Wounds of History: Conference Review

Wounds of History
Repair and Resilience in the Trans-Generational Transmission of Trauma
by Conference Co-Chairs: Sue Grand, Ph.D. & Jill Salberg, Ph.D.

March 1, 2, and 3, 2013
Location: NYU Kimmel Center, NYC
Sponsored by: NYU Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis,
The Psychoanalytic Society of the Postdoctoral Program, and the
NYU-GSAS Trauma and Violence Transdisciplinary Studies Program.

In recent years, psychoanalysis has increasingly been preoccupied with themes of transgenerational transmission. Previously, psychoanalytic theory restricted its vision to the nuclear family while the field of trauma studies had widened its lens to include the lives of grandparents, great-grandparents and extended family members all within the specific political, social and cultural context of their historical time. “The Wounds of History Conference” opened up these areas of inquiry and mined the fertile vein of trans-generational transmission across families and cultures. We investigated what trans-generational narratives look like, how they enlist the psyche and the soma, and how attachment patterns are disrupted and transmitted. We also had speakers look at how unconscious communication between analyst and patient carry these legacies of transmissions and what shape human resilience can take. Finally, we explored how these legacies may be implicated within psychoanalysis looking at transmissions of sexual boundary violations.

The conference was designed to be experience-near, with many panelists speaking about their coming into awareness of their own trans-generational stories and how their story affected their work with patients. Process groups were provided for participants to express their reactions to disturbing narratives and to facilitate a deeper integration of the material.  Additionally the conference wanted to model, in its very structure, analysts making space for personal processing when working with transmission of trauma.

The conference opened Friday evening focusing on the Holocaust with the panel Witnessing, Testimony and Repair: Legacies from the Holocaust.  Moderator Jill Salberg, Ph.D. introduced the panel giving a brief example of levels and intensities of witnessing. Sam Gerson, Ph.D. provided an exquisite description of the “radical intergenerational incongruity” experienced by children of Holocaust survivors and explored the trajectories of trauma as represented in art, literature and analytic work. Dori Laub, M.D., gave a moving and powerful portrait of what he experienced watching for the first time in twenty years his mother’s Holocaust testimony, unflinchingly examining his current reactions to his memories of being a child survivor and as the child of a survivor. Discussants Lu Steinberg, Ph.D. and Robert Prince, Ph.D. integrated their own second generation experiences into their responses to the papers of Gerson and Laub.

Saturday morning opened with Jill Salberg’s paper, Ghostly Textures of Attachment, in which she demonstrated the need for the interpenetration of trauma studies with psychoanalytic theories of attachment, dissociation and affect regulation. Using a dream from her own two analyses she discovers her own trans-generational transmission history involving early traumatic maternal death, loss, and immigration.

The Saturday morning panel, On Slavery, Love and Loss: Generations of Racial Persecution was moderated by Katie Gentile, Ph.D.  Maurice Apprey, Ph.D. demonstrated how powerful personal experiences around racial violence and anti-Semitism were woven into theorizing and clinical work. Sue Grand, Ph.D. detailed her personal analysis as a white patient with an African American analyst who, although could “pass” for white, chose not to. Grand wrote how the history of slavery was ever present in her mind and in their work together illustrating the legacy for both whites and blacks of unhealed traumas, personal, political, historical and cultural. Discussant Karen Hopenwasser, M.D. highlighted how violence circulated through vibrational realities while Kimberlyn Leary, Ph.D. wrapped up examining some of the racial dynamics of the panel itself.

Saturday afternoon opened with Janice Gump’s, Ph.D., paper, What Must Transpire for the Ghost’s Demise, in which Gump takes up the difficult task as an African American psychologist discussing the burden of “white privilege.” Using the lens of her parents’ history of segregation through the Civil Rights era and Equal Rights Amendments to her own experience as their child growing up benefitting from the fruits of those battles, she maintains her clinical perspective enriched with great empathy for what was endured.

Conference attendees then chose one of four following panels to attend for the rest of the afternoon.
Panel APolitical Persecution, Ruptured Attachments: In the Shadow of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg’s Execution. Speakers: Adrienne Harris, Ph.D., Susan Coates, Ph.D. and Isaac Tylim, Ph.D. Moderator: Lisa Lyons, Ph.D.

Panel BGone Missing: Memories in the Aftermath of War and Immigration.
Speakers: Nina Thomas, Ph.D. and Donna Bassin, Ph.D. Moderator by Steve Botticelli, Ph.D.

Panel C: Violating the Body: Legacies of Sexual Violence
Speakers: Judie Alpert, Ph.D., Richard Gartner, Ph.D., DeShaunta Johnson, Ph.D. and Maria Lechich, Ph.D. Moderator: Melanie Suchet, Ph.D.

Panel D: Legacies of Genocide: Atrocity and Healing in Armenian, Cambodian and Rwandan communities. Speakers: Eric Hachikian, Socheata Poeve and Taylor Krauss. Moderators: Sue Grand, Ph.D. and Debbie Liner, Ph.D.

The final panel of the conference, Inside Psychoanalysis: Traumatic Transmissions of Sexual Boundary Violations, opened up the space to examine the occurrence of and silence surrounding sexual boundary violations in psychoanalysis, moderated by Liz Goren, Ph.D. Glen Gabbard, M.D., showed a film excerpt of his interview with a British psychoanalyst who discussed his work with a female patient whom he had a sexual relationship with, ending his marriage and ultimately his work in the field.  The next speaker was Sue von Baeyer, Ph.D. who talked about her analyst’s violation of her confidentiality with another patient with whom he was sexually involved and her thwarted attempts to engage the psychoanalytic community around these transgressions. Discussants Muriel Dimen, Ph.D. and Joyce Slochower, Ph.D. gave evocative commentaries on the history of boundary violations in psychoanalysis and warned of the risk factors inherent to the analytic relationship, of intense intimacy in private context, sexuality and attachment and aggression with the potential for transmission of the tendency to violate patients from one psychoanalytic generation to another.