Psychoanalytic Study Groups

Association of Psychoanalytic Medicine and the


1.  “Psychoanalytic Perspectives on the Bible and Related Texts” (1994 – 2007)

This unique and pioneering study group, composed of psychoanalysts, started in 1994 and focused on stories of the  Old Testament and their rich, multi-layered subconscious material. In-depth readings of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy ,the Books of Samuel, Kings,, Judges, Ecclesiastes, Job, and Daniel were accompanied by close examination of articles and books written by psychoanalysts such as Robert Paul and literary, Biblical scholars such as Avivah Zornberg.

Looking at insights from classical Rabbinic commentators, it became clear that many of these thinkers were aware of the multiple levels of reading these texts one thousand years before Freud. We read in detail one of the most important, and least well understood: the philosophical masterpiece by Moses Maimonides  The Guide to the Perplexed,  in which he reveals in “disguised” form, the secrets of the Bible and mystical Judaism, as he understood it. This led to a further multi-year study of the Jewish Mystical tradition from medieval times, the Zohar, Kabballists and some of the most important writers today.

Finally, the group’s work extended into the nature of religious and spiritual experience itself,  areas that had traditionally been regarded as anathema to psychoanalysts. This was the first in-depth psychoanalytic examination of many of these topics of its sort. Periodically, featured guests were invited, including Lew Aron, Ph.D., chair of the NYU Post-Doc Program in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy who presented an overview of his work on relational psychoanalysis and religious experience for discussion.

Some of the sessions were audiotaped.  We hope to digitalize, transcribe, and edit these, transcribe and edit those and make the material available to a wider audience.


2. “Psychoanalysis and Religious Experience” (1998 — present)

Our group of Columbia Psychoanalytic Center psychoanalysts began meeting in 1998 in an attempt to bridge the gap between the way religious people describe spiritual experience and the  way psychoanalysis typically has attempted to understand such behavior and attitudes.  Since the early days of psychoanalysis and the attempt to ground the practice as a science and branch of medicine, there has been the tendency to see religious and spiritual experience as psychologically regressive.  The members of this group, coming from different religious and spiritual backgrounds felt that not all religious experience was pathological.  The goal has been to openly discuss the religious and spiritual from the unique perspective of psychoanalytically-trained ‘participant-observers’. Over the years, the group has engaged the burgeoning literature of psychoanalysts who have explored aspects of this territory. Invited guests, some psychoanalysts,have been invited to share with the group their own exploration of this topic.

Partial list of topics and reading explored have included:

  • The neuroanatomy and neurophysiology of mysticism, meditation and related religious and spiritual states.
  •  Psychiatric Views and Uses of Meditation: Joseph Loizzo, M.D., M.Phil. (2000): “Meditation and Psychotherapy: Stress, Allostasis, and Enriched Learning”  in Muskin, Philip, M.D. (2000): Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Psychiatry. Washington,DC: American Psychiatric Press, Inc.Chap. 4: pp. 147-180
  • William Meissner (1990): “The Role of Transitional Conceptualization in Religious Thought”
  •  The Ego Psychological Approach of Jacob Arlow to concepts of Jewish Mysticism & Kabbalah.
  •  Payne Whitney Grand Rounds on a patient with ‘delusions’ of being commanded by God to do penance through physical suffering. Case discussed at rounds by Kevin Kelly, MD, 5-page reading list of psychiatric and psychoanalytic perspectives on religion and spirituality prepared by Samuel Pauker, MD and handed out at the grand rounds. The RAPS Group spent a number of sessions in follow discussion. Grand Rounds Reading List 5:9:07
  •  In follow up to the above: Freud’s Schreber Case & Religious Delusion: Sigmund Freud (1911). “Psychoanalytic Notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides)” (The Schreber Case) and paper’s reflecting on the implications of Freud’s Schreber case for the study of religion.
  • Related to the above, the issue of so-called “Spiritual Emergence” and the inclusion of “Religious or Spiritual Problem” in the DSMIV diagnostic manual. A paper by  David Lukoff, Ph.D., who comes out of the school of ‘Integrative Psychology” and was one of the driving forces behind this inclusion.
  • Differential diagnosis of healthy, growth-enhancing vs. problematic religious/spiritual involvement.
  •  Rich Gallagher, M.D., Columbia psychoanalyst, and consultant to Catholic seminary and the Catholic Church on  his work with seminarians and the  Church.
  •  Rich Gallagher, M.D.’s work on ‘demonic possession’ and excorcism with the Catholic Church.
  • In follow up to the above: Freud’s “A Seventeenth-Century Demonological Neurosis”, SE V.19, pp. 69-105.
  •  Further reading in the psychiatric literature regarding ‘demonic possession’ states and excorcism, and the psychiatric treatment of same, including the so-called “Jerusalem Syndrome”.
  •  Reviewed the work of Moshe Spero, Ph.D.. an Israeli ego psychoanalyst
  • Erik Erikson’s Epigenetic Stages of Religious Development in individual and society.
  •  Hans Loewald on Religious Experience.
  •  Freud’s The Future of an Illusion for a very close reading.
  • In follow up to the above, David Fisher’s work on the relationship of Sigmund Freud to Roman Rolland and its relation to Freud’s evolving ideas about religion and spirituality.
  •  John Rosenberger’s chapter in progress on the evolving notions of sin and mental illness from 400 BCE to the late 19th C.
  •  Two papers on Catholicism from Psychoanalytic Inquiry’s recent volume on Religion and Spirituality (Volume 28, Issue 5, November 2008:

Susan  Parlow, MD: “Personal Transformation in Karl Rahner’s Christianity: Constructed by Love”, (pg. 570 -579) W. Meissner, MD:  “Psychoanalysis and Catholicism —Dialogues in Transformation”, pg. 580 – 589.

  • Jonathan House, MD: Discussion of Mideast crisis and the role, if any of psychoanalytic understanding; reading suggested by Jonathan of Joel Kovel, MD and Israel Shehak; and followup discussion of the  issues raised. What light can psychoanalysis shed on breakdowns of empathic communication in the Arab Israel conflict? Does psychoanalysis have something to offer in terms of how repair can be effected?
  • Articles from  2009 edition of the Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychotherapy devoted to religious issues that arise in the countertransference.
  • In-depth exploration of issues of Buddhism, and meditation.
  • Discussion of Hinduism.
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3. “Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Religion and Spirituality” (2007 – 2009)

This group was established to include mental health professionals from a mix of  background and schools of thought. Members included psychoanalysts from a more classically ego psychoanalytic point of view and those from the newer ‘relational’ school; clinicians and non-clinicans;  academics and non-academics. Presentations alternated between those of a clinical nature  and those focused on religious texts. Presentors, discussants and participants included: David Stein, M.D.; Paul Marcus, Ph.D.; Eric Marcus,M.D.; Karen Starr, PsyD; Jill Salberg, PhD.; Irene Wineman;  Brian Grobois, M.D.;  Tony Stern, M.D.;  Jennifer Nields, M.D.;  Michelle Friedman, M.D.;  Jan Carino, M.D.;  Professor Harvey Sober;  Ellenor Ehrenkranz, Phd, MSW;  Yitzhak Berger, PhD; Miriam Arond, MA; Sarah Pauker, MS;  Lionel Arond; Sherry Katz-Benoit, M.D.; Pam Ehrenkranz,MSW;  Matt Greenberg, MSW;  Shelley Eisenman, M.D.; Al Dressinger, M.D.;  Brian Fallon, M.D.; Steve Gellis   It was truly a remarkable and diverse group.

A brief overview of the topics covered:

1. September 9, 2007: “Faith as the Fulcrum of Psychic Change: Applying the Metaphors of Transformation of Jewish Mysticism to Psychoanalytic Process”                                                                                       Discussion of a paper by Karen Starr, Psy.D.

Karen Starr, Psy.D., Visiting Assistant Professor and Postdoctoral Fellow at The Graduate Center, The City University of New York presented work from her soon to be published book Repair of the Soul: Metaphors of Transformation in Jewish Mysticism and Psychoanalysis (2008), on the interrelation between Kaballah and Psychoanalysis. Discussion by Paul Marcus, Ph.D., Training and Supervising Analyst with the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis (NPAP) in NYC and author of numerous books including Ancient Religious Wisdom, Spirituality and Psychoanalysis (2003), Psychoanalytic Verions of the Human Condition: Philosophies of Life and Their Impact on Practice (1998) edited, Marcus and Rosenberg, and Psychoanalytic Reflections on the Holocaust: Selected Essays  (1984) edited Steven Luel and Paul Marcus.

2. Sunday October 21, 2007: “Jonah on the Couch, Part I”

The Biblical story of Jonah reads, on one hand like a fairy tale: a man runs from God, is swallowed by a whale, survives and learns a powerful lesson. On the other hand, it is tapped to be read on the most important Jewish religious day of the year, the afternoon of Yom Kippur, as a rather mysterious tale of God’s forgiveness and the power of redemption, which has great meaning for all three monotheistic religions. We gave the tale a “fresh read” from a number of psychological points of view to help understand the unconscious roots of the strange power of   this story.

3. December 2, 2007: “Jonah on the Couch, Part II: A Review of  Papers by                                                 Avivah Zornberg, Ph.D. and Jill Salberg, PhD.”

We discussed a prepublication paper of Avivah Zornberg’s “Jonah: A Fantasy of Flight” and Jill Salberg.’s commentary/critique, from a Relational point of view, “Jonah’s Crisis: Commentary on Avivah Zornberg’s ‘Jonah: A Fantasy of Flight. “  Special thanks to Avivah Zornberg for graciously allowing the group to read and use her paper for discussion prior to it’s publication.

4. January 13, 2008: “Clinical Issues in the Treatment of the “The Very Religious Patient:  A Double Case Conference: with Brian Grobois, M.D. and Irene Wineman-Marcus”

Brian Grobois, M.D., psychiatrist,  and Irene Wineman-Marcus, child and adult psychoanalyst, presented case material from their work with members of the ultra-Orthodox  Jewish community. The discussion focused on special issues entailed in working with these patients and their extended families, communities, and religious leaders.

5. February 24, 2008 “A Discussion with Michelle Friedman, M.D.”

Michelle Friedman, a graduate of the Columbia Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, a member of the faculty of Mt. Sinai School of Medicine , discussed the unique pastoral counseling program she launched and oversees at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School. In addition, she presented her research findings on issues of sexuality and abuse in the ultra-Orthodox  Jewish female population.

6. March 30, 2008  “Psychoanalytic Perspectives on the Passover Haggadah in light of Erik Erikson’s theory presented in his paper, ‘The Ontogeny of Ritualization.’”

We explored the psychodynamic underpinnings of the Haggadah from two theoretical points of view:  Erik Erikson’s milestone 1996 paper, “The Ontogeny of Ritualization” and, Avivah Zornberg’s theory on the nature of biblical narrative, the role of the unconscious preserved in the Midrashic literature, the preservation of the “voice of women” in that literature and how this pertains to the mulitple narratives that constitute the Haggadah.

7. May 4, 2008: “Can Religion and Spirituality Enhance Human Development?: Discussion with Jennifer Nields, M.D. of  her paper on Han’s Loewald and Religion Experience.

Jennifer Nields, M.D. discussed her 2002 paper “From Unity to Atonement: Some Religious Correlates of Hans Loewald’s Developmental Theory”” in which she examined Hans Loewald’s thoughts about religious experience. Loewald has, perhaps, the most important rewrite of classical psychoanalytic ego psychology for understanding the healthy ‘regression in the service of the ego’— which occurs in many areas of culture include love, art and spirituality.

8.  June 8, 2008: “Humor, Self Hatred and the Construction of Ethnic Identity: A Psychoanalytic Dissection of an episode of the Larry David’s TV Show – ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ ’”

An important part of one’s religious identity is the ethnic identity to which it is inevitably attached. But what is the relation between these? We examined one example of this phenomenon, in the form of an episode from the Larry David Show, called the “Survivor”. Plus readings by Sandor Gilman on “Jewish Self Hatred”.

9.  July 23, 2008 An Evening of with Eric Marcus, MD: “Psychoanalysis and the                                                    Sanctification of the Ordinary”

Eric Marcus, Director of the Columbia Center for Psychoanalysis, shared his religious upbringing and orientation and how it has impacted his work as an analyst and therapist. He sketched out his concept of  “Sanctification of the Ordinary”and the role that religious and spiritual elements play in clinical work.

10. November 9, 2008: Paul Marcus, Ph.D.. “Looking for God in All the Right Places: On Developing an Adult Religious Outlook: The Relevance of the Work of Emanuel Levinas on Religion for Psychoanalysis”

Paul Marcus, Ph.D., author of Being for the Other: Emmanuel Levinas, Ethical Living and Psychoanalysis (2008), and one of the foremost authorities on the psychoanalytic relevance of Emmanuel Levinas’s work and his concern for the Other, argued for the need for psychoanalysis to re-infuse itself with concern for the ethical concerns for “the other”— as a safeguard, amongst other reasons, to  modern man’s predicament of drowning in narcissistic preoccupation with the self.

11. December 14, 2008: “On the Relationship of Violence in Religion and Spirituality – Part 1: How the Messiah Became a Pacifist: The First Jewish Jihad – The Maccabean Revolt through the destruction of Jerusalem and the institution of Normative, i.e. Rabbinic Judaism. “

We explored the psychology of groups, what they teach us about religious experience, spirituality and the dangers inherent in the desire to give oneself over to charismatic leaders and groups.  As a central political issue of our times. there were many mentions of current events.

12. March 1, 2009: “Things Are Not What They Appear – Nor Are They Otherwise:                          What Do We Make of  Synchronicity?” A presentation and discussion with Tony Stern, M.D.

Synchronicity is a Jungian term for things that occur simultaneously and seem to illuminate each other with importance.  Using this as a point of departure, psychiatrist Tony Stern, M.D. led us through a fascinating discussion of four of his papers:  “The Light of Faithful Awareness” (2007) about his spiritual awakening to Buddhism, “The Narrow Ridge: Insights from Zen, Judaism and Psychoanalysis” (2006), focusing on the work of Martin Buber; “Psychosis and Religion Conversion” (2002), how to distinguish psychosis and religious experience through the example of Sri Roma Maharshi, one of the most admired saints of India; and his introduction to a book he edited Everything Starts from Prayer: Mother Theresa’s Meditation on Spirtiual Life for People of All Faiths (1998).

13.  May 3, 2009: “Dreams: Bridges between Psychoanalysis and Jewish Thought: A Paper by Jill Salberg, PhD.”

Jill Salberg, PhD, comes out of the Relational school of psychoanalysis. She is Analytical Training Supervisor at the NYU Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, and Supervisor of candidates in their analytic training program.  In addition she is a Process Group Leader at the Chovevei Torah Rabbinic Seminary  and writer and presenter on numerous papers on psychoanalysis including on Freud and his Jewish Identity, and commentary on Avivah Zornberg’s commentary on Jonah to our group.

Jill  gave a fascinating overview of dream analysis as it appeared in Talmudic and Kabballistic sources leading up to Freud. She is especially interested in the locus of authority of who is bestowed with the power as interpreter.  For Freud, she argues, it was the analyst. She contrasts this with the more Relational perspective of dream interpretation as a vehicle, not for some definite interpretation, dependent on the authority of the analytic interpreter, but on an interactive vehicle for empowering the patient, the dreamer,  to become their own authority.

14.  June 14, 2009: “On the Ethnic Construction of Identity and Counter-Identity Through the Lens of Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock” 

Is there a stitch of religiosity in Philip Roth? The group had diametrically opposing points of view. On the surface: Philip Roth goes on a chase in Israel of a man pretending to be him, raising money for a project called Diasporism – to send the Jews of Israel back to Europe to save them from the upcoming Arab Holocaust.  It winds up involving Roth, he says, in a scheme of the Mossad, and a long meditation on what, if anything he owes the Jewish people; the nature of identity, and narrative truth. His subtitle, “And Jacob Wrestled with and Angel Until Dawn” comes from a famous line from the bible during which Jacob, unable to sleep – dreams/ imagines/ it really happens? – that he wrestles with an angel/demon/God/himself until dawn.

The group uses this to reflect depth issues of ethnic identity.

15. October 6, 2009 Presenter Janel Carino, M.D.:  “My Visit with Brazilian Healer John of God: An Hour Videotape of His Healing and Discussion “

Jan Carino, psychiatrist and Columbia psychoanalyst, is a lifelong spiritual seeker and a student of energy healing systems. She recently went to Brazil to visit a healer to whom thousands flock yearly, known as John of God.  He seems to have multiple personalities, or dissociative states, during some of which, he goes into healing trances. People pass in front of him during which he does ‘removals’, purporting to remove (no surgery) some kind of foreign substance from them.  After this, and after a recovery period at his institute, they frequently feel recovered or better. There are many strange things under the sun. This kind of thing may test our allegiance to William James’ injunction to be open to the Varieties of Religious experience which people find important, and live by.  But this is exactly the kind of thing for us to think about. Jan presented an hour long video of John’s work and healing, and led a fascinating discussion.

16. November 10, 2009:  Professor Harvey Sober: “Chi Gung Energy Systems for Health”

Professor Harvey Sober, martial arts and Tai Chi grand master and one of the most knowledgable integrators of Eastern Taoist Religion, Meditation and Traditional and Mystical/Kaballistic Judaism, gave  an overview of his own experience and  coming to understand and use principles of Chi Kung for health and healing.  A Professor of Biblical Archeology and Hebrew at Yeshiva University as well as the originator and Grand Master of the Torah Dojo system of the Hard and Soft style martial arts, Harvey has trained thousands of students in the U.S. and Israel.  It was a very special opportunity to hear from Prof. Sober outside of his usual teaching venues.