Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Community Psychoanalysis

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 2, 2010


Helping the community is a challenge for all mental health professionals. Many of my colleagues wonder how we can join forces with community organizations to help the underserved. Our psychoanalytic skills are useful in one to one sessions, but on a broader level, they might also be useful to community mental health clinics, schools, and social service agencies. Father Boyle,, is my inspiration. Developing relationships with people who have limited resources can be a game changer in their lives. Understanding the value of a therapeutic relationship can, theoretically, and practically in the case of Father Boyle, have a huge impact on vulnerable folks. This impact takes the form of giving people hope; people who had none at all. This hope is hope in themselves; the hope to change their own lives. Transformative relationships might be a better term than community psychoanalysis to impart how change happens. Psychoanalysts, as experts in the challenges of therapeutic relationships, are in a unique position to inspire and to teach  volunteers, case workers, and clergy to help the community.

Today’s mental health clinics are focused on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT); a treatment which many say is “evidenced-based,” meaning that there are randomized controlled trials to demonstrate the efficacy. Although CBT is very useful, it does not substitute for the inspiration that a therapeutic relationship provides. Yet, money is tight; government which often hands out the money, wants to put their resources into something that shows efficacy. However, what if nothing demonstrates efficacy? What if CBT demonstrates results, but these results are short-term? Sometimes, intuition has to play a role; even in government funding. People dedicated to helping others, who know how to form a relationship with people in distress,  is a good place to put resources.  Transformative relationships; that is where we need to focus.

8 Responses to “Community Psychoanalysis”

  1. Kristin said

    Great post!! Maybe one place to start putting these ideas into effect would be with the Big Brothers/ Big Sisters organization and other similar mentorship organizations. The premise of those organizations seems to be that relationships can be transformative.

    Of all the mental health disciplines, psychoanalysis seems to be the one whose image is most closely linked with the hyper-educated, privileged classes (at least in popular culture). Is this an accurate image? Have psychoanalytic institutes attempted to address the needs of vulnerable populations in any concerted way?

    • Shirah Vollmer said

      Yes, I was thinking about Big Brothers/Big Sisters. That is a good place to start. Yes, psychoanalytic institutes, along with the American Psychoanalytic Association, have started to address the needs of vulnerable populations.

  2. Shelly said

    I would assume that government agencies would find value in the “quick fix.” Psychotherapy is a long, drawn out process over many sessions until a breakthrough occurs. What could you suggest to help the masses that would not take so much time? Training volunteers, social workers and the like is a good start. What else?

    • Shirah Vollmer said

      My point is that relationships are therapeutic. I am not necessarily advocating psychotherapy for the underserved, but rather, giving them consistent people in their lives who mentor them through their hard times. As per Kristin’s comment, a Big Brother/Big Sister approach makes sense to me. I think people need to know that people care about them and by doing that, change can happen.

  3. Amanda said

    What about the therapists who makes a client lose all hope in humanity because they are so screwed up themselves?
    Can you write an article on how many lives have been lost because a therapist isn’t properly trained, or has not tackled their own issues in therapy. That would be brilliant.

    You article is WISHFUL THINKING.

    • Of course my article is wishful thinking, but for change to happen, ideals are a good place to start. Every field has bad apples. I agree that therapists can be destructive, but they can also be constructive.

  4. Suzi said

    Yeah – each social contruct, culturally, is different. It’s a toughy that’s for sure. I really don’t like politics.

    Good but scary post!

    • Shirah Vollmer said

      Yes, but politics offers a great potential to help large numbers of people. Influencing policy is a challenging, but worthwhile endeavor. People who understand mental health should be on the front lines of policy change, but sadly, this is not always the case.

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