“SKIN”, Issue 1, Winter 2017 Edition
2017 Editorial Staff
Other/Wise Executive & Managing Editor:
Other/Wise Editorial Team:
General Introduction to Other/Wise Winter 2017:
This much-awaited issue of Other/Wise concerns IFPE’s 2016, 27th Annual conference, on the topic of SKIN, that took place in Pasadena, California. Other/Wise presents an array of papers taking up multiple facets and meanings of SKIN. The conference touched upon how SKIN speaks for us, targets us, is the body’s canvas, shows the terrain of a life lived, represents the membrane between inner and outer, is our largest sex organ, is a stimulus for projection by others, and impacts race relations and our social fabric.
We received feedback that the presentations at IFPE’s SKIN conference were among the most memorable, personal, socially relevant, direct, and meaningful of our conferences. In this issue of Other/Wise, we are pleased to present a small sampling of the material from that conference.
This issue begins with an inspiring paper by one of IFPE’s 2016 Distinguished Educator Awardees, Bryan Nichols, entitled Promoting Empowerment in the Face of Societal Inequities: What I learned as a Psychologist in the Hood. Attendees commented on the social meaningfulness of his presentation beyond its clinical and psychological scope and including notes on racial elements of therapeutic dyads. This paper’s power takes hold in terms of its relevance to our society, courageously pointing us toward a progressive and enlightened society and toward solutions in light of our country’s divisive racial history. Citing historical and psychological sources, Nichols weaves an informative understanding of “crimes against humanity” in our country, and the sequellae of slavery, that have led to the underlying guilt and anger in our societal subtext. Every reader of conscience will resonate with the sentiments in this unforgettable paper about the deeper meaning of “reparation.” In Nichols’ words:
“…I can only say with certainty that to more completely help our youth in seeking a fair chance at their ‘pursuit of happiness,’ something on a more ‘macro’ scale of intervention in the whole of our society is …”
Next, we move to a very personal paper from Veronica Abney, The Gift that Keeps on Giving: Skin, addressing the intertwining issues of skin, race, awareness and self-image on many levels. While an allegory for those intertwined issues in all of us, Abney uses her very personal story of childhood experiences of growing up with eczema, and the “excoriating” effects of the burdens and psychodynamic implications of wearing not only this skin issue, but also the additional social effects of her skin tone within family and in relation to the country’s racial bias. To exemplify the personal and societal meaning of all of these nuances, Abney shares stories of her childhood as well as anecdotes of her practice of psychoanalysis that show how her childhood understanding that “skin hurts” for these and other reasons, but also shows us that in her important overview and analysis of the issues of skin, such hurts and shame. By example, Abney shows us that there can be personal transcendence and embracing of all the challenges that skin, race, and race relations in and out of the consulting room can imply. In Abney’s telling words:
“…Whether one is conscious of their skin color or not, skin color organizes how we see the other, despite the liberal myth of color blindness. Skin can be both a gift and a curse…”
In the next paper, Tattoo as Personal Ritual, River Malcolm uses the concept of skin as the body’s canvas to give us insight into the stories behind her two tattoos. Far from being impulsive whimsy, the reader will understand that her tattoos were intentional statements as she shows us that her use of herself as canvas was well considered, and rich with meaning. As Malcolm describes her process of deciding upon and obtaining the tattoos in her paper, she free associates to the complexities of her psyche and events in her life, and through this process, analyzes the meaning of a rite of passage as it applies to herself. She begins her paper, quite personally, by describing the tattoo that says, “Home is where the heart is open to the flow of life,” wrapped around her upper right arm. Her paper clearly invites the reader to consider his or her own process as they take seemingly inconsequential, communicative, commemorative, or important steps in their lives — steps that can sometimes serve the higher purposes of a rite of passage, times of honoring and even memorializing. Clearly, for Malcolm and many others who have chosen to use their own skin as canvas, a tattoo is not just a tattoo, and her paper teaches us a new respect for the importance of such skin borne statements. Malcolm reflects:
“… Skin is the actual edge where the beautiful ‘between,’ of which Martin Buber speaks in I and Thou, begins…”.
The skin, the organ that shields and protects the body, can have a great symbolism. So can something designed to take the place of the skin, like a Band-Aid®. This is addressed in the next paper “Can I have a Band-Aid®?:” Two-dimensional sacred space: between second skin and transitional objects. Author Orit Weksler considers the symbolism that a Band-Aid® has for a young autistic patient in this case study, and how it functions not only as protection, but also as a not-quite-transitional-object, something to be used in a repetitive action to help cope with separation and loss of an object. In the case of Weksler’s 5-year-old patient, separation and loss caused by his mother’s deep depression. Through the analysis of this case about the importance of Band-Aids® to one little boy, Weksler shares her unique understanding of actions that encapsulate a dilemma that cannot easily be symbolized, such as that of attachment and loss. Weksler writes:
“…Let us look again at Emile’s wrapping and unwrapping of the Band-Aid®…I think this is how we contain anxieties that are too big for us to symbolize… These kind of anxieties are suspended in repetitive action..”.
In the next article, the psychological meanings of SKIN, are explored as they apply to the interpersonal realm. Author Edie Boxer explores her long and troubled relationship with her, now deceased, brother in Thin-Skinned and Thick-Skinned: The Story of a Relationship. In this intimate, biographical and autobiographical case study, the author shows us two sides of a crumbling self––fragility and defensiveness––and with concomitant lashing-out and self-erosion. In her article, Boxer attempts to bring closure to an unresolved but seminal relationship in her life. It is a relationship that, as is often the case, didn’t end with the death of the other person. She bravely explores the meaning of the fact that there was no goodbye at that parting. In the end, Boxer makes it clear that the line between the thick-skinned and the thin-skinned in close relationships, is often blurred. As Boxer states, her goal is to:
“…speak to others who are also struggling with unresolved relationships… Maybe the only way to find some peace with this specific painful disconnection is to attempt to find a degree of meaning.”
Offering an interspecies view of SKIN, Paul Zelevansky’s creative and entertaining paper, Monkey and Man, and its videos give us much food for thought about skin, and, as per the animal world, fur. He explores how skin and/or fur can be inviting, comforting, transmit emotions, be warm, cold, and even be manipulative as well as other negative connotations. He shows us how much skin and fur can create the “tactile connection,” that contributes to relationships – or not. The fur of a cat helps bring us closer to these complex beings, or the fantasized availability of sexualized skin may offer only a hollow connection. From the need to relate to other to the bio-dynamics of the “mammalian penis,” Zelevansky’s free floating paper about puppets, bodies and minds leaves its mark on the reader. He describes his paper as
“….an existential fable, which tracks the growing up and growing together of a monkey and a man… the stories explore adult concerns about learning, work, family, friendship, living and dying, the form and language is cast in a way that would be understandable to a child…”
In the title to his article, Skin Deep: Our Self-Defeating Resistance To Empathizing With “Superficial” Evidence-Based Therapy Models, M. Chet Mirman examines prejudice – the kind that mental health clinicians hold against other therapists whose practice model is different from theirs. Mirman recognizes that there is much discrimination among the varying modalities, that it is unfair and harmful – in much the same way that there is discrimination in so many societies based on different skin colors or ethnicities. He examines hostility towards psychoanalytic ideas by non-psychoanalysts, as well as hostility and condescension towards Cognitive Behavioral ideas by psychoanalytically-oriented therapists, and attempts to bridge the divide. In Mirman’s words:
“Good psychoanalytic therapists (actually, good therapists of any orientation) don’t insist that their patients enter their world.. Isn’t it, then, ironic that we would expect students (and other therapists) to enthusiastically enter the world of analytic ideas when there are more accessible paradigms available?”
This issue ends with a revealing article by George Bermudez that looks at how unconscious factors (both individual and group unconscious) affect psychoanalytic institutes and the overall psychoanalytic community where affiliation can serve as a “second skin.” In Psychoanalytic Institutes as “Second Skin:” Bullying and the Challenges of Belonging, Authority, and Uncertainty, Bermudez discusses the absence of empathy that can occur in a groupthink, where protecting the skin of a collective can override the empathic function and disables to ability to know what it is like to live in someone else’s skin, and increases the defensive membrane between group and individual. Bermudez challenges the ubiquitous notion that bullying resides in personal, micro-psychological sources, with the preferred solution being personal psychotherapy and looks at systemic etiologies and solutions. Incorporating Kohut’s (1976) concept of a “group self” and citing an example of system-wide intervention in the manner of Weisbord and Janoff’s “Future Search,” Bermudez highlights the dynamics of psychoanalytic institute change and, on the other hand, of group stasis that resists development. In Bermudez’s words:
“…This paper will propose that bullying can be viewed usefully as a reflection of a social unconscious, and illustrative of larger socio-cultural forces, as well as personal and interpersonal (“micro-psychological”) processes…”
Source: Other/Wise International Forum for Phsychoanalytic Education