tammone

Maria Tammone: Chana, congratulations on becoming the new president of IARPP.

I am sure our readers would be interested in knowing how you became involved with IARPP—it’s bound to be an interesting story for everyone.


ullmanphoto0715wChana Ullman: Thank you, Maria. It is certainly a very meaningful story for me. Let me start with some background. I was born and raised in Israel and graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with an MA in clinical psychology. I then traveled to Boston where I received my PhD from Boston University, followed by a clinical internship at Harvard Health Services and a clinical postdoc at Boston University Hospital. My husband and I stayed in Boston for over a decade, and during these years I pursued academic interests in teaching and research as well as clinical training.

After our return to Israel I started a clinical practice here and became interested in pursuing psychoanalytic training. I was drawn to the depth of psychoanalytic inquiry into the human spirit and benefited immensely from my supervisors who were mostly Kleinian and Winnicottian in their theoretical perspectives. I was, however, very ambivalent about both classical psychoanalysis as a clinical approach as well as the classical training given at the one IPA institute in Israel, which I perceived as rigid and hierarchical. I struggled with this ambivalence for a while. It was in the early 1990s that Emanuel Berman first introduced me to relational writing. I read Mitchell, Aron, Ghent, Benjamin, Dimen, and others, and felt right away at home in this perspective. I felt that this was a psychoanalysis that I could practice; this was the kind of psychoanalyst that I could be. Luckily, by then a new psychoanalytic institute was being established in Tel Aviv with the help of Stephen Mitchell. It promised to offer rigorous yet open and pluralistic training. I joined the Tel Aviv Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis in 2002.

That same year the newly formed IARPP, still in deep mourning for the loss of Stephen Mitchell, held the first IARPP conference in New York City, which I attended. It was an exhilarating experience. The papers (by Jody Davies, Neil Altman, Spyros Orfanos, and more) were fresh, innovative, moving, and relevant. The ambience was generous and authentically friendly. I was thrilled to meet new colleagues who seemed to speak the same language, and to meet again at that conference, after many years of no contact, my supervisors from Harvard Health Services, Barbara and Stuart Pizer. We agreed that even in the 1970s we were “talking relationally” without knowing it. In retrospect, it also became clear to me that my doctoral dissertation, which was published as a book in 1978 (The Transformed Self: On the Psychology of Religious Conversion), actually anticipated this process of becoming relational in its argument that in a religious conversion it is an emotional experience embedded in a relationship that transforms the self.

At the IARPP conference in Rome in 2005 I was elected to the board of directors of IARPP and have continued as a member of the board to this day. During Hazel Ipp’s presidency the Local Chapters Committee, co-chaired by Neil Altman and myself, was established, strengthening IARPP’s international appeal and enriching us with the connections to professional communities around the globe. My affiliation with IARPP now feels like an integrative, natural, and continuously stimulating part of my identity. I am honored and pleased to continue contributing to IARPP’s mission in my current role as President.

You live and work in Israel, a country where unfortunately there is a great deal of conflict. Through your comments on the listserv and elsewhere we have learned first-hand about the situation in your country. Would you like to expand on your experience of being a psychoanalyst in such a situation?

Thank you for this question, Maria. Indeed, relational psychoanalysis takes seriously the claim that the larger cultural and political context is inextricably tied to our intrapsychic lives. This context infiltrates all aspects of our lives consciously and unconsciously and shapes our intimate interactions with patients, as was discussed in our recent colloquium (May 2016, on Eyal Rozmarin’s 2009 paper). This is true everywhere, but it is most painfully and intensely present in the context of a collectively troubled, traumatized, and torn society. As I have written elsewhere (2010, 2014), Israel is a pressure cooker in which existential fears, transgenerational traumas, current threats to security, belligerent might, and traces of present and past military service and violence all hover around us like a “third” in our consulting rooms.

Given this background, one cannot disregard the ghosts (Harris) that sometimes completely unexpectedly and explosively enter the clinical process. In the Israeli context I am acutely aware of how culture, values, and politics in the broadest sense enter our discourse, at times leading to painful clashes with “otherness” and to difficult dilemmas of sustaining “ethical neutrality” (Dimen) in the face of evil and suffering associated with social violence. I am also acutely aware of the sociopolitical contributions to individual pathology, and hence of the need, albeit against all odds, to impart our psychoanalytic wisdom to the powerful sociopolitical forces shaping our lives. I am grateful that psychoanalysis in general and relational psychoanalysis in particular, has helped me hold on to a sense of agency and meaning in the troubled and disturbing reality in which I function.

You are at the beginning of your experience as president IARPP, and I’m sure you are excited about this and have many ideas. Would you like to share with us your first steps as president?

I am looking forward to the challenge of presiding over this lively organization that has been an influential and valued part of my professional life for many years. I believe we have the potential to become a much larger organization, in terms of both numbers and international diversity. Toward this end I would like to invest effort and financial resources in reaching out to communities not currently represented in IARPP. Our international appeal depends, among other things, on overcoming language barriers. As was the case with my predecessors, we shall continue to support translating our web seminars, talks at conferences, and relational writings into various languages. Other barriers to our diversity and growth, it seems to me, include economic issues. My first action as president, supported by our treasurer, executive committee, and board, was to offer 20 stipends for those wishing to come to our conference in Rome. I hope piloting this will set a future precedent for carefully using our budget for the benefit of the membership.

It is the mission of IARPP to continue to develop, teach, and enlarge the scope of the relational perspective. This is done through our web seminars, colloquia, and larger conferences. In addition to these, it may be timely to enable groups within IARPP who share a particular area of interest to work on the themes important to them. Recently, the Child, Adolescent, and Parent Committee was established under the leadership of Susi Nebbiosi (Italy) and co-chaired by Ann Marie Sacramone (USA). I believe this new committee can be a model for establishing similar groups, such as those devoted to gender issues, couples treatment, comparative psychoanalysis, among others.

We have come a long way as a theoretical perspective and an organization. At this time we seem devoted less to revolutionary opposition against other perspectives and perhaps more to expanding both our theoretical and clinical approach as well as our diversity as a community. As we engage in this process, however, I would like to strengthen our core by continuing to involve our IARPP founders, some of whom are on the board; our past presidents; and major contributors to the relational perspective, using their experience and wisdom to sustain IARPP’s vision.

In all of these endeavors I am looking forward to collaborating with my colleagues—many of whom have become close friends—on the executive committee, on the board, on the committees, and within the complex international community of the IARPP membership.

I was wondering if you would like to share with us something about what you are working on at the moment, maybe a book or a paper you are reading, or a recent conference you attended.

I will tell you briefly about three things I have been working on.

In January I took part in a conference entitled “Psychoanalytic Communities: The Fascinated and the Disenchanted,” following the publication of Aner Govrin’s (Israel) new book (which Aner will present in the “Meet the Author” program at the Rome conference). My paper looked at the dialectics of enchantment and fascination on the one hand and suspicion or disenchantment on the other as an inevitable tension in psychoanalytic treatment. I argued that both poles are experienced in a mutual dance between patient and therapist, one that is necessary for therapeutic movement.

In recent months I have been working with colleagues from the relational track at Tel Aviv University on planning an international gathering focusing on dilemmas and challenges in teaching the relational approach. This will be a unique workshop and (to the best of our knowledge) the first one to address the specific issues involved in teaching the relational approach. It will hopefully take place next year in Israel.

Finally, I am currently working on my presentation for the Rome conference on the plenary “Vitality within Contexts of Destruction.” My paper is entitled “Transforming the Hero: The Dialectics of Heroism and Psychoanalytic Process in Contexts of Destruction.” For details, well, you will have to attend the conference.

See you all in Rome!

And thank you, Maria, for this interview. Warm regards to you and the IARPP community.