IAPSP Interviews

A column by   Annette Richard, M.Ps

This column attempts to explore the lives and work of IAPSP members from different parts of the world. In this fifth interview, I am pleased to dialogue with Renato Barauna from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Living and working in South America, we can wonder how he came to be influenced by Kohuts' ideas to the point of having founded the Associaçao Brasileira para o Estudo da Psicologia Psicanalitica do Self (ABEPPS) in 2001. We hope to find out through this interview.

Renato Barauna is a medical doctor who graduated in 1968 from Universidade Federal do Parana, in Curitiba, Brazil. In the beginning of the '70s, he moved to Rio de Janeiro where he trained in Psychiatry and, eventually, in Psychoanalysis at the Rio de Janeiro Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, an affiliate of IPA. He became a training analyst, supervisor and faculty at this Institute. He was introduced to Self Psychology and Kohut's work in the mid-'80s. Since the '90s, he coordinated many study groups in Self Psychology culminating with the founding of ABEPPS in 2001. He has been a frequent participant at International IAPSP Conferences since 1993.

He lives and works in Rio de Janeiro, where he is married to Lucia, also a self psychologist working mainly with children and adolescents. They have three daugthers, Isabela, Sylvia and Helisa, all of them medical doctors.

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Interview with Renato Barauna

Annette: Hello Renato! Thank you for accepting my invitation to be interviewed for eForum. I'm happy to get to know you, your life and work in the southern part of the American world. I'm looking forward to being in Rio in December and meeting with you in person. But I'm also interested in having the rest of our IAPSP community get to know you. First of all, I'd like you to tell us how you became interested and involved in Self Psychology?

Renato: Hello Annette! This first question initiated an archeological search in my personal history. I believe that long before meeting Heinz Kohut's ideas as a theoretical and clinical framework, I had probably unwittingly prepared myself to adopt it. When I go back inside my memory to dig out the origins of my training, I can clearly see I've always been opposed to any authoritarian approaches. My college graduation took place in a smaller city than the one I live in today. Even if it is a capital in the south of Brazil, Curitiba did not offer the professional opportunities I sought. In 1970, right after I graduated in Medicine, I moved to Rio de Janeiro, which has been my home town since then. The challenges of a new life in Rio de Janeiro also led me to new needs and perspectives.

It would be important to mention that in the late 60's, Brazil was in the most violent and authoritarian period of its history. Thus, the education of my entire generation and others before and afterwards was marked by the shadows of authoritarianism and military dictatorship. In 1970, I began personal analysis and deployed all my efforts towards studying psychiatry, which unfolded in my pursuit of psychoanalytic training.

As goes the saying in the psychoanalytic complexity perspective, the initial moments are critical. My initial moments were spent in the confrontation of authority, the abandonment of institutional control for more humanitarian proposals. As I advanced in my own professional training, I had the opportunity to meet very talented people, such as Oswaldo dos Santos, M.D., the leader of an innovative training project, the Therapeutic Community - a method of treatment involving all stakeholders in the institution. I joined that team in a public hospital in 1970, but the military government suppressed this project in 1974, returning to orthodox psychiatric approaches.

So the 70's were an important period for my professional and personal endeavor. I had the opportunity to join a Psychoanalytic Institute, a local branch of IPA. I was attracted to more humane authors such as Winnicott and Balint although I belonged to a school whose major reference was Freud. I slowly started my psychoanalytic practice. But I felt I missed something, -I couldn't tell what it was at that moment- something that could promote a more spontaneous contact and attitude towards the suffering of my patients.

I first heard about Self psychology through Inaura Carneiro Leão, M.D., another talented pioneer player in this plot and a former classical psychoanalyst who had spent some time in California, where she had contact with Kohut's work. In 1985, I attended the first course she gave in Brazil, formally introducing Psychoanalytic Self Psychology. Since then, I have adopted Self Psychology as my core reference of studies and practice. As Paul H. Ornstein recognized the seeds of Kohut's main contributions to twentieth century psychoanalysis in Kohut's first psychoanalytic paper "Death in Venice by Thomas Mann: A Story about the Disintegration of Artistic Sublimation," the seeds of my meeting with Self Psychology were already present in my earlier history. So, it is worth citing Winnicott's paradox that we often create what already exists. In this sense, when I was deeply touched by Kohut's human vision, it had already been there, right in front of me.

Annette: This experience of finding what was always there in front of your eyes resonates with me. I suppose it feels like at last returning home, a professional one. I'm also moved by your mention of the violent and authoritarian political context in which you came of age professionally. Can you tell us anything else about how it affected you and your work at the time and now? How is it different now in Brazil?

Renato: Even though I have never directly suffered any kind of physical violence or any political persecution, the military regime was a powerful landmark in our history in Brazil as in many other countries in Latin America. In fact, that context has deeply reinforced my emotional convictions throughout my lifetime. One of the major problems of dictatorship is its inherent opposition to creative settings. Paradoxically it was an immense call for creativity and metaphor. From 1964 to 1985, in that historical moment, there was an important production of art, songs, playwrights and books as a response to oppression.

Nowadays, Brazil is a democracy although with many contradictions. Our society is marked by strong social inequalities and these have been a continuous motivation for reflection. It goes without saying that these unclear horizons of the future contribute to a sense of emotional discomfort. So, the dynamic gap between the planned and the unpredictable summons all of us to deal with our worlds of experience more carefully and to develop new abilities to face our human condition. Self Psychology in its original version as well as in its contemporary unfolding has been a powerful tool, at least for me, towards developing more daring perspectives on the emotional and existential realms.

As I think of your question, I realize that there is a chronological coincidence between the end of the regime of exception and the onset of the psychoanalytic movement inspired by Self Psychology in Brazil.

Annette: It is indeed very interesting that Self Psychology appeared in Brazil at the moment when new social and political development became possible. Could you tell us a bit more about the aspects of Self Psychology which have greatly helped you to deal with this difficult context? Which authors or theories were you particularly drawn to and possibly taught or wrote about?

Renato: Well, everything was so new for us, new concepts, new vocabulary and new movement. I would say that Self Psychology was a more consistent way to deal with the demands of our patients at that transitionat moment of our history. We had some initial challenges. At first, we had to revise our theoretical metaphors. As time went by, some creativity was required from us so as not to break the dialogue with our colleagues who remained attached to their original metapsychological references.

Kohut was a novelty as well as the word 'Self' although not for its meaning or etymology. Differing from our friends from Spanish speaking countries who translated this core concept to 'si mismo', in Brazil we use the term in English because we had the feeling that the translation would somewhat distort what was initially proposed by Kohut. So, my colleagues and I were formerly known as Self Psychologists (Psicologistas do Self - a neologism at that time).

The group developed slowly and gained attention from other professionals. Moved by a new inspiration, we were speaking a different psychoanalytic language among ourselves and with our patients, it was almost like learning a second language. The systematic and chronological study of Heinz Kohut's work demanded a great deal of time. Study groups played an important role in learning fundamental concepts. They were also a basic interactive cell for clinical exchange. Later, I started teaching and building a small network with other colleagues in different parts of Brazil. I was invited to attend a number of round tables, seminars and supervisions. My major task was focused on disseminating Self Psychology based on the ideas of Kohut and some of his followers such as Anna and Paul Ornstein, Ernest Wolf, Arnold Goldberg, Howard Bacal, Marion Tolpin. We also had Allen Siegel's book translated to Portuguese in 2005.

So, my engagement led me to continuously attend the Annual International Conferences leading to a closer contact with other authors. Some of them ended up visiting us in Rio de Janeiro. We had the privilege and pleasure of having Joseph Lichtenberg, Susi and Gianni Nebbiosi as well as Steven Knoblauch visit us here in Rio - just as you and Doris Brothers in a quite near future.

The interaction of Kohutian Self Psychology and Intersubjective Theory promoted the contact with other authors like Bernard Brandchaft, Donna Orange, Robert Stolorow and George Atwood. This expansion of Self Psychology to a contemporary dimension has been experienced as a stimulating and challenging unfolding for our clinical practice. Recently, the invitation by William Coburn to develop a psychoanalytic complexity sensibility through what he calls 'attitudes' has enlarged our vision.

Annette: You have worked intensely on building your community and you must be very proud of it. Since our last exchange (previous question and answer), I have had the pleasure and the privilege of meeting you and your group (ABEPPS) in Rio de Janeiro as Doris Brothers was your guest speaker. I was impressed by the dynamism, and the friendly and warm attitudes of your professional community. I saw many enthusiastic young students who came to hear new ideas on trauma and "Psychoanalysis in a Troubled World". This event took place at the Sociedade Psicanalitica do Rio de Janeiro with an invited discussant. Can you tell us how Self Psychology is seen and accepted in Brazil or Rio? Do you have an ongoing dialogue with other psychoanalytic communities?

Renato: Thank you for your warm words. It was an immense pleasure to share those moments with Doris Brothers and you in Rio de Janeiro. To begin with, ABEPPS is a tiny organization when compared to other associations involved in the same fields of studies, overarched by psychoanalysis. It is interesting when we reconsider our pathway. I mean the collective effort made so far in order to have our ideas and passions become real in many different facets and the enriching experience gained in the learn-by-doing process.

Our attempt has always been to focus on studying the Psychology of the Self. Kohut's ideas and all its unfolding since his death - what we now recognize as "Contemporary Self Psychology"- demands a great deal of dedication and study. It is challenging to acknowledge our continuous need for being nurtured with innovative ideas, complex perceptions and more contextualized attitudes towards our work, our professional odysseys and our patients.

So, our target being the study of concepts and theories oriented by a more humane view of human beings makes us lifelong students. As students, we are motivated much more by what we do not know than by the contrary. There is a paradox in the fact that some schools of philosophy, psychoanalysis or psychotherapy sometimes forget how interesting diversity is, mainly in such domain where the mind is the only tool for observing the mind itself. This will always be a daring task. One can imagine that even for Heinz Kohut it was a tough task to promote the Psychology of the Self in its beginning. He was a leading analyst in North America, vice president of the IPA, and yet faced a great deal of resistance.

The same paradox is here. Schools of thought take diverse ideas as pure confrontation to their own, sometimes in the same way soccer fans do. If your team is different from mine, we are opponents. Of course, this is not a rule. I am one of those who believe that it is more reasonable to consider that dialogue, reflection and expansion are more seducing approaches than theoretical and clinical convictions. Our intent is to be a small association of colleagues who want to build a space for dialogue with society and other associations committed to other theoretical models, a place for open exchange. This is our proposal.

To make a long story short: in Brazil, we intend to present the Psychology of the Self as one more perspective on the human being and not as the only possibility. That way, little by little, we have been able to relate to those colleagues who are more attached to their assumed convictions. It is a non threatening attitude on our part. We are absolutely sure that psychoanalysis is a field for collaboration, for interaction and not for sectarianism. I am personally attracted by a model that is able to recreate itself, accept other contributions from wide areas of learning. We should applaud Kohut for founding a clinical and theoretical referential that is still open enough to questions and innovations. So, in terms of acceptance, I could say that it has been positively and well received as a set of useful concepts for reflection but in a rather slow pace due to the many trends and lines of thoughts available. Life is like a merry-go-round.

Annette: Indeed it seems so at times Renato. I'm impressed by your openness and flexibility in dealing with different psychoanalytic perspectives displaying your complexity sensibility. Your attitude is surely an inspiration to many of your colleagues. In closing this interview, I would like to know what is your vision for the future of your Self Psychology community in Rio de Janeiro and maybe in Brazil? What are you hoping for and what are your particular needs for this hopeful development?

Renato: As I said before, in Brazil, psychoanalysis is connected to more traditional references such as Freud, Klein, Bion, Lacan and Jung. Most of my colleagues out of ABEPPS are not so acquainted with the work of Kohut as are North American non-traditional psychoanalysts. We should be careful with such affirmation, but sometimes I feel a little drop of prejudice or an ideological and political barrier that hinders some of my colleagues from moving further towards the core issues that are the basis for understanding Self Psychology or any other psychology that is not designed within the contours of what I am calling here traditional. It is hard to deal with stereotypes. But empathy is useful in this case. Kohut himself did not mention authors who influenced him. Although, he acknowledged their influence, he did not cite them much; he did not have enough time for it. A beginner in our country will have to face bare land in order to progress in his reading. He or she will have to ask a certain number of questions and forget that he or she already had an answer for them. Questions like what fundamental concepts are necessary to build a model of the mind, a psychology? How does the mind develop? How does it become ill? How do you deal with it when it happens? Answers to these questions are keys in opening a new world of experiences, an original psychology. And it demands a great deal of time. At first glance, one must feel at least a little discomfort with one's immediate setting of knowledge to engage in this new voyage. Here is the point I wanted to arrive at, I do not believe that confrontation or opposition in the theoretical dimension will help us provide a learning context for those who are not yet connected to Self Psychology. In the last 15 years, my colleagues from ABEPPS and I have been preparing ourselves to assume a psychoanalytic identity that may speak for itself. We have predominantly been self-taught in a procedural training. Maybe our contribution is genuine at the clinical level in the way we have absorbed the theory and how we bring it to our practice, where it becomes more evident. The way we have been applying these concepts under our offices' roofs seems to be quite adapted to our culture. We are in the realm, I daresay, of a Sociology of the Self. Latins and Anglo-Saxons differ in their perspectives of the world for a number of reasons. These reasons have social, historical, legal and religious facets or backgrounds. I believe there are many other differences when we consider other cultures like with our Japanese, Israeli, Turkish and African colleagues for example. The text is of no value without a context. The vision for the future is implicitly related to the notion of an 'imagined future'. If you ask me how I foresee Self Psychology in terms of a near future in my community, I would say that probably the number of professionals involved in it will not increase much. But, in terms of quality I believe we will always improve. Our particular needs are focused on our efforts in maintaining our convictions alive with a keen sense of humor. I hope we are wise enough to open new pathways so that others can travel safely on them.

Annette: Wise indeed Renato! You demonstrate a keen sense of sound contextualism in describing your particular evolution in Brazil and in your vision for the future. Thank you so much for sharing so generously your story with us. This has been a most pleasurable dialogue. I wish the best to you and to all of your colleagues from ABEPPS whom I had the pleasure of meeting. I hope we can meet again at the IAPSP Annual Conferences, or if you ever come to Montreal.

The IAPSP eForum is the online forum of the International Association for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology. Edited by Doris Brothers, Ph.D.

Notes

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