About Distance Learning, or Against Isolation by Allen Siegel

This article appeared in the June 2006 issue of “IPA Electronic newsletter,” the newsletter of the International Psychoanalytic Association. It was written by Allen Siegel, M.D., the American Director of the Anatolia Center for Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy and Director of Distant Education Program of Chicago Analysis Institute . The title is “About distance learning, or against isolation”IPA Electronic Newsletter No:2 June, 2006

About Distance Learning, or Against Isolation

Allen Siegel (USA)

Link: http://www.ipa.org.uk/default.aspx?page=175

In his statement of concern about ‘grey psychoanalysis’, Shmuel Erlich delineates three major questions and dilemmas that I will summarize.

(1) Erlich is concerned about the use of technology, and other changes in traditional psychoanalytic education, that enables distance education in the form of email supervision and analysis, shuttle analysis, and concentrated analysis. While  he acknowledges that the aim of these venues is to develop psychoanalysis in areas that are remote from psychoanalytic centres, he worries that these changes represent ‘different, not to say inferior’ standards and that their utilization by the IPA leads to a ‘double standard’.

(2) Erlich addresses the issue of ‘Direct Membership’ and articulates his worry that ‘this class of membership may have evolved into a circumvention of regular institute training’. ‘What’, he asks, ‘is the meaning and message conveyed by recognizing psychoanalytic training that takes place outside of IPA institutes?’

(3) Erlich voices his concern that IPA analysts are providing psychoanalytic training (‘as distinguished from psychotherapeutic’) to psychotherapists who are not enrolled in an IPA institute. In regard to IPA training analysts, he further raises the ‘serious question of supervising an analysis carried out by a person who is not a candidate of an IPA institute, as well as conducting teaching activities where these are construed as providing psychoanalytic training’.

Before I respond I want to credential myself so you can know something of me and my experience. I am a 1984 graduate of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, a member of its faculty, of the IPA, and American Director of the Anatolia Psychoanalytic Psychotherapies Association, located in Turkey. I have long held the view that we analysts have a unique lens upon the human condition and have been free in sharing that perspective with the broader community. In this regard, nearly 20 years ago I developed a successful four-year in-service training programme for advisers in the local high school (New Trier High School) located on the North Shore of Chicago. Twelve years ago I developed a psychoanalytic consultation forum for a group of rabbis, also on the North Shore of Chicago, that continued on a weekly basis for five years. Ten years ago I published the book Heinz Kohut and the Psychology of the Self and, on the strength of that book, was approached by a German analyst to supervise her work via letters. I was sceptical about whether such an enterprise was possible and entered the venture on an experimental basis. With this caveat we began what evolved into a weekly supervision conducted first by fax and later, once we each had proper equipment, by email. We published a paper reporting on our successful experiment (Siegel and Topel, 2000).

My next experience in broadening the reach of the psychoanalytic perspective also came in response to my book. Eight years ago a group of 40 Turkish mental health workers invited me to Istanbul to teach them about Heinz Kohut’s psychoanalytic ideas. A continuing distance-education partnership evolved from that meeting, in which we have used multiple technologies, as they became available, to pursue our work.

I have recently become the Director of Distance Education at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis where we have initiated an online three-year certificate programme in psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Our software creates a virtual classroom with simultaneous audio and video feed that occurs in real time. The Turks have volunteered to be the pilot group in this effort.

To determine whether learning has taken place I ask the students to write a short summary of the day’s classes. While online distance education certainly creates a different experience than that of the brick-and-mortar classroom experience, these summaries indicate that our students are actively learning from our faculty. Further evidence of this vitality is our enrolment of 22 students and our regular attendance of 20 people per class.

In response to Erlich’s concern, I suggest that that he conflates technology and standards. He acknowledges that distance education employs different, ‘not to say inferior standards’, but implies inferiority when he asserts that the new educational method ‘leads to a split or double standard’. My experience is that there is no conflict between technology and quality of education. New methods are not related to ‘standards’. The major pedagogical issue is, as always, the quality and capability of the teachers. Online teaching does require some shifts for the teacher, but I believe a good teacher is a good teacher, whether in person or on the internet. I see no reason why the quality of education, standards if you want to call it that, need be diminished when transmitted in an electronic form by teachers comfortable with the new medium.

One must distinguish, however, between forms of online education. The most common form is based upon asynchronous technology. This form is text-driven and students can read text any time they wish. Depending upon class size, students can ask questions of the teacher, who responds at a later time. The other form is created by synchronous technology. Here a virtual, real-time classroom with audio and/or video feed is created. Students meet with a teacher, at an appointed time, in a classroom without walls. An interactive classroom milieu is established.

I have chosen synchronous technology for my classes because psychoanalytic teaching/learning is an affective interactive process. I agree with Erlich when he implies inferiority of distance education if his concern addresses asynchronous technologies. It is inferior and not suited to the learning needs of any of the psychoanalytic psychotherapies. If, however, he refers to synchronous technology, then I strongly disagree.

I have no experience regarding psychoanalysis via the internet and at this point have no desire to pursue it. I feel the need to be in the room with my patient. For this reason I do not engage in treatment via the telephone.

I will not respond to the issue of ‘Direct Membership’ since I have neither experience nor interest in this issue. I do however feel strongly about Erlich’s idea that training analysts must stay loyal to teaching in their own or other IPA institutes. This position assumes that only IPA institutes have validity and that other institutes have lesser ‘standards’. I disagree with this position. IPA members are not the only competent therapists. Many good therapists wish to avoid the political and theoretical complexities of life connected with an IPA education and attend institutes that are not IPA affiliated.

Erlich, in his suggestion that IPA training analysts boycott institutes that are not IPA affiliates, recommends isolation, a position that has not served psychoanalysis well. Instead, we psychoanalysts would do well to boldly carry our unique understanding of humanity to the world. We live in rapidly changing circumstances. In a short span of time psychoanalytic thinking has seen its ascendance and its decline as forces of conservatism have re-emerged. In this climate, Darwin’s ideas are attacked, as are Freud’s. Medicine too has become vulnerable to this repressive push. Recently I have seen many who turned to their internist, gynecologist, or paediatrician when first depressed. They were given anti-depressants, told to return in 6 months, and suffered unnecessary delays in finding psychotherapeutic help for their internal lives.

Isolation, in any form, is regressive for us. My experience in the broader community has consistently been that people become excited about psychoanalytic thinking once they have heard about it. The community, the individual and psychoanalysis all benefit. Distance education and other attempts to reach and train people in remote areas are essential to this effort. Who better to do the work than the best trained and most experienced among us? The view that distance education and maintenance of ‘standards’ are antithetical, it seems to me, derives more from uninformed bias and worry over change, than from direct experience and observation.


Siegel, A. and E. Topel (2000) ‘eSupervision: Something New Under the Sun’, Progress in Self Psychology 16: 103–40.