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Commentary

AAPCSW Co-President's Statement

A message from co-presidents Teresa Méndez and Daniel Buccino.

Dear AAPCSW members,

We wanted to reach out in advance of the forthcoming newsletter.

We trust you are well (enough) as the calendar turns toward Fall, back to school (such as it may be), possible second and third waves of coronavirus infections (if we ever truly exited the first), continued racial and social unrest, economic tumult, a momentous election season, and a battle for a Supreme Court replacement for the inimitable and “Notorious RBG,” a veritable tzaddik.

Insofar as we all carry personal and professional concerns about the intersectional impact of these issues, we are truly all in this together. To be helpful to our patients in navigating these issues, we need to recognize our shared struggles and yet also have begun our own work in managing ourselves through these unprecedentedly turbulent times.

It is clear that the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting harder and sooner than expected, even before all the viral and medical sequelae have unfolded. Rates of anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol misuse, overdoses, and domestic violence have surged. Therapists ourselves are not immune. While most of us have adapted to treatment via various telehealth platforms, having to run home schools and home restaurants as well as home offices is very stressful. The usual routines of replenishment and socialization with friends and family are foreclosed entirely or quite limited. And the endless coerciveness of precaution[i] required to live with the novel coronavirus is one of the foundations of all trauma.

Many of us still find ourselves frozen, personally and professionally, with the hypervigilance required of our slow rolling, still unfolding disaster of uncertainty,[ii] and many of our usual professional meetings have stalled. Others have found inspiration, creativity, and ways to reconstitute projects and presentations. While AAPCSW made the difficult decision to postpone our most important event, the biannual conference, moving it from March 2021 to November 2021, over the summer we held “A Disaster of Uncertainty,” a free Zoom series on the pandemic and our national reckoning with anti-Black racism.

Distinguished members of AAPCSW, George Hagman, Carol Tosone, and Joan Berzoff, each presented evocative reflections on dealing with crisis, trauma, and loss, and offered hopeful thoughts on helping ourselves and our patients through these times. While we were sorry we could not gather in person, this well-received virtual series offered great promise for our organization. Over 100 individuals logged in to each event, many non- (or not yet-) members of AAPCSW, and we did attract some new members as a result!

We are planning the launch of additional on-line discussions in 2021 to sustain us until our conference in November. Meanwhile, the ease of access has inspired members and areas to launch series of their own - and we would encourage and support all members in considering what you may like to offer (or what you'd like to see offered). We are happy to promote your efforts and assist with planning.

Alongside the COVID-19 pandemic, this country continues to struggle with a racial reckoning, an uprising sustained in ways not seen since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. AAPCSW is finding its way into its own reckoning, keenly aware that we are an organization whose membership is majority White. While our demographics are consistent with those of the mental health professions (where <10% of practitioners and <1% of psychoanalysts are Black), we recognize we have work to do before we can authentically claim that we are committed to being a truly antiracist organization.

Our Diversity and Social Action Committee will be seeking to engage with the American Psychoanalytic Association's new Holmes Commission on Racial Equality, established to understand and address systemic racism within APsaA and its member institutes. Further, as a core member of the Psychoanalytic Consortium, we hope to propose ways that all five Consortium organizations can work together to influence the larger psychoanalytic antiracist movement, in addition to each member organization's own ad hoc antiracism work. Just as American psychoanalysis was forced from being an elite guild of physicians into welcoming social workers as equals at all levels of the profession, we must now insist psychoanalytic theory, training, and professional organizations fully open its thinking, membership, and leadership to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

Teresa and I have begun participating in a small 4-part study group organized through (das) Unbehagen, the psychoanalytic peer collective, on Frank Wilderson's canonical and provocative new book Afropessimism.[iii] At its core, afropessimism claims “Blackness is coterminous with Slaveness.”[iv] As Wilderson elaborates, “Anyone who thinks nineteenth century slave narratives are reports on the past isn't paying attention.”[v] In other words: Slavery is never dead. It's not even past. Wilderson recognizes how difficult this notion is to assimilate. The temptation is to turn away entirely, to foreclose even considering the premise, in part because anti-Black racism and anti-Black violence are so essential to the construction of every other category of person that the problem of anti-Black racism and Black suffering become a problem with “no coherent solution.”[vi] To even be able to consider and attempt to engage with the proposition of afropessimism, Wilderson suggests, may be the only possible act of solidarity by those of us who are not Black. We hope our study of afropessimism will help us as we think about and move AAPCSW forward in its own work.

We have been doing this work quietly and incrementally; mindful not to overpromise as we have seen other organizations forced to walk back their public antiracism claims when the actions behind their commitments were thin. We welcome AAPCSW members to reach out to us personally and to step forward with us in this important antiracsim work: danbuccino@aol.com and tmendez@baltimorepsychotherapy.org.

Finally, given that our annual in-person Board meeting in March 2020 was cancelled due to the pandemic and our biannual conference has been postponed from March to November 2021, we plan to reconvene the full Board over a series of shorter on-line meetings early next year and into Spring 2021. We will invite Advisory Board Committee Chairs and Advisory Board Area Representative Chairs to join the Executive Board via Zoom. At these meetings we will consider our organizational structure and set our course for the coming year. Members who have agenda topics, please let us know.

And so, while this year (and likely into 2021) may be remembered as a “lost year,” AAPCSW continues to move forward and respond deliberately to our rapidly evolving circumstances. We always welcome your feedback. But mostly we hope to make you proud to continue to call AAPCSW your professional home. While the rest of psychoanalysis is discovering race, class, and intersectionality - we know that these issues have been at the forefront of social work's progressive values for a century. As we keep saying, if it weren't for social work, there would be no psychoanalysis, and psychoanalysis is becoming increasingly suffused with social work values and ethics. Keep up the great work!

We recognize this is an extraordinary time in our country and in our careers that may require extra consideration and consultation. If you have any questions or concerns or thoughts about the organization, the profession, or your own practice and pursuits, please, please reach out and we will do our best to be helpful and point you in the right direction as needed: Dan: 410-881-5425, or Teresa: 202-810-2038.

In solidarity,
Dan Buccino and Teresa Méndez
Presidents, AAPCSW

Save the Date!
November 4-7, 2021, AAPCSW Annual Conference (and Board Meeting), Philadelphia, PA

References

  • [i] Michael Walzer, “Excusing Terror,” The American Prospect. October 2001.
  • [ii] George Everly, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
  • [iii] Frank B. Wilderson III, Afropessimism (New York: Liveright, 2020).
  • [iv] Wilderson, 102.
  • [v] Wilderson, 101.
  • [vi] Wilderson, 171.