The Lara Sheehi Case – the Fallout Begins

CTA has been posting updates on the unfolding situation regarding Lara Sheehi as it illustrates the inevitable destructive impact on institutions once Critical Social Justice gains admittance. As this is a high profile case it also allows the public a glimpse into how the therapy field is becoming ideologically captured.

In this update, we post the resignation letter of the President of the American Psychoanalytical Association(APsA) in the wake of the crisis concerning Lara Sheehi’s public statements (as described in previous posts). This letter is unusually candid about the reasons for resigning and spells out the dangers posed by “the illiberal, extreme left in APsA”. The letter is reproduced in full below.

This message from Kerry J. Sulkowicz was sent on the 7th April to the APsA Board of Directors – it is posted on a public listserv.

Dear Members of the APsA Board of Directors,

It is with a mixture of sadness and relief that I announce my resignation, effective immediately, as President of the American Psychoanalytic Association. 

Having now served as President-elect for 2 1/2 years and President for the past 10 months, it has been an honor to help lead this Association. We have much to be proud of during that time, with too many progressive developments to enumerate. We successfully adapted to the pandemic, to political and social upheaval, and to a rapidly changing world. We passed a revision of our training standards and a bylaw granting full membership rights to psychoanalytic psychotherapists, academics and researchers. And we began to change the culture of APsA to one that is more open, warm and welcoming. We launched several exciting initiatives – including bringing leaders of local psychoanalytic groups together, studying the economics of psychoanalysis, reimagining our future meetings, gathering narratives of members’ paths to membership in APsA, new editors for JAPA and TAP, and much more –  that I hope will continue and thrive under future leaders of the Association. 

But all is not well in our Association, not unlike the fact that all is far from well in our country. There is no reason to think we should be immune to the social and political currents roiling the world around us. Demagogues on the far right – and the conditions that give rise to them – pose threats to democracy everywhere. The world is still largely in denial about the most existential threat of all, the climate crisis. We have a catastrophic war in Europe that has destroyed lives and threatens the global order. Racism and other forms of prejudice remain a scourge. And human rights abuses of all kinds continue to occur, despite increasing awareness and efforts by some governments and by civil society to address them. APsA’s so-called “turn to the social” has indeed been good and necessary, and I am proud to have contributed to that turn for the past two decades; our tendency to turn against ourselves, however, represents a social defense against psychoanalytic progress vis a vis the outside world, and may be our greatest risk.

Most APsA members are generally progressive politically, including myself. I don’t think we have many on the political far right. But what I would describe as the illiberal, extreme left in APsA has gotten a grip on the Association and asserted its exclusive occupancy of the moral high ground, despite representing a relatively small portion of our membership. I worry about the impact this faction is already having, far beyond leaving me with no viable choice but to step down from this role. They exert a chilling effect not only on conversation, but on thinking, with reflexive accusations of unconscious or systemic bias at the first hint of questioning or criticism. And they have needed to find a scapegoat, ideally a white male representing authority and privilege, someone to bring down, as a symbol of their aims. These members seem to want to transform APsA from a professional organization into a primarily political activist organization. All of this seems antithetical to the mission of APsA and to core psychoanalytic values of listening, understanding and abstaining from moral judgment. 

I don’t think it’s possible for me to lead such an organization effectively anymore, even if the silent majority supports me (silent largely because of their fear of being attacked online), and emotionally I don’t think I have it in me to persist in trying. I am not resigning from APsA, and look forward to returning to my role as a Member. The basic assumption group dynamic that has taken hold over the past two months is more powerful than one person, and last weekend’s Board meeting suggests that our board has moved in this direction, as well. This is one of the reasons why I’m resigning, which I do knowing that I’ve always acted on my principles and with integrity. Those principles are based on trying to put the interests of the entire organization first, ahead of the demands of various groups within it that have more specific aims. One of the principles that has come into sharper focus for me during this crisis – and that has deep personal resonance – involves the need to address antisemitism in our ranks, which is often the most invisible form of racism.

We have other challenges, too, some of which I’ve described in recent postings, so I won’t elaborate on them here, but the most pressing of them, from my perspective, is governance reform – getting our Board to function more effectively. I hope this work can resume later this year, after the Board elects a new chair of the Governance Committee who would also become our Lead Director. Because most of our members don’t have much experience running organizations, the importance of this for the health of the Association is seriously underestimated. While I believe in the enduring power and applicability of psychoanalytic theory and values, and hope psychoanalysis has a bright future, I don’t think that future necessarily lies within psychoanalytic institutions, because of their inherent, historic dysfunction. If only more psychoanalysts knew what effective leadership and organizations looked and felt like, and resisted the temptation to use their interpretive skills indiscriminately, we would be in a much better place.

I leave the leadership of APsA in good hands. Dan Prezant has been my partner in leadership and has become a great friend, and he will be assuming his elected role early. I hope you will embrace his efforts to steer the Association through this turbulent period and beyond. The entire Executive Committee has developed deep bonds with one another, and I can’t say enough about their dedication, their intelligence and their values. I will dearly miss our weekly hour together on Zoom every Thursday, and our countless hours interacting with each by email other over these many months. I’m also grateful to Tom Newman and the entire APsA staff. They have been wonderful to work with, devoted to our organization, and forever deserving of our thanks and respect.

Thank you to all APsA members for your commitment to psychoanalysis and to this psychoanalytic organization. The country needs us to remain strong, vital and relevant, and I’m hoping that my stepping down will allow us to resume our focus on the many challenges outside, and on being there for our patients, our clients and society.

Sincerely yours,


One comment

  1. Sulkowicz, who is not even a clinician but rather a businessman, helped move the American Psychoanalytic out of its traditional clinical lane into a supposedly bright, progressive socially active future. He sowed the wind and now is reaping the whirlwind. He talks about the “inherent, historic dysfunction” of psychoanalytic organizations without acknowledging his singular role in creating the current crisis. Bion commented that groups can be too impermeable but can also be too permeable. After decades of being too impermeable I feel that the American has now moved to a too permeable position, with a number of insufficiently vetted members who have a minimal, or at least questionable commitment to psychoanalysis as a clinical discipline. You reap what you sow, and the American Psychoanalytic, hindered by unrealistic expectations and weak leadership, may be heading down a path to extinction.

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