New houses for our Psychoanalytic Method
New York, NY
Studio City & Los Angeles, CA
Skokie & Deerfield, IL
Santa Cruz & San Francisco, CA
Solana Beach, CA
New York, NY
The “exhibit” that follows is the creation of an IAPSP Zoom Group led by Heather Ferguson and Steve Stern. The group, which started as 12, gradually settled at the 8 members who participated in this project: Stacy Berlin, Julie Oscherwitz Grant, Jane Jordan, Michelle Lalouche-Kadden, Leslie Lampe Long, Laurel Spindel, Jenifer Paul, and Shaké Topalian.
As with any non-linear complex process, it would be hard to say just how this project started. It grew out of our group process, which included thinking together about COVID-related clinical issues and conundrums that members would bring to the group, but also out of the uniquely welcoming, supportive, and remarkably open and connected atmosphere that was forming in the group despite the limitations imposed by Zoom. One of the clinical issues that various members were struggling with was how to respond to the small group of patients who seemed literally to need in-person contact for the therapy to feel fully viable. Some of these patients suspended treatment quickly after the change to remote therapy, while others were hanging in but clearly experiencing a form of failure to thrive—a loss of felt connection to the analyst that was simultaneously a loss of connection to themselves. It seemed like the “needed relationship” for these patients required some amount of in-person contact. But how to provide this safely for both parties?
Steve may have been the first to bring to the group the idea of meeting with one of his patients on the back deck of his house in the woods. What might be wrong with doing this? We thought through the issues together: safety, privacy, the imposition on others living in the house, the frame issues involved—mainly the patient coming into the therapist’s home environment and all that might stir up. Once the group helped Steve think through each of these issues, the conclusion was that there was no strong reason not to offer the invitation to his patient. This group problem-solving process led to others in the group starting to wonder if they too might be able to fashion some kind of office set-up in their back yards or on their decks, and part of what you see in this exhibit is the ultimate outcome of these discussions and experiments.
As these discussions evolved, it became clear that some in the group did not have the option of doing this with their patients because either their homes did not have outdoor spaces at all, or the spaces they did have did not have the requisite privacy or safety. At first, there was some inadvertent insensitivity to these differences in the group. But because of the deeper trust and openness that was developing, some who did not have such spaces took the risk of voicing their envy of those who did. They shared that they were feeling on “the outside” of the group (of “insiders”) whose homes had useable outside spaces. This prompted an immediate course-correction—an expansion of the conversation to include everyone’s love of nature and the outdoors, the sense of confinement that some of us were feeling more than others, the possibility of meeting patients outside in more public spaces, and creative ways of “bringing the outdoors in”—exemplified especially in Shaké’s creative incorporation of her fire escape as an expansion of her experience of her home office space.
Really what was happening here was a transformation in the group wherein the forms of empathy, support, connection, co-creativity that were evolving were not only helping us with clinical problem-solving but making all of us feel less alone in our work and in the isolation imposed by life in the pandemic. In sharing with each other our stories of doing our work in the midst of a pandemic and recognizing common themes and questions, we found that we were creating a map or some sense of scaffolding around an unprecedented and amorphous experience. With the changes in our lives that allowed for extra time, some of us felt invigorated by numerous endeavors, while others felt deep exhaustion that comes from creating experience from scratch, without a net and without a framework. The strain felt by the latter group seemed to lessen as we put our ideas together. What emerged in our sharing was a sense among us, implicit at first, that our ‘petals of grief’ were being received. With our shared experience received and held, an unbidden discovery emerged-- our individual and shared petals of grief opening for each of us a sense of a new beginning.
People began to share photos (and one painting by a patient) of outdoor spaces where they were meeting patients, and other outdoor spaces that had become meaningful as a result of our group process. At some point Steve suggested organizing these photos and images into an “exhibit” we might share with the larger community. Stacy quickly picked up on this idea and offered to do the work involved in organizing the presentation. And it all came together remarkably quickly, with people sharing both their photos, brief narratives and poems, and Stacy artfully arranging them all into a beautifully laid-out sequence.
In sharing this collection, we are aware of the possibility that others viewing it may have a range of reactions such as the possibility of feelings regarding displays of privilege. In the process of developing this piece many feelings emerged among our members. We hope that what comes through is the spirit of our group, which is one of acceptance, inclusivity and the possibility of transcending—at least at moments—the limitations, isolation, loss, and melancholia imposed by the pandemic and Zoom-life.
We were moved to share this exhibit with a larger audience in the hopes that it can provide a framework, or even something to push up against, during a time when footholds can feel hard to come by. We hope you feel some pleasure and inspiration from our motley collection of photos and narratives. We welcome your comments and invite anyone to share their own experiences seeking ways to connect with patients who need some form of in-person contact and/or their experiments meeting patients outdoors (photos welcome but optional).