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A History of Psychoanalysis in Michigan

This article was originally written by Murray Meisels, PhD, and revised in 2016 by Karen Baker, MSW 

     The Michigan Psychoanalytic Council (MPC) was formed in 1988 as an organization dedicated to the study of classical and contemporary psychoanalysis, and to the training of psychoanalysts and psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapists. Founding members were interested in creating an organization that would run on egalitarian and gender sensitive principles.  MPC was born out of a tumultuous psychoanalytic history that included much strife and conflict amongst individuals and groups within Michigan. 

     The first psychoanalytic organization in Michigan was the Detroit Psychoanalytic Society and Institute (DPSI). In the 1930’s, the fledgling DPSI was situated in both Detroit and Cleveland, and only named itself DPSI once it had enough members to meet the requirements of being a separate organization under the rules of the American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA), then its parent body. APsaA, at the time, was the only national psychoanalytic society in the United States, and was primarily a psychiatric association. Richard and Editha Sterba, the latter a psychologist and musicologist, had arrived in Detroit from Vienna before the war and were senior members of DPSI. 

      In the early 1950’s there developed considerable strife, jealousy, and conflict in DPSI which revolved around the Sterba’s.  This included accusations that the Sterbas were conducting training analyses of nonphysicians, a serious violation of APsaA’s rules.  Various members of DPSI brought allegations to APsaA’s Education Committee that Richard Sterba was conducting such analyses, and that he was also providing supervision to social workers, one of whom was Selma Freiberg. In all, some 26 accusations against Dr. Sterba were presented to a board of APsaA, while Dr. Sterba was denied written knowledge of the accusations on the grounds that they were confidential! This information was provided to Dr. Murray Meisels in a telephone interview in the 1980s.  Dr. Sterba explained that these events took place in 1953, and he emphasized that it was the McCarthy era.  The result of the committee hearing was that DPSI was disaccredited as an institute; even though APsaA had no bylaw provision for disaccreditation. 

            According to the reported history, in 1953, Richard Sterba was furious and threatened to sue APsaA. However, Anna Freud prevailed on him not to do so, since it might damage psychoanalysis. Dr. Sterba acquiesced and it was not until the 1980s that psychologists successfully sued APsaA which opened the doors for training of non-psychiatrists.

           After disaccreditation, DPSI continued to be a society of APsaA even though it no longer had an APsaA institute, a technicality. In practice, DPSI affiliated with the American Academy of Psychoanalysis (AAPsa), a psychiatric-psychoanalytic group which had split from APsaA in 1955 because it disagreed with APsaA’s authoritarian view of psychoanalysis. DPSI continued its training activities, including the education of some few psychologists, under the auspices of AAPsa until the 1980’s. At that time, its numbers were reduced because the psychiatric residency programs from which it drew most of its candidates were ended by monetary and institutional contraction in the Michigan state hospital system.

             As a result of the DPSI disaccreditation, two additional groups emerged in Michigan.  The major group was the Michigan Psychoanalytic Society and Institute (MPSI), the new affiliate of APsaA. It was founded in 1958 and eventually became the dominant society in the area. It adhered to the psychiatric bias in APsaA, and only officially trained a few non-psychiatrists. Over the years, many area psychologists and social workers were analyzed, supervised (psychotherapy only), and taught (extension courses) by members of MPSI. In the 1970’s, a group of these mental health professionals formed the Friends of the Michigan Psychoanalytic Society, a sort of alumni club of former analysands, students and followers. In the 1980’s, the Friends’ changed its name to the Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis.

           Richard and Editha Sterba, who had helped found DPSI and who had sustained its growth into the 1950’s, were barred from participating in the training activities of MPSI. In APsaA, certain members are designated as Training Analysts, and only Training Analysts may psychoanalyze candidates. The Sterbas were denied training analyst status, and thus were effectively barred from participation in the life of the MPSI institute. In fact, Richard Sterba was then the premier psychoanalyst in Michigan, having been Vienna-trained, having analyzed numerous members of MPSI and others leaders in the psychoanalytic community, and having written the classic paper on the splitting of the ego in psychoanalysis.

            After the 1953 disaccreditation, the Sterbas formed yet a third organization, the Michigan Association for Psychoanalysis (MAP). MAP did not have a formal training program, probably because the Sterba’s adhered to the policies of the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA). The IPA was the body founded by Freud to organize and direct the progress of psychoanalysis and, by the 1930’s, the IPA assumed authority for psychoanalytic training as well.  Its hegemonic position was that all psychoanalytic training should be under the auspices of IPA and be administered through national associations, such as APsaA. Since APsaA had the IPA monopoly on psychoanalytic training in the United States, formal institute status for MAP was not in the cards. Despite this, MAP proceeded to informally train a number of psychoanalysts.

            The history of psychoanalysis in Michigan is similar to other areas of the United States. In general, psychiatrists had the only national organizations in the United States until the 1970’s, and in most geographic areas also had the only psychoanalytic institute until the 1980’s. These psychiatric-psychoanalytic organizations firmly believed that psychoanalysis was the practice of medicine. Despite this formal belief system, they also provided training experiences for non-psychiatrists in many areas of the country, and significant numbers of psychologists, social workers, and non-APsaA affiliated psychiatrists were informally trained in psychoanalysis. MPSI did this, although it called these experiences study groups, extension courses, or psychotherapy supervision. MAP did this, while simultaneously denying it was engaging in formal training. Eventually, in line with the dictum in quantum physics that an increase in quantity leads to change in quality, the sheer number of psychoanalytically-informed professionals changed the structure of the field.

     By the 1970s, there was a coterie of independent, non-APsaA institutes in the country, mostly in New York but also in a few other major cities. In 1971, they organized the National Association for the Accreditation of Psychoanalysis, with the acronym NAAP, which now, however, stands for the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis.  A branch of NAAP opened in the Detroit area in the 1970s called the Midwestern Psychoanalytic Institute. It lasted several years, trained some few people, but closed its doors in the late 1970s or early 1980s when its director lost his psychology license and other senior analysts resigned.

        In 1979, psychologists in the American Psychological Association (APA) organized the Division of Psychoanalysis (Division 39), and APsaA now had its most significant rival on the national scene. Within a year, Michigan psychologists organized the Michigan Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology (MSPP), and other areas of the country organized as well.

       It is important to describe the change in the personal and professional lives of non-APsaA psychoanalytically-oriented colleagues, from the period prior to MSPP’s formation compared to after it began. Except for some few individuals in DPSI, MAP, and the Midwestern Psychoanalytic Institute, most colleagues were not involved in a psychoanalytic organization. They could not train or be trained, read papers, participate in committees, hold meetings, or do any of the other myriad tasks of a professional association. MPSI was the main psychoanalytic group in the area, and it excluded from training almost all psychologists and social workers, and many psychiatrists. Those colleagues could only be “Friends of MPSI,” could only stand on the outside and look in. Once MSPP formed, however, this vast array of colleagues developed a strong organization that nurtured the professional and educational aspirations of its members. Within four years, MSPP had 135 members, and by 1989 it had over 200 members. MSPP was interdisciplinary, held regular professional meetings and offered coursework in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, and Southfield,  sponsored winter and summer institutes, and encouraged its membership to pursue psychoanalytic scholarship and practice. This afforded psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic psychotherapists to read and write papers, participate in symposia, be elected to office, sponsor local programs, teach courses, take courses, interact in committee meetings, get to know like-minded colleagues, make organizational decisions about psychoanalysis; and, after so many years, have a psychoanalytic home. It was a dramatic change from the pre-MSPP years.  

            By the middle 1980s, many MSPP members strongly favored the development of a psychoanalytic institute for formal training in our field. Indeed, as the Division 39 local chapters matured, and after these chapters learned that they may not accredit under APA rules, many of them established independent institutes for training and accreditation.  However, several of these institutes maintained close relationships with their parent’ local chapters.

     In Michigan,  the movement to form an institute engendered great strife and acrimony, for the main leadership of MSPP was fiercely antagonistic to institute training. One of their arguments centered around the idea that institutes may become dominated by  politics, which influence such decisions as who may be a training analyst or who may train in psychoanalysis (e.g., not psychologists or women). The view of the majority MSPP leadership was that our efforts to accredit would again produce an authoritarian, even totalitarian, structure. Others were cognizant of this issue but were more sanguine or optimistic, and did not view it as a serious threat or obstacle to developing our institute. To date, MPC has indeed been open to discussion and feedback, and the fears of the majority MSPP leadership have proven unfounded.

            In the event, between 1986 and 1988, there was pressure for and against accreditation, and MSPP responded by seemingly collegial efforts at conflict resolution, i.e., discussions, committees, surveys, and special meetings. In the end, however, the antagonism was so deep that the differences proved irreconcilable, and a large group moved forward to form MPC. By 1990, MSPP had lost a large number of its members, lost its base in East Lansing, and lost a number of its students and teachers. The MSPP program of coursework contracted severely, and it abandoned its winter institute, its East Lansing program, and much of its outreach across the state. Again, in the early 1990s, MSPP was riven by further dissension around the reorganization of the University of Detroit Mercy doctoral program in clinical psychology, and several more of its leading members resigned. Despite this horrific factionalism, which some may view as a manifestation of the organizational rigidity that the MSPP leadership so greatly feared, MSPP has continued to be major player in Michigan.

            Starting in late 1988, MSPP and MPC went their separate directions. Curiously, the leaders of the two groups always maintained friendly and warm relations, and there were regular feelers for reconciliation, but these always foundered because of severe mistrust at the institutional level. Curious process, those contrast between the personal and institutional.

            MPC. During those years of intense conflict between the pro-and anti-accrediting forces, roughly 1986-88, it happened, as it often happens, that even though the battle lines had been clearly drawn and the issue justly joined, that other, seemingly unconnected, developments were also shaping events. Those other events were fundamentally demographic, since 60% of the MSPP membership was then comprised of women. A shift of power usually accompanies a shift in numbers, and the instrument for this power shift came from MSPP’s Women’s Study Group. While feminist issues, per se, were never an MSPP agenda item, once the accreditation issue breached and once the battle lines were drawn, the feminists studied the issue from their perspective and concluded that the entire issue was male-dominated and detrimental to women. They argued that most institutes were for men and that women were systematically excluded; further, the programs themselves seemed to have no provisions for childbearing, child rearing, or single parenthood, i.e., the institutes were for men who could delay or avoid parenting responsibilities. For the feminist group, it was inherently desirable to accredit so that women could also be accredited, but the feminists considered that accreditation should redress the serious problem of the systematic exclusion of women. This meant that women should be senior analysts, that training programs should accommodate women’s needs, and that the programs should educate both men and women in the goals of sexual equality and the vagaries of inequality. 

            In the event, in 1988, the pro-accrediting group joined forces with the feminist group, and the two groups moved forward and created MPC. MPC thus represented the empowerment of the pro-accrediting and feminist movements in MSPP, and members of both groups constituted the MPC leadership. By 1989, MPC had enacted bylaws, created an institute program that accommodated the pro-accrediting and feminist perspectives, and elected officers. It now holds regular meetings in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, and occasional meetings in Detroit, offers courses in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, offers one program of study in psychoanalysis, a programin child psychoanalysis and a program of study in psychoanalytic psychotherapy.  It has over 100 members, 26 of whom are accredited as psychoanalysts.

            MPC is an affiliate of the International Federation for Psychoanalytic Education (IFPE).  After the local chapters of APA spawned a number of institutes, they all combined forces in 1989 to form IFPE as a parent body to address educational issues in our field, including institute education. 

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