The Scandal in Psychoanalysis – an Update

As we have posted recently about the unfolding of a public scandal involving Lara Sheehi, we are updating with the most recent development here. She has resigned from the American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA) after she was deplatformed/disinvited from a speaking engagement given the current ongoing controversy. Below is her correspondence on the matter within an email posted in the public domain on a professional listserv.

We post this here in full and verbatim as the unedifying contents of the correspondence should be a warning to anyone who still thinks that Critical Social Justice has a place within the therapy field. It is a political ideology which is antitherapeutic, anti-relational and evidently deranging.

Dear Kerry,

I am writing publicly as the “unnamed” but targeted person you allude to in your email, to, foremost, name the politically motivated, racist and discriminatory actions of APsaA and reject and refuse the dishonest and bad faith communication that you have now disseminated to the membership. 

Dishonesty and bad faith characterizes how this entire debacle and outright embarrassment of a process has unfolded, and the membership deserves to know it. The dishonesty and bad faith you show here parallels the ways in which the EXCOM has communicated with the Program Committee, and now with its membership. You have not named the controversy or the panel that was to happen, and yet you are unwavering in your position about how this is in APsaA’s best interest. In short, leadership has manufactured a crisis and is now more interested in PR and damage control.

While you are very clear on “moving APsaA in a new direction”, it is staggeringly obvious that, instead, you all are returning APsaA to its sordid history–a history that is heavily documented, and one that includes systemic exclusion with a simultaneous appearance of innocence. As the entire world moves towards the social, you have chosen to instead turn back inward and claim this as progress. 

I am utterly aghast that APsaA can claim the labor and hard work of the Holmes Commission while also writing an email that glaringly replicates structural racism. That a white leadership, especially, can preemptively deny an analytic and material understanding that this decision absolutely includes race and gender, as well as ethnicity and politics, is not only manipulative, but also unethical. 

I will not allow you to salaciously mobilize the racist and anti-Arab, fear-mongering tropes that have already been deployed by a well-known right-wing organization in order to further harass and intimidate me.

This decision is about me being a woman of color, because I am a woman of color. It is, on one level, that simple, even without asking you to demonstrate the intellectual rigour I would expect and that I hold myself to as a committed scholar. Let me offer the cliff notes version: This is how systemic racism and misogyny work. Women of color, as you should know from the ample scholarship we have produced for psychoanalysis and for APsaA, are much more likely to be disciplined harshly, be punished, and be ostracized for even small infractions, or for none at all as in my case, and certainly for speaking up. 

Your pronouncement and your email try to disappear me, especially without people hearing directly from me. 

You don’t mention which panel EXCOM made a unilateral decision about disinviting me from. You leave out that this decision breaks completely from APsaA’s usual process, something that itself should strike people as problematic if we are truly interested in the unconscious, process, analytic frame, etc. 

That panel was: “Psychotherapy Under Conditions of War”. 

Psychotherapy Under Conditions of War and you were concerned with containment. Psychotherapy Under Conditions of War; war, which I was born into, lived under throughout my life, and have dedicated much of my clinical work and thinking to, and your concern was containment. Of who and of what?

You are using retroactive intellectualization to sanitize this decision. You are doing so in an attempt to make it seem reasonable. Disturbingly, you are also making it seem as though it were a years’ long process in the making. If that were so, why are you so invested in the alleged “controversy”? If it were a matter of the PC and its functions, why do you need to also activate the multitude of associations and tropes that are ripe, especially in the USA, against an Arab woman? And in doing so, how do you with a straight face claim this is not about my identity?

The ample documentation over the past 6 weeks, the conversations, and your own admissions, your own telling on yourself here, tells a different story. What are you hoping to contain? To erase? To do away with? And how do you imagine that any answer to those questions doesn’t include with it an implication of race, gender, and everything else that makes me who I am

On to the matter of Palestine, because all of us who are versed in reading process and race both viscerally and experientially, know this is about Palestine-I want to make my position abundantly clear: it is not hate speech to advocate for the rights of an oppressed and colonized people to be liberated. It is not hate speech to call an apartheid state what it is. It is not hate speech to demand that we be as attentive to the injustices of the global south as we are to the injustices that are so easy to rally around for liberal discourse. It is not hate speech to insist that the theory and practice that has busied itself with self-congratulatory statements to take an extra and ethical step to prove its commitment to the wellbeing of everyone, not just a few. 

Your false and defamatory categorization of me is unwarranted and stokes a fire that is larger than APsaA; a fire that has included actual hate speech against me, threats of forced deportation, rape and bodily harm to me and my family. It is also a dangerous categorization that puts the onus on me, an Arab woman, to prove as a precondition to all else, that I am not antisemitic. And the only way to do that is to declare that I am not an anti-Zionist. It is a set up. It is racist. It is discriminatory. And APsaA is now complicit. 

I am aware that you, and everyone else involved in this decision, may have to tell yourself a different story of how this unfolded to protect your legacy and fight for the white supremacist institution you have inherited, but I will not be complicit in this violence

I might be at the heart of this “controversy” now, but I am not arrogant enough to think this is just about me or that the ways power swiftly clamps down on dissent and dissenting voices will stop at or with me. You have lost every single POC on the PC, and I am frightened at the state of affairs going forward for the POC who feel coerced, personally or professionally, to remain within your ranks. The social and the political is very much here, no matter how hard APsaA attempts to retreat back into the intrapsychic.

Finally, I want to register that up until this moment, APsaA has had no problem extracting my labor or thinking of me as anything remotely close to a “reputational liability”. What is fascinatingly clear, unlike that of leadership, is that none of my positions have changed. Not my scholarship, not my personal commitments, and certainly not my politics.

To that end, I am including my official resignation letter that I submitted to the PC below-in an act of what actual transparency means. I am also tendering my resignation from APsaA as an organization, and with that, my role as:

  1. BoD member and regular reviewer in JAPA
  2. Chair of the Teachers’ Academy
  3. Mentor in the APsaA Fellowship 

Hello everyone,

I am writing to tender my resignation from the Program Committee of APsaA as a result of the politically motivated, racist and discriminatory actions of APsaA’s leadership, specifically EXCOM, and also of some members of this PC.

I let Don know of this decision earlier in an email response to him, but I feel I owe it to those of you who have been steadfast in your integrity and to *everyone* who has expended such tremendous labor, psychically, affectively, and literally with countless meetings and emails, to have the decency to write you directly and let you know my decision. 

I do this because, as I noted to Don in my email, I will not let racists and misogynists dictate how I live my life and my relationships, or to dictate my relationship with the Psychoanalysis, and the world, I fight for.

It is not an aggression to be direct and honest, nor is it me being obnoxious. This is me being truthful with you, despite the knowledge that because of who I am, my communication may very well still be ascribed to an always-already aggression or lack of containment, which I know has also been said of me. I am uncertain about what psychoanalytic (or literal) definition of aggression or containment many have been relying on to understand me, but perhaps it needs revising when, simultaneously, embarrassingly explicit and unbridled vitriol, red-baiting, jingoism, racism, and anti-Arab sentiment has been able to innocently pass as self-expression in these exchanges. Curious thing-if only we had words or a method or a theory to explain this! 

All tongue-in-cheek aside, Don noted to me in his email that he would understand if I found the entire sequence of this process unforgivable. I am including a small portion of what I noted to him here in the spirit of transparency, and also because contrary to racist beliefs, I am not invested in destruction. I am doing so also because I am not interested in reviving spaces that have proven themselves to be fundamentally inhospitable to critical voices (read: voices that are critical of white supremacy, capitalism, cisheteronormativity, American jingoism, etc.).

Don is right, I do find the entire sequence unforgivable. I find it unforgivable because it is absolutely clear to most people that this entire process, with all the labor it incurred, was a manufactured crisis that parallels the manufactured crisis that StandWithUs started, and that this professional organization in which I hold leadership positions, further flamed. 

As I noted to Don very early on, the parallels to larger systems and their logic has been painfully clear since day one. It is not a far stretch for psychoanalysts to apprehend that one does not have to work hard to activate politically charged tropes and allow them to do their explicit and violent work seamlessly. This is what has been done in the smear campaign against me, and again now in APsaA. Why the pull to deflect, displace and look elsewhere when it is unfolding before our very eyes, in print, nonetheless? 

I am very sorry to say that regardless of our psychoanalytic terms and maneuvers, there is no other way to read this or understand it, especially relationally and materially: I am being targeted and discriminated against based on who I am ethnically, racially and politically. Me saying this is not blaming everyone that disagrees with me, as has been defensively offered; it is me being descriptive. And this time, it has been abundantly documented, for everyone to read.

Of course, many people on the PC have also noted this explicitly, perhaps most vociferously by those in the minority of the PC who are “against” me–albeit for different reasons. 

Those “against me” have been the most clear on how the reason to not invite me is because of who I amwhat I represent, and who I stand for/with. The voices have been aggressive and loud, and yet, none of them were characterized as such, except on one occasion in writing. There is nothing innocent about how this can transpire in the same breath the pearl-clutching about my “aggression” is happening. 

To add to the racism, it is now being articulated that if conditions were different, as in, if antisemitism were not present in the world (I would like to ask when we have had a day in this world, and especially in the USA where antisemitism was not present?!), they would feel comfortable inviting me. I am shocked at the clarity in which this is being stated and documented so boldly, though not surprised by its content. That is, in the most clear terms, what is being said is: disappear the Arab as a fix to antisemitism. This is unconscionable, racist, and discriminatory. 

It is also a dangerously familiar trope and one that I will not allow to be unnamed. 

Perhaps this insistence on naming is the “aggression”, the “rage” that is so unsettling to some. Perhaps a testimonial from an “obnoxious” Lebanese woman who has lived, personally, the unimaginable, unmetabolizable, and evidently, unspeakable, horrors of US imperialism, Israeli occupation and military campaigns, and racist misogynistic violence, is too much to hear and bear. 

In that disavowal, in that psychoanalytic innocence, who is left to hold it? 

Had the fear of such a testimonial been stated directly, it would have at least been truthful at the same time as it would be (and is) violent and unpsychoanalytic- even by the orthodox and white-washed standards the theory we so desperately want to hold onto espouses. 

It is terrifying to think APsaA cannot even trust its own theory, in practice or otherwise. Of course, this is another indication that something else is happening. That else happens to include a human being, a woman of color, an immigrant, a queer Arab. It includes someone that APsaA had previously been happy to include, while that human being, me (surprise!), has been consistent in my position, my scholarship, my commitments to the world, and my politics. 

I refuse to be the imagined problem that, if eliminated, could in fantasy restore order and relieve our organization, and the profession, of the conditions and structures that are the actual cause of dis-order. This is not a “gotcha” moment, but rather, a painful revelation that many of us have always known viscerally. 

I will not be complicit in keeping this secret, not from you all, for you, or for APsaA. 

Lara Sheehi, PsyD (she/her)

Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology

Professional Psychology Program

The George Washington University

President, Society for Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Psychology (APA Division 39)

One comment

Leave a Reply