We care about your safety! For new and existing clients, we're currently providing teletherapy. Visit our COVID page for more.
The SAT project is committed to being an actively anti-racist organization. Visit our Anti-Racism page for more.
We are in a crisis of division in our country. It is our belief that by fleshing out the psychodynamic and clinical picture of racism we can help ourselves as clinicians and then help our patients to understand its defensive nature. We believe we can help our colleagues and clients to look at racism from a different frame that will lower our defenses and open up dialogue.
The ability to make a quick binary decision was an essential evolutionary defense for primitive homo sapiens. Survival depended on making a snap judgment as to whether another person was friend or foe. Modern life is complex. One way to reduce complexity is to continue to think in a binary way – people are either this or that, nothing in-between. Binary thinking is related to psychological defense mechanisms. These mechanisms are exacerbated by trauma, family experiences, shame, guilt, anger, and fear.
[D]efenses are a way to alleviate shame through disavowal and dissociation. If we can help our colleagues and clients address their defenses we can move away from binary/racist/divisive thinking, feeling, and behaving. Using a psychodynamic approach helps us dismantle the intensity of racist thinking. [Instead], we attempt to activate curiosity...[and] heal the split one client, group, and community at a time.
Curiosity [can] be a salve for the underlying shame people feel about their historical thoughts, feelings, and behaviors towards difference. [When we] evaluate our world view from a place of curiosity…clinicians can tackle the splitting, dissociation, and projections so active in racism, prejudice, and discrimination.
Freud wanted to be a scientist but fell short of this goal in several ways. As a result, science did not welcome psychoanalysis into its fold. Fortunately, this is changing. In the years since Freud’s death, two science-based psychoanalytic theories have developed: attachment theory and affect theory. Both are measurable and supported by social psychology, neuroscience, and infant research.
Co-written by Michael Crocker and Art Baur, this article in the Clinical Social Work Journal explores the central importance of affect as well as treatment implications. The authors posit that theoretical differences between Bowlby, Tompkins, Fairbairn, and Winnicott are semantic, based in politics, and can be brought together if their differences are acknowledged.
They explore how Winnicott’s awareness and sensitivity to parental intrusion should be integrated with attachment theory. And add to Bowlby’s idea of “secure attachment” with the introduction of the concepts of “secure enough detachment” and “secure enough attachment”.
In this exploration of affect theory and attachment theory, clinicians are challenged to listen and learn from other fields, and recognize that science and art are necessary for the health of psychoanalytic theory.
"The Clinical Impact of the Pandemic and Social Unrest" may be read in its entirety in a special pandemic issue of The Clinician, the newsletter of the New York State Society for Clinical Social Work.
On Sunday, March 22, 2020, New York City was effectively shut down [in] an attempt to slow a pandemic that has swept across the globe and threatened to make [us] the world’s largest Covid-19 hot spot.
We were in the midst of a crisis on a scale most had never encountered before. As the city scrambled to enter a period of pause, with the news cautioning us to ‘shelter at home’ and ‘quarantine,’ numerous industries shut down overnight. Tens of thousands of workers were laid off. We learned that there is an essential workforce in America, and clinical social workers, despite being able to stay home, are a part of it.
Our clients are addressing the challenges of being stuck at home and of new family dynamics. Couples are together 24 hours a day. Children are being home-schooled. People are locking themselves in a bathroom or a car to find privacy. Families have lost the opportunity for psychic space which is so necessary for our mental health.
Clinical social workers are navigating our own trauma and anxiety as we confront the challenges of a new way of working.
The pandemic, and the period of reflection that followed, has [also] opened the door for another social crisis to emerge: a reckoning with the racial inequities that plague America. George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s brutal deaths at the hands of the police opened the floodgates for Black Lives Matter protests and demands for sweeping changes in the law enforcement system.
[This] crisis has impacted intra-personal, inter-personal, and societal systems. For the first time in our careers, our entire practice is standing at the crossroads of a health crisis, a financial crisis and a social justice crisis. No profession is better prepared to navigate this moment. We, as clinical social workers, are trained in understanding the ecological implications of social crisis. As a profession that is rooted in understanding society, culture, family, and the individual, we are well equipped to sort all of this out. This is exactly what we are doing, despite a constantly shifting terrain.
Classical attachment theory has yielded rich explanations for behavior by classifying attachment into “styles” such as avoidant and ambivalent. Modern attachment theory has deepened our understanding of these formations by integrating knowledge about affect regulation and cognitive narratives.
In looking at how attachment manifests in the phenomenal, sensation-evoking world, we draw on the work of postmodern performance theorist Judith Butler and others to get a clarified picture not just of one's style of attaching but of the specific ways that attachment behaviors are rehearsed, repeated, and refined over time.
We look at attachment at the level of lived experience, rather than merely that of signification, to gain insights on how to interpret and work with attachment-laden behaviors in the therapeutic relationship.