Round Table: Discussion by Editors of Major Psychoanalytic Journals on their Perspectives of Current and Future Trends in Psychoanalysis
Editorial: A Statement of Mission 

Donnel B. Stern

[Donnel B. Stern sent this Editorial , which appeared in Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 2002, 38, 1: 7-12, as a background for his discussion at the Round Table of Editors of Major Psychoanalytic Journals held on June 15, 2003, at the Annual Meeting of the Rapaport-Klein Study Group]


Dear Members of the Rapaport-Klein Study Group: I thank you very much for your invitation to join you in June of this year. I was asked by Dr. Paolo Migone if I wanted to send you any writing that would have to do with editing. I thought of this editorial, which was published in January, 2002 (the date explains the contextualization of the piece within the events of 9/11), the first issue of Contemporary Psychoanalysis for which I served as Editor. It sets out my vision for our particular psychoanalytic journal. I send it on to you through Dr. Migone, in the hope that it may contribute to our discussion. I am sure that some of the positions I have taken here are not shared by all of us, which might make for lively interchange. I am thinking most especially of the idea of accepting certain exceptional nonacademic writings for publication, and also of the way Iíve characterized psychoanalysis, and therefore also psychoanalytic writing and editing, as moral and political endeavors, whether we like it or not (February 21, 2003).

Editorial of no. 1/2002 of Contemporary Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysts feel a sense of purpose now, maybe even especially now. We know, and we see and feel every day, that what we do is at the center of the lives of those with whom we do it. So many of the sessions that have taken place since September 11 have been directly or indirectly shaped by the events of that date. Even when we and our patients are not thinking explicitly about the new dangers, the context of our lives has changed. A new sense of threat and precariousness dwells within us. There is at least a silent nuance of September 11 with us all the time. But in this changed world, we know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that what we do matters. We can see every day that the work to which we devote ourselves contributes to the lives around us, and thus to our own.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack we offered many of our patients a haven from this changed world. That sense of emergency is gone now, though, and it is our greatest hope not to have to summon it again. Now, just as we did before September 11, we hope to offer our patients the opportunity for something more than comfort. We hope to offer them greater freedom.

Years ago we were readier than we are now to conceive difficulties in living as neurosis, and to imagine that when neurosis was "resolved" (so the story went) the blinders would fall from the patientís eyes and the "entire view" would be there to see. In the postmodern world of the present day, we can no longer believe we know what that "entire view" is. We are now much more willing to take the position that any views -- not only the views of an individual, but the views available within any culture -- are a selection of the possibilities, a construction of experience that might have been constructed otherwise. For some time now we have not been able to accept that we merely uncover what we find in psychoanalysis; we participate in constructing it. We do not merely reveal; we influence. We work toward an awareness of the nature of that influence, but we know we can never grasp it all. Some of it we have no choice but to live out; some of it, in fact, we now recognize as mutative. The contemporary status of this position is reflected by the widespread acceptance that unconscious enactments, sometimes positive in impact, sometimes negative, are a ubiquitous part of psychoanalytic treatment.

And so freedom is a more complicated thing for us than it was for our psychoanalytic forebears. The nature of the freedom gained in psychoanalysis depends upon whom you learn it with. There are many freedoms, some associated with how particular clinicians work, some associated with the aims of our various schools of thought. How do we choose which kind of freedom to pursue? Is the kind of freedom we select the best freedom? Who makes that judgment? For what purpose? How should we work in order to have the greatest opportunity of becoming aware of our own ignorance and avoidance of freedom? Do our cultures and our theories make us blind to certain kinds of freedom we might otherwise think are desirable? What constraints on the possibilities for freedom are built into the psychoanalytic situation itself? If we grant that the freedom to experience is a selection of the possibilities, a construction and not simply an unobstructed view, then analysts must continuously question their preference for the freedoms to which they find themselves most drawn. What are their advantages, their flaws, their limitations? What other freedoms do they obscure, and for whom? To what extent might the aims of these freedoms serve the invisible operations of power that Foucault positioned at the fulcrum of culture? We are members of our cultures, after all; and today that means that we not just "shaped" or "influenced" by them, as we used to say, but constituted by them. Each of us is a small piece of culture, a sort of hologram of the larger world, put together internally as our social worlds are organized beyond our skins. How, then, do we avoid fulfilling the very real potential for psychoanalysis to be a (quite unconscious) means of social control? It becomes clearer all the time that our work is a moral and political act.

When psychoanalysis was portrayed as value-neutral, there was seldom any reason to consider it a variety of activism. Even if individual psychoanalysts were politically active, psychoanalysis itself was not. We are used to seeing our field as a tradition established to understand what it is to live. Nothing should make us give up that vision. But there is another position, one that may have begun in the work of Erich Fromm and has been gaining adherents rapidly over the last two decades: psychoanalysis does not only investigate values, it promotes them. We recognize now that psychoanalysis is not only a tool for helping and learning, but also a vision of how we should live.

The one moral position we can depend on all psychoanalysts to share is that it is good to sense and question oneís inner life. This stance is not especially popular in the broader society of the contemporary West, and that can be difficult for us. But in many other cultures psychoanalysis is virtually impossible. As soon as society is shaped around the effort to force experience into particular channels, psychoanalysis becomes an outlaw activity and thus even more obviously a moral endeavor. Any kind of fundamentalism, including the fundamentalism we face today in the Middle East, involves just such an effort at thought control.

But even if fascism and fundamentalism are the most glaring instances of the shaping effects of power, other social arrangements are hardly immune. Western society, too, is built on the operations of power. These workings are not necessarily actively or visibly repressive, though. They tend instead to be largely unconscious and therefore invisible. Foucault (1977) writes, "What makes power hold good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact that it doesnít only weigh on us as a force that says no, but that it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse" (p. 61). And so, because to be an analyst is to be involved in the struggle for inner freedom, and because inner constraints are related to outer ones, analysts often find themselves critics of the societies within which they live. To be an analyst is to be an activist, even if the activism is not very noisy, and even if the activist him/herself is less than fully aware of participating that way.

Psychoanalysis has never been particularly effective in addressing group hatreds, violence, war, disaster, and death. There are exceptions, of course, and some of the most significant of them have been the figures who inspired the interpersonal perspective. I have already mentioned Fromm, who again comes readily to mind. He wrote not only about Nazism and the kinds of social worlds that encourage the formation of certain kinds of individual character (Fromm, 1941, 1947), but late in his life, in his consideration of "malignant aggression," he took on cruelty, destructiveness, and what he called "the necrophilous character," one who has a passion for destruction and a love of death (Fromm, 1973). Harry Stack Sullivan, at the end of his life, was thinking and writing about what psychiatry could offer to the establishment of world peace. His very last article, "Tensions interpersonal and international: A psychiatristís view" (Sullivan, 1950), grew out of a meeting of social scientists sponsored by UNESCO and charged with the goal of understanding what peace among nations required. Helen Swick Perry, who would become both Sullivanís editor and his biographer (1982), and whose obituary, by coincidence, appears in this very issue of Contemporary Psychoanalysis, wrote that this final contribution "is probably Sullivanís most comprehensive and important single paper" (1964, p. 270).

In recent decades interpersonal psychoanalysts have turned away from the broader issues of society and culture that were at the heart of the early interpersonal critique of psychoanalysis. It is important to note, though, that there have been exceptions to this rule, especially among interpersonal analysts who are gay and lesbian, African-American and Latino, and feminist. It was not only interpersonal psychoanalysts, however, who turned to an intensive focus on the clinical situation; all of American psychoanalysis, even those Freudian groups that had criticized the early interpersonalists and taken the alternative position that psychoanalysis should not consider social issues, retreated from broader questions. Consider, for instance, the dismantling of the Freudian metapsychology in the 1970s and the simultaneous call for a Freudian theory that was more thoroughly based in clinical observation.

I do not mean to question the value of our shift to a more thoroughly clinical psychoanalysis. It is probably only because of it, and because of the related development of greater humility about what we can expect of our field, that we were finally able to recognize that psychoanalysis is part of life and not the other way around. When we look back, the hopes in the 1940s and 1950s about what psychoanalysis could accomplish do look a little grandiose.

Yet might it not also be that we gave something up in our retreat from larger questions? Might it be that the retreat from broader questions that took place all over psychoanalysis in the 1970s was part of the broader cultural disillusionment with political activism and the attempt to make a better world that took place at the same time? It is by now a well known observation that Western societies turned inward after the 1960s. Many of those who had been activists began looking to their inner lives and to personal meanings for the satisfaction they had previously found in activism. The expression of political and social controversy more or less disappeared from popular culture, most famously from popular music, where disco replaced politically charged rock and roll. Many young people who had been political activists went into psychotherapy around this time, and it was not uncommon for these people to become psychotherapists and psychoanalysts. Some of them are among the leaders of our field today. Many of these people, despite their conviction about the centrality of the inner life, lament the retreat from political involvement. We gave up something as a nation then. Did psychoanalysis give up something, too?

Perhaps it is time to use our greater sophistication about the limitations of psychoanalysis in a different way. Perhaps we can bring that sophistication to bear on the selection of psychoanalytic problems and the construction of psychoanalytic approaches to them. For those of us who found our way into psychoanalysis through the interpersonal perspective, perhaps it is time to look again to our beginnings for inspiration, to Fromm and Sullivan.

Contemporary Psychoanalysis will continue to present, as it always has, a broad selection of clinical and theoretical perspectives, with a special focus on contributions with an interpersonal sensibility. We will continue to publish the same kind of incisive clinical and theoretical contributions for which the journal has been known. Taking our cue from Fromm and Sullivan, though, and from those interpersonal psychoanalysts who never stopped exploring political and moral questions, we will also make a special project of encouraging innovation, the examination of controversial topics, and the responsible, scholarly, and thoughtful destabilization of the psychoanalytic status quo. This project, too, carries on an important aspect of the journalís past, because for many of its years the mere continued existence of the interpersonal perspective was a controversial insistence on innovation and a disruption of the status quo. That battle, however, has either been won or is in the process of being won; and so now destabilization, which is, after all, one of a clinical psychoanalystís most important responsibilities, must be accomplished differently if it is to be accomplished at all. We will pursue this project by encouraging the selection of problems that have been given insufficient attention in the psychoanalytic literature, especially problems that address the implicit or explicit values of the psychoanalytic enterprise, clinical and/or theoretical.

Contemporary Psychoanalysis will also be open to experimentation with the structure of written psychoanalytic communications. We will not reject outright any form. Though we have never published poetry, fiction, memoir, or topical essays by non-analysts, we will now consider such submissions if they have unusual merit and psychoanalytic relevance. We believe our readers will find this kind of experimentation interesting and illuminating. We will also consider judicious attempts by psychoanalysts themselves to communicate their work in different forms than the conventional psychoanalytic paper. The contributions by Blechner and by Goldman and his collaborators in this issue are such experiments. These brief pieces, too close in time to be analyses of the events they address, nevertheless capture the experience that psychoanalysts and psychotherapists had in the days after the attack on the World Trade Center in a way that a more traditional article could not.

The revelation of unacknowledged values and the destabilization of the status quo are closely related. To destabilize oneís own perceptions is to discover that other values than those one had previously acknowledged are determining oneís conduct -- or, in the case of an examination of psychoanalysis itself, determining the conduct of oneís field. Often it stings to make such discoveries. The most cherished psychoanalytic value, though -- that one value we all share, pursuing it in our different ways -- is the maintenance of curiosity and the tolerance of what we learn as a result. Analysts take the position, at least in their own lives, and within the limitations of their unconscious relations with their own selves, that not-knowing is seldom worth the pain it saves. But we also know that no matter how dearly we hold this value, we always lose track of what it takes to fulfill it, so that it forever remains to be rediscovered. Contemporary Psychoanalysis sets itself the goal of making a contribution to that continuing task of rediscovery.

Donnel B. Stern, Ph.D., Editor of Contemporary Psychoanalysis


Foucault M. (1977). Truth and power. In: The Foucault Reader, ed. P. Rabinow. New York: Pantheon, 1984, pp. 51-75.

Fromm E. (1941). Escape from Freedom. New York: Rinehart.

Fromm E. (1947). Man for Himself. New York: Rinehart.

Fromm E. (1973). The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Perry H.S. (1964). Commentary. In: The Fusion of Psychiatry and Social Science, ed. H. S. Perry. New York: Norton, pp. 267-272.

Perry H.S. (1982). Psychiatrist of America: The Life of Harry Stack Sullivan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Powers R. (2001). The New York Times Magazine, September 23, p. 22.

Sullivan H.S. (1950). Tensions interpersonal and international: A psychiatristís view. In: The Fusion of Psychiatry and Social Science, ed. H. S. Perry. New York: Norton, pp. 293-331.

[Note: This Editorial appeared in Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 2002, 38, 1: 7-12. We thank for the permission]

Donnel B. Stern, Ph.D.
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