I come to psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic treatment through an interest in the nature of experience. Quite early as a student, I found traditional ways of thinking and theorizing about human nature to be reductive or one sided. Looking to understand human subjectivity, I was repeatedly led into cul-de-sacs where experience was described in relationship to something that it wasn’t. It was an emergent property of neurophysiology or was best understood in relation to behavior, etc.
I had the good fortune of attending a small college in Pittsburgh (Duquesne University) with an outstanding program in continental psychology and philosophy, with an emphasis on existential and phenomenological studies. Although it might seem counter-intuitive to explore experience by turning to philosophical theory, the whole emphasis of phenomenology is to turn “to the things themselves,” to a direct description of experience, as a means of understanding and exploring it. Duquesne has a deep tradition of phenomenological and hermeneutical research, and I learned there how to look and to think in a way that took into account the ways in which our looking and thinking are shaped by contexts. I learned how to study experience, both through phenomenological analysis and through an approach to psychotherapy informed by existential phenomenological and psychoanalytic approaches.
At the same time, I had the good fortune of living and working as a therapist in Pittsburgh’s South Side, a neighborhood of immigrant families, steelworkers and students, during an era of profound change and social upheaval. The steel mills were closing as the city transformed from a major industrial center to a corporate headquarters. Thousands of workers lost their jobs, and with their families, they encountered the hardships of loss and change. Mental health centers were deluged with workers and family members dealing with the ramifications of social collapse. As a therapist, I met and worked with many fathers, mothers, students and kids facing a wide range of psychiatric difficulties lived with others and with me.
This was an immersive experience, one where I learned how psychological “illness” is something personal that is never lived in isolation even while it is often experienced as profoundly isolating. I learned in a deeply personal way that psychological pain, pathos and progress always take place in a set of contexts. It quickly became clear in my work with people that our experience in the setting of a psychotherapy recapitulated the experience of other contexts, and these contexts could be actively explored in the experience of therapy.
This immersion in a community in crisis catalyzed a significant change in my studies and clinical work. Not only might the nature of experience be studied, but it was vital to explore the ways in we shape and are shaped by the contexts of our experience, and that this was crucial in working on how we might change. This became a personal exploration, and thus one that included a deepening involvement with psychoanalysis, the granddaddy of practices working on how we shape and are shaped by our context.
Earlier, before graduate school, I was a student and then therapist-case manager in the midwest. Like with my experience in Pittsburgh, I found myself in an interesting dynamic between academic and practice pursuits. Although studying for a master’s degree in social psychology, I pursued an extensive study of philosophy with an emphasis on epistemology and the philosophy of science. I studied, Kant, Hegel, Wittgenstein, Popper, Feyerabend and Polanyi, developing a framework for a critique of logical positivism, something that provided a groundwork for my future academic studies in phenomenology.
But also at that time, I was hired for my first full-time position as case manager and therapist working with the chronically mentally ill in Kansas City, Kansas. This was a period when community mental health was dealing with an influx of people recently “deinstitutionalized” from the faltering state hospital system. Much like in Pittsburgh, there was an influx of individuals struggling in the midst of social collapse. Along with a small team of clinicians, I worked in storefront settings providing services to people who had very few contexts of support in their lives.
Rather than attempt to simply integrate individuals into already established systems, we worked to foster communities where these individuals might begin to develop their own systems, to form and direct their own lives in relation to others. Given this background, I am especially sensitive to the ways in which our subjective experience is shaped by and depends on intersubjective contexts. Psychotherapy, even when focused on the most private parts of our experience, is always also determined in relation to others.
In addition to other formative influences, I found my way after Pittsburgh to McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA for an internship and post doctoral fellowship. At the time, McLean still had a vibrant tradition of milieu-based therapy under the influence of its long standing director Alfred Stanton and the then current dynamo, Shervert Frazier. This was an extraordinary environment that fit and further developed my earlier experiences in the community and in working in intensive treatments. I was able to continue as an inpatient and outpatient staff member at McLean, teaching as faculty of Harvard Medical School.
From this hospital setting, I transitioned into private practice in Cambridge, MA, where I worked with individuals with challenging psychiatric illness, and increasingly with students and professionals, applying my context-based experience to this work. I obtained psychoanalytic training at Boston Psychoanalytic Society & Institute (where I am currently a Training and Supervising Analyst), but also have maintained an active membership with the Massachusetts Association for Psychoanalytic Psychology, where I am a Past President, and with Massachusetts Institute for Psychoanalysis, where I am a supervisor and faculty member. I have expanded my teaching on the relationship of phenomenology and psychoanalysis, currently teaching at the NYU Postdoctoral Program for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. I present at national meetings and am author of articles on phenomenology and psychoanalysis, with a specific interest in phenomenological approaches to intersubjectivity and psychoanalytic process.
I work with a goal of being a psychoanalyst-scholar, developing deep understanding of the nature of human experience and what it means to change. I teach other clinicians in this regard, drawing on an extensive clinical and academic background. My earlier experiences lead me to be especially attuned to interactions, to groups and systems in relation to the individual, while also being sensitive to one’s inner life, to how our experience is shaped moment to moment. I attempt to facilitate immersive experiences, given that I feel that it takes a consuming passionate focus to facilitate change.