Chicago in China by Nathan Szajnberg

Four U of Chicago grads did China for two weeks in September. Arlene Kramer Richards (BA); Arnie Richards (BA) Nathan Szajnberg (BA ’71; MD ’71) and Jeffrey Stern (MA, ’73 Ph.D “81 ) taught psychoanalysis in Wuhan, Shanghai and NIngbo.  All four have been appointed to the faculty at Wuhan Mental Hospital.  After a week last April, we were asked to return to teach an ongoing three-year program in psychoanalytic psychotherapy to two hundred practitioners from many regions in China. Wuhan, a small city of eight million, is slike the Chicago of China: centrally located, about 1.5 hours flight from Shanghai, it is a transport hub, an agricultural and stockyard center and has a Univeristy with 56,000 students (well, in that sense, it is Chicago logarithmically).
 Arnie Richards spoke about the “replacement child,” when a child is born to replace one or several others lost in the familiy. This concept resonated powerfully with the audience, in a one-child society.

Arlene Richards, having spoken last April about the woman’s skin, spoke about the power of dress and fashion, our second skins.   Her emphasis was on the non-verbal communications abounding in fashion and shopping that analysts could attend to and enquire about in learning to understand their female patients.
 Jeffrey Stern taught Self Psychological Theory in Wuhan, a theory that was developed at The Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis and within the Psychiatry Department of the Pritzker School of Medicine by Dr. Heinz Kohut. In an effort to bring psychoanalytic theory to life — and because the Chinese students are greatly interested in the subject
He lectured  on Shakespeare’s King Lear in Wuhan and Hamlet at the Third International Psychoanalytic Congress in Shanghai.
 I was asked to teach on attachment. I learned that the heart-centered agenda, however, was connected to the one-child policy, a policy complicated by some parents having to ask the grandparents to raise their one child while the parents work.  These professionals and parents felt that they had but one shot with their child and wanted to get it right.

In the afternoons, however, we all supervised smaller groups of 25-30 who presented clinical cases
for us to assess and discuss and advise. These ranged fascinatingly from children through adults. And the therapists felt strongly about their patients. One therapist kept pressing her thumb to her sternum, unwittingly, as she talked about how the parents of the child she was treating caused her heartache. Another therapist, quite concerned that
 her adolescent patient may not survive, twisted her ankle during our “break” and spent the second half of our supervision with her foot iced and elevated.

 I asked myself, “Why the interest in psychoanalysis?”  My sense is that these professionals are attracted to a central idea of analysis: fostering internal freedom, autonomy and healthy self-control.  In this sense, psychoanalysis is a “subversive” enterprise, as it always has been.  It aims for inner focus, inner direction and both awareness
 and control of impulses.

 I brought with me many of my Chicago teachers, including Bruno Bettelheim , but also Peter Giovacchini and Alfred Flarsheim.

And, we had the marvelous sense that all four of us, while graduating in different eras, brought the breadth of training and thinking that we gathered from Chicago.

 We return next April.

 N Szajnberg, MD


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2 Comments on “Chicago in China by Nathan Szajnberg”

  1. Leslie Johnson Says:

    Thank you for these messages from China, which I always read with a combination of awe and pride. With my young Chinese patient, I often sit thumb-to-sternum, so to speak, and listen lump-in-throat. It amazes me that across the great divide of languages, cultures, and generations, there is a will to connect strong enough to risk taking a step. Hats off, and a deep bow.

  2. nathan Szajnberg Says:

    Delighted that you are moved.

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