Studying Psychoanalysis in Turkey by Allen Siegel

This article appeared in the Spring2003 issue of “The American Psychoanalyst,” the quarterly newsletter of the American Psychoanalytic Association. It was written by Allen Siegel, M.D., the American Director of the Anatolia Center for Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. The title is “Studying Psychoanalysis in Turkey”in

The American Psychoanalyst Spring 2003 Volume 37. No. 1 pp 10 & 12

If there is any worry about the future of psychoanalysis one need only look to Turkey for reassurance. There, thirst for psychoanalytic knowledge led a group of 30 mental health professionals to reach beyond the educational limits imposed by their national borders and make contact with the psychoanalytic West. Four years ago, Yavuz Erten, the leader of this group, posted a message to Ernie Wolf on the Self Psychology Website Bulletin Board inviting Ernie to teach in Istanbul. Ernie, unable to fulfill the request at that time, gave my name to Yavuz. That first cyberspace communication was the beginning of a collaboration between Yavuz, the group, and me that culminated, four years later, in the formation of “The Anatolia Center for Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy,” now a group of 60 psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers dedicated to the learning and practice of the psychoanalytic therapies in Turkey.

Prudy Gourguechon, editor of TAP, recently learned of my activities with “The Anatolia Center” and asked if I would write about my experience. In her communication to me Prudy wrote, “ My main point in putting this kind of article in TAP is to provide readers with ideas that are stimulating, and reports of analysts’ experiences that may boost members’ morale. I am a great believer in publicizing the outposts of psychoanalysis – what people do outside their offices – as a major way to ensure a future and keep our lives interesting.”   I’m happy to share my Turkish experience which, to say the least, has reassured me about the future of the psychoanalytic therapies and certainly has kept my life interesting.

This story began in October 1998 when my wife Renee, a graduate of the Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy Program of the Chicago Institute, and I made our first trip to Turkey to teach Psychology of the Self to the nameless group of 30 interested psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists. Our plan was to combine our week of teaching in the mornings with the delightful opportunity of touring Istanbul with some long-time Israeli friends who were to meet us in Turkey.

Our daily seminars were to begin at 9:00AM and continue until 12:30 PM when we would be free to visit with our friends. The teaching plan for the seminar was to first provide a theoretical foundation by teaching basic Freud and then demonstrate how Kohut’s ideas about narcissism and the self evolved as an extension of Freud’s thinking. With this basic theoretical foundation we would then be in a position to study clinical material from a self-psychological perspective. To do this we would use the Australian film, “Muriel’s Wedding” to create a shared clinical experience that we could jointly study in depth. Next, Renee would present a child psychotherapy and, finally, I would present an adult patient of my own.

With no clear idea of the group’s composition, we had no sense of what they would understand and how they might respond. To our delight we got off to a good start. The first morning went very well and the group insisted upon taking us out for lunch where lively conversation continued until after 3:00 PM. Since we didn’t return to our hotel until nearly 4:00 it was too late to tour so we rested before beginning the evening’s activity with our friends who understood our situation. The first day set the pattern for the week. We saw lots of the eager, curious, and hospitable Turks, a little of our friends and none of Istanbul’s fabled sights, yet we felt enriched and enthused by our experience with the group. Fortunately, we had planned a second week with our friends at a resort town on the Mediterranean so our opportunity to visit with them was not lost.

The success of the trip was marked by the group’s request to continue meeting on the phone. They offered to call me every 6 weeks at 6:30 on a Sunday morning for a two-hour telephone meeting. My task was to plan what we’d talk about and conduct the phone conversation.   We have met on the phone this way over the last 4 years. Since film, as a source of clinical material, was successful we continued that venue and have studied films like Ordinary People, Fried Green Tomatoes, Leaving Las Vegas and Harold and Maude. In addition we’ve read and discussed an assortment of books and papers as well as studied clinical material presented by both the group members and myself.   In the intervening years I have made 4 more trips to Turkey. Renee has accompanied me on two of them.

Because I felt the group needed to hear voices other than mine, we have arranged for Joe Lichtenberg, Anna and Paul Ornstein, and Arnold and Connie Goldberg to come to Turkey as visiting professors. About 2 years ago, after reading a paper I had written on email supervision, one member of the group voiced her interest in eSupervision.   After some discussion, we decided to experiment with group eSupervision and formed a group that has functioned well for the past year and a half. Having proven to myself that group eSupervision is a viable form of education, I decided to ask other analysts and psychotherapists whether they would be interested in joining me in this venture. Nine people have agreed and this eSupervision experiment is in process.

While the group of 30 that contacted me in 1998 was on the periphery of the Istanbul psychoanalytic community its numbers have grown and its activities are now recognized by the Turkish psychiatric and analytic communities.   Psychiatrists from Ankara, where the medical school is located, have joined our ranks and travel to Istanbul for our regular meetings. Because the number of people from Ankara has grown significantly, people from Istanbul have agreed to travel to Ankara for every third meeting. Our membership has now swelled to nearly 60 people and the group decided to temporarily close it in an effort to preserve group process and cohesion. Closing membership has brought the unexpected result of making the group even more attractive.

There is one fascinating development with “The Anatolia Center” that carries broad reassurance about our field, here, as well as in Turkey. While searching for sources of funding to finance visiting scholars’ trips some group members suggested that money might be available from the pharmaceutical companies since they were always interested in providing educational programs that drew psychiatrists. The group members were aware that many of their psychiatric colleagues were unhappy with their work, as they had been before they found the group. They knew that the psychobiology they all had been taught, and were practicing as their main therapeutic modality, was not sustaining their colleagues’ interest, just as it had not sustained their own. Aware of an intense interest in many of their colleagues to learn dynamic psychotherapy some group members approached and convinced a few companies that our psychodynamic orientation would be a draw for the psychiatric community. They were right and in the past year, Arnold Goldberg and I have each presented to conferences of over 300 psychiatrists. These meetings were highly successful and have created good working relationships between the pharmaceutical companies, who now are eager to incorporate our knowledge into their future programs, and the “Anatolia Center for Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy.”

The most recent exciting, even surprising, development is that 20 members of the group are currently in analyses and many are interested in eventually seeking analytic training at the IPA sponsored Turkish Institute.   As is apparent, my hope for the future of our field has been heartened by my experience in Turkey and my life clearly has been made more interesting.