What is it about?

There has been no systematic data on the impact of serious ethical/boundary violations on individuals and groups in analytic institutes. We present a qualitative analysis of voluntary interview data with over half our members after two separate formal ethics investigations of senior analyst members. We show the destructive impact of emotional trauma, damaged professional and personal relationships, and loss of trust in leadership, in the institute culture, and in the field of psychoanalysis. Unconscious anxieties filtered through the group as a whole, interfering with thinking, communicating, and tolerating differences. Our article demonstrates that a violation of one is a violation of many.

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Why is it important?

Unfortunately, ethical violations occur in many organizations, including psychoanalytic institutes. Typically they are dealt with by denial and/or silencing. We demonstrate how one institute, The Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California, reversed the culture of silence by inviting members to speak about what they had experienced during and after two ethics investigations. The interviews were authorized by the board of the institute. Data from the interviews were collated and analyzed and reported back to the institute in several meetings. The interviews provided witnessing to traumatic suffering by many members and re-instated the containing function of institute leadership. This project and our conclusions may be helpful to other organizations affected by an ethics crisis.


The eight co-authors worked on the interview project and the preparation of this article for nine years. At first, we were only focused on developing, conducting, and analyzing the interviews. The interviewers were surprised by how intensely emotionally engaging the interviews were. We were immersed in the emotional trauma in our institute. But we also realized we had important data that we wanted to share beyond our own members. We received permission from our interviewees to use the interview process and interview data in a published paper. We are proud of our efforts.

Jane Burka
Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: From the talking cure to a disease of silence: Effects of ethical violations in a psychoanalytic institute, The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, March 2019, Taylor & Francis, DOI: 10.1080/00207578.2019.1570218.
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