IDI Panel Speaks at IPA Conference

IDI Panel Speaks at IPA Conference

- By David Fromm

On July 24, 2015, a panel of four IDI members – Vamik D. Volkan, M.D., M. Gerard Fromm, Ph.D., Ford Rowan, J.D., and Edward Shapiro, M.D. – presented at the 49th Congress of the International Psychoanalytic Association in Boston Massachusetts. The theme of the conference was “A Changing World: The Shape and Use of Psychoanalytic Tools Today.” The introduction to the panel follows:

In the 21st Century, change is occurring at an unprecedented pace and scale. Major advances in communication, global awareness, world-wide economic links and the availability of fast travel interact with climate disasters, resource limitations, fundamentalism, migrations and terrorism in unpredictable and often violent ways. All of this has made understanding the “other” perhaps the major difficulty in international relations. Psychoanalytically informed examination of ethnic, national, religious or ideological large–group conflicts, especially chronic ones, can contribute to the field of diplomacy in an effort to deal with psychological obstacles to peaceful solutions.

In 2008, on the initiative of the chairperson of this panel, Vamik Volkan, M.D., a private multidisciplinary group (International Dialogue Initiative [IDI]) comprised of psychoanalysts, diplomats, and other professionals from various countries and cultures was established. Since then, the IDI has met biannually in different countries for the purpose of learning about differences in perspective and finding peaceful solutions to intergroup relationship problems. Its current members come from Germany, Iran, Israel, Russia, Turkey, United States, United Kingdom and the West Bank.

IDI meetings have four broad outcomes. First, they develop and apply psychoanalytically informed insights, concepts and narrative understandings in an effort to make sense of the emotional dynamics of international relationships and events.  Examples from the chairperson’s work include the ideas of “chosen trauma,” the inability to mourn, large group identity dynamics and the psychology of leader-followers interactions. Other concepts come from psychoanalytic group and developmental psychology. Second, the group develops a common language between psychoanalytically trained participants and those who are diplomats, politicians or from other disciplines. This provides a model for transferring psychological insights in understandable ways to those who are actually responsible for diplomatic communications.

Third, the IDI functions as a conceptual sounding board and support group for those members of the group currently engaged in consulting to governments and other societal groups. Examples include a project involving high-level discussions between Turkish and Kurdish citizens of Turkey, a project training conflict mediators in Israel and an IDI member’s participation on the Israeli Commission investigating the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident. Finally, the IDI functions as a platform for its members to engage the broader public in dialogue, through dissemination of papers, presentations, meeting summaries and books, and through invitations to connect for discussion in various ways.

The first aim of this panel presentation is to inform the audience about how IDI works and then share some IDI findings, for example, about the contribution of large group identity anxieties to divisiveness and conflict especially in the Middle East and understanding the effect of past trauma on present concerns. We will also offer more detailed observations of what developed when five IDI members brought together different political party officials and others for a dialogue in Northern Ireland. The second aim is to illustrate how psychoanalysts can collaborate effectively with others from different professions and cultures and contribute to diplomacy and world affairs. We believe that world affairs can be studied from a psychoanalytic angle in a multidisciplinary, multicultural and multireligious setting and that such studies – as we hope to illustrate with this panel – can be utilized for understanding and reducing the obstacles to peaceful solutions to societal conflict.


Unless otherwise noted, IDI Blog Posts represent the opinions and/or work of individual IDI members working independently and do not necessarily represent the opinions and/or work of the IDI as a whole.

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