Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Dorothy Holmes PhD

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on September 20, 2013


Dorothy Holmes PhD is an African American, female, senior psychoanalyst from Bluffton, South Carolina who speaks with the openness and honesty of her unique demographic, in a world, when she trained, was dominated by Caucasian men. She asked her analyst how he could possibly understand what a black woman goes through, and by her report, he responded that he was not going to interfere with her feelings of being alone in the world. This, she tells the audience, is what kept her going. She had a space to express how she perceived that her life must be hard to understand, based on her gender and her race, but predictably, she came to see that there is a sense of common humanity if people extend their imaginations into the other’s subjectivity. I asked her about racial relations in the South, and she kindly told me that I was projecting. “Projecting what?” I asked, worried that I had stepped over a racial line. She did not quite answer my question, but I assumed she meant that hatred is everywhere and that I wanted to believe that somehow, Los Angeles, was more tolerant than Bluffton. In fact, I do want to believe that, but it also may be true, and I was wondering about her experience as a Black woman in the South. At the same time, I recognize that my curiosity about racial relations and its geographic differences, is not necessarily something she wants to speak about. She then goes on to talk about how her patients assume she grew up poor, when in fact, she did not. Her relaxed nature in talking about this discrepancy was refreshing. How people came to assume her economic background could be prejudice, ignorance, and/or their own need to see her as a rags to riches story. I felt like she was an immigrant to our Westside culture. She could speak our psychoanalytic language, while at the same time, she could speak to issues of race and gender, which we, who live, in what feels like a more tolerant place, do not understand. The conclusion was the old saw. Deep listening transcends race, gender and economic situations.

2 Responses to “Dorothy Holmes PhD”

  1. Shelly said

    What does gender have to do with psychoanalysis in general? Is psychiatry/psychotherapy a man’s world? I have the feeling that in the “deep South” women are expected to hold down the home and hearth and men provide the living. Does Dr. Holmes break these barriers because she is a woman and is African American? Because I also come from Los Angeles I can ask: Do you really Los Angeles is tolerant of mixed cultures (Latinos, African Americans, etc…)?

    • Gender and psychoanalysis have a long history. Freud is famous, or infamous, for saying that women have “penis envy” suggesting that they are born with a disadvantage. Dr. Holmes breaks a lot of barriers, as psychoanalysis, historically speaking, has been a white man’s world. My issue with Los Angeles, is that we do not have a history of the KKK, slavery, public lynchings, and although we certainly have a history of terrible prejudice, the level of violence associated with that prejudice, seems to me to be much less. My question is how much of that disparity in history, is reflected by current day racial relations? The issue is so challenging because of the sensitivity of the question. It is hard to talk about it, without being accused of being prejudiced or misinformed. As I struggle writing these posts I hope to find a way to pose the query which opens, rather than closes, the discussion. Thanks.

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