Did You Know?

Martha Blechar Gibbons, PhD, APRN, BC

Martha Gibbons

There are musicians in our midst! I have known Ruth Simon for years, but recently discovered something that I did not know. Last month in the Child, Adolescent and Family Therapy study group I learned that she plays the flute! Since my purpose in writing this column is to share what we do with our lives besides engaging in the professions we have chosen, I became more attuned, and asked Ruth to elaborate.

“I have played the flute for close to 60 years through school, college, and after. I’ve enjoyed small groups of duets, trios and quartets with friends. When I developed a vision problem I thought my fluting days were over but the director of music at our temple re-wrote some of the music and printed it with large notes on big pieces of paper. It was so uplifting for me to be able to continue this outlet. I now play about twice a month for services at our temple and for the High Holidays. I accompany the choir and sometimes have small solos. I often grumble about practicing and worry about how I will sound on a certain day. But, when I’m playing and it is meshing with the choir, I am filled with a sense of peace and contentment. “

Ruth told me about other members that I know who are musicians, and my curiosity intensified. I wondered, are there even more? I decided to send a message to the membership asking for musicians to make themselves known!

Among those who responded was Maggie Baker, a member who resides in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. She shared, “I sing in my church choir at the Church of the Redeemer, in a smaller group called The Healing Presence Singers, and in an a capella group called Cantores. I also play the cello but have been so busy singing that it has become less of a priority.”

I have known that music is very significant to Melinda Salzman, and she confirmed this when she responded to my query. “Singing entered my life some years ago, as my children were launching into college. Thinking we might enjoy it as a shared activity, my husband and I joined our synagogue’s choir, which sings during the High Holidays. Neither of us had a trained voice, but we each had a music background, mine in piano and cello. St. Augustine said, “He who sings prays twice,” and he was right. Singing has proven to be a deeply spiritual way to observe these holidays. Plus, it’s fun–we enjoy the rehearsals and the sense of “belonging.” Since then we’ve sung with other groups, including the Takoma Park Singers. Now I’m singing challenging repertory with the Capitol Hill Chorale, including pieces in German, Latin (who knew?) and “church Russian.” Perhaps you’ll come to hear our December concert!”

Monica Callahan encourages others to experience what she has found. “Singing every week with the Georgetown Chorale is the best way I know to “change the channel,” relieve the stress of this work, and share harmonious (and not so harmonious) sound moments with a group of people. And it helps to have a fabulous conductor, Richard Giarusso–a singer, a scholar, and a genuinely nice guy who, in a group of 85, knows everybody’s name! FYI, our next concert is December 10 at 3, featuring classical and more popular holiday music. Come join us!”

Also a member of the Georgetown Chorale, Margo Silberstein comments on what she gains from her involvement, and offers more information about the group. “One of the wonderful things about singing is that it engages the right brain and the whole body in such a way that my left brain troubles, self-judgments and criticisms are forgotten in a flash. Singing stimulates oxytocin. And harmonizing with others and singing Bach and Handel can’t be beat.”

Here is the information for the Winter concert for 2016:

Winter Concert: The Season of Light
Saturday, December 10, 2016
3 p.m.
First Congregational United Church of Christ
945 G Street, NW
Washington, DC

Tickets available now!

The winter program this year promises to be one of the most unique concerts of the holiday season. In the first half of the program, we will perform excerpts from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio alongside portions of Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus. Handel’s oratorio tells the story of Hanukkah, and the interweaving of movements from these two masterworks offers a fascinating juxtaposition of the characteristic styles of the two greatest masters of the high Baroque. At the same time, the texts speak to the imagery of light, joy, and peace common to both Hanukkah and Christmas. The second half of the program features American composer Daniel Pinkham’s festive Christmas Cantata, in the arrangement for brass quartet and organ.

Those who know Tybe Diamond acknowledge her enthusiasm for…just about everything! It did not surprise me to find her spirited message in my e-mail. “I studied piano for 10 years, classical, popular, jazz with difficulty. I sing my heart out to Yiddish songs while playing piano and with popular music and show tunes.”

Dane Frost, currently an MIT in the Psychoanalytic Training Program, responded saying, “I am a guitarist and singer, having played since I was young.”

When I visited Jonathan Lebolt in his office in Silver Spring on a snowy day last winter, I noted that there was a keyboard in a corner, yet our animated discussion did not include an explanation for this addition. Recently he informed me, “I am a pianist and singer. I played piano at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance and The Monster piano bar and sang in the choir at Metropolitan Community Church in New York. In Richmond, I played at Art6 gallery, Metropolitan Community Church (where I sang in the choir) and Congregation Or Ami. I also sang in musicals at the Jewish Community Center. Currently, I sing with Shir Shalom at Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase. I also enjoy playing piano for myself, my husband Robin, and our dog Cocoa in our home in Greenbelt.”

Not only does he sing and play guitar and piano, but Michael Williams has composed over 50 songs. “I’ve written songs about different aspects of life, children’s songs, and some social work songs.” Michael shared a piece he wrote and recorded years ago, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to witness his talent!

You may recall that a few years ago I interviewed David Wyner for this column, and at that time he shared that for him, music fulfills a “very deep love and need.” His recent response to my message seeking musicians was, “Yes, I admit it. I was trained as a musician in a previous life and still play the piano (classical) regularly.”

John Paddock reveals, “Years ago, I played boogie piano and rhythm guitar in a band, Cirrhosis Gross and the Schizophonics. My chief love: attempting to imitate Commander Cody on the keys and Keef (Keith Richards) on guitar. And, when it came time to imitate Peter (“Blow Your Face Out”) Wolf of the J. Geils Band, I shouted out the most raucous of the blues songs: I know, it’s only rock ’n roll, but I like it, like it, yes I do.”

I was delighted to receive a response from Tom Holman, who shared something that I definitely did not know about him. “I play the saxophone, mostly classical, but also some jazz.”

Finally, I will share that years ago, accompanied by my beloved friend Diana, I played guitar and sang at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church. When Diana died, the weight of my grief seemed to stifle my voice and my instrument. I am gradually reclaiming both.

Review of the “International Journal of Psychoanalytic Self Psychology” (Volume 11, Number 2, 2016)

Review by Roman for Sept Newsletter
for ICP+P’s September 2016 Newsletter

The issue features a number of interesting and thought-provoking discussions, but I would like to focus on the three-article conversation between Joye Weisel-Barth and Steven Stern, regarding the “reality” and “boundaries” of relational analytic therapy.

The conversation begins with Weisel-Barth’s article, in which she discusses the question of boundaries in the co-created relational space in the example of her own work with a patient. This case highlights a shared love for animals between her and a female patient, which created a stabilizing factor in an otherwise “long and volatile” therapeutic relationship (p. 121). However, one day, the patient brings two abandoned animals into the room, and Weisel-Barth ends up adopting one of them. This action “began an enactment that ended in a therapeutic disaster” when – through an unthinkable turn of events, the patient learned of a sacrifice Weisel-Barth had to make in her personal life that was related to her decision to adopt one of the animals. A period of angry calls and emails leads to the termination of their therapy – “the rugged sundering” that echoes the patient’s “long history of ragged endings” (p. 123) – although Weisel-Barth does report a positive email exchange with her patient several years later.

Weisel-Barth acknowledges inevitably feeling “some love and/or, tenderness, and/or passion” for all her long-term patients (p. 116). Using the feelings that emerge in the relational analytic space can “change patterns of relational expectations” and “open new behavioral possibilities” – in other words, “they expand repertoires of interaction and connection inside and outside of the therapy” (p. 116). However, positive emotions and the experiences of pleasure and healing may carry a threat of danger and pain. One reason for this possibility stems from the fact that, however ‘real’ the therapeutic space may feel (and be), it still may be “shockingly separate” from “the reality of other life contexts” (p. 117). Weisel-Barth’s clinical example highlights the “analytic hurt” resulting from the discrepancies between the co-created analytic space on the one hand, and the external realities of both the patient’s and the therapist’s lives on the other.

Weisel-Barth points out that, in the traditional psychoanalytic mode, boundaries tend to be clearer than they are in relational analysis, where they “can be cloudy and damnably confusing” (p. 121). And yet, in some ways, relational work invites more ambiguity because it is a transitional play space, laden with unconscious forces and fantasies. Nonetheless, this lovely space carries a significant risk of the therapist becoming lost alongside the patient “in the illusory, ‘as if’ nature of the play space” (Weisel-Barth, p. 118). And the case discussed by Weisel-Barth represents an instance of the therapist having lost her therapeutic stance in the ambiguous analytic space.

In the following article, Stern discusses the relational therapist’s “greater participatory freedom” (p. 126) in the example of Weisel-Barth’s case. One of the perspectives in Stern’s discussion highlights the concept of the mutuality – asymmetry dialectic. According to Stern, Weisel-Barth’s case exemplifies the undermining of the asymmetrical frame of therapy, where the therapist should remain “at all times, the member of the dyad responsible for shepherding [the process] in which the patient’s therapeutic needs and interests are privileged” (Stern, p. 128). In addition, Stern argues that the dyad’s mutuality dimension was also affected by Weisel-Barth’s choosing to make – unilaterally – a sacrifice that was very meaningfully related to both of them. And, because both dimensions of the mutuality – asymmetry dialectic were compromised, the imbalance in asymmetry could not be rescued by a potential increase in mutuality.

Another perspective employed by Stern is related to the “as-if” quality, or “the necessary ambiguity,” of the therapeutic relationship. While the therapist’s relationship with the patient is fully real, there should remain a sense of ambiguity “in which everything that occurs is simultaneously a product of, and subsumed within, the constantly evolving therapeutic process” (Stern, p. 130). In Stern’s view, Weisel-Barth’s actions brought forth the loss of this necessary ambiguity – and even talking about this loss could not remedy the situation, since such conversation would require Weisel-Barth to disclose numerous elements of her own, real life outside the therapy room.

Lastly, Stern makes a comparison between the Boston Change Process Study Group’s relational model – which privileges “the implicit, non-verbal interchanges” as primary in the therapeutic action – and the contemporary Bionian model – which focuses on the “collaboration (conscious and unconscious) between patient and analyst in pursuit of the patient’s truth (and the truth of the analytic moment) through verbal articulation” (p. 132). Stern then suggests that Weisel-Barth’s act of accepting one of the abandoned animals may have represented “a defensive foreclosure of posing and trying to answer the question, ‘What is going on here with our shared … enactments?’” (p. 133; emphasis in original). Although it can be argued that Weisel-Barth’s actual participation could have constituted a “benign, self-selfobject, developmental” enactment, it is also possible that this enactment prevented the opportunity to open up other aspects of the patient’s experience – such as, anger and volatility – thus resulting in “actually going in less close” (p. 133; emphasis in original).

In her response, Weisel-Barth addresses some of the points raised by Stern, yet focuses mostly on the issue of telling and retelling case stories. She points out how complex and extensive our clinical narratives are, and how reduced and obscured they can become when we tell and retell (and print) them. Weisel-Barth also reminds the reader that enactments “sometimes proceed for a long time underground; and … an unexpected confluence of interactive factors may bring them to sudden and surprising conscious life” (p. 139). To dissect a story that happened in the past; to attempt negotiating it with the other person’s ‘truth’ – when an enactment that used to be hidden is suddenly so apparent now – may enrich our understanding of our theory and work, but is likely to fall short in presenting a definitive analysis of a particular therapeutic relationship.

Echoing Weisel-Barth’s point about narratives, I invite our readers to take a few moments to read this fascinating discussion. I – for one – found it tremendously enjoyable and enriching.