The 7th Syros Workshop of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Studies 4th, 5th and 6th June 2010  

Report by Marie-Ange Widdershoven, EFPP Child and Adolescent Section delegate (Greece) and Effie Layiou-Lignos, Workshop organizer.

The workshop, organized by John Tsiantis, MD, DPM, FRC Psych and Effie Layiou-Lignos M.Psych.Psych of the Hellenic Association of Child and Adolescent Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, is the 7th Workshop in a 12-year tradition of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Studies held in the 19th century neoclassical building of the Town Hall of Hermoupolis, the capital of Syros Island in the Cyclades.

The 31 participants came from 11 different countries within and outside Europe (even from Australia). This gave the workshop an international character and induced the participants to reflect on the different ways of dealing with mental health issues in different countries.

The invited speaker Serge Frisch, psychiatrist and training analyst (Belgian Psychoanalytic Society), chair of the ‘Clinical and Research Working Party on the Specificity of Psychoanalytic Treatment Today” in the European Psychoanalytic Federation, former president of the European Federation of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, together with Biddy Youell M.Psych.Psych, Head of the Child Psychotherapy at the Tavistock Clinic, London and Sophia Chasilidi, clinical psychologist (D.E.S.S., de Psychologie Clinique et Psychopathologique, France), senior trainee child and adolescent psychotherapist at the Hellenic Association of Child and Adolescent Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, inspired us with their stimulating papers to think about the main theme of the workshop which was the influence of parental psychosis on the mental health of their children.

Each day was devoted to one paper, which was first presented in the plenary and then discussed in small groups (Anglophone and Francophone). Both groups reported back to the plenary every day.

The first day Biddy Youell, (UK) presented her paper titled: “Emotional abuse and the assessment of parenting”, in which she defined emotional abuse and focused on the assessment of parenting. She described the specialized work of a service which is commissioned to explore allegations of emotional abuse and make recommendations to the family court. She gave a vivid description of the assessment of a mother’s capacity for parenting her children, applying the method of infant observation to assess the qualities of parenting. She described the ways the assessment team has to make painful and difficult decisions. In a sensitive clinical way she showed us how the impact of primitive projections can create intense feelings of chaos and confusion amongst the staff members. She stressed the importance of the counter transference experience of the team members, their need to reflect on and discuss these feelings without being overwhelmed by them. She finished her paper with the reality that the shared experience of confusion and powerlessness in the staff reflects the experience of children growing up with emotionally abusive parents.

In the small discussion groups that followed her paper we were all able to reflect on issues that touched upon the intense counter transference feelings and trust in the team, the need for a containing function through supervision, the pros and cons of an external supervisor, our limits as professionals and the dissimilar legal systems of dealing with emotional abuse in other European countries.

The second day the invited speaker was Serge Frisch (Luxemburg). He presented the intensive work with a psychotic mother, where he beautifully described her plea for help as: “Help me think, to help me live”. His paper, titled: “I’ve always known that psychoanalysis could cure me”, described how psychoanalytic work can turn an “all-or-nothing” into a “too much/not enough” conflict. In his introduction he stressed the importance of working with the parents when the child is suffering, in the context of trans-generational transmission of psychopathology. He reflected on this woman’s struggle to become separate and to acknowledge separateness in other people, pointing out that elements of the transference/counter-transference relationship can help us to understand the emotional interactions between the patient and her children.

In the small groups and in the plenary session we discussed the link between the two papers and the importance of adult psychoanalysis in the case of trans-generational psychosis. We also discussed the differences between the private practice and the services provided by the public sector (national health service).

The third day Sophia Chasilidi (Greece) talked about “trans-generational borderline psychosis and its interplay with the dynamics of development”. She started her paper with an overview of the bibliography concerning trans-generational borderline psychosis and she presented clinical material of the psychotherapy of a borderline young boy. The discussion in the small groups covered a lot of clinical and theoretical issues on the influence of parental mental health to the child’s well-being and consequently the trans-generational influence of psychosis.

The workshop warmed us up, but the weather did not. As the Syros Workshop has always been associated with the sunny Cycladic beaches, we all kept dreaming of the warm and friendly climate surrounding the Workshop. Unfortunately we had a disappointing fall of rain, which destroyed any plans for swimming and sunbathing in the free afternoons.

In the closing up session we again reflected on the issues addressed at the workshop and gave ideas on the theme of the next Syros workshop, which will be held in the spring of 2012. The high quality of presentations in the plenary meetings and the exchange of ideas in the discussion groups, were once more characterized by a friendly atmosphere, the same atmosphere that accompanied us after each day’s work to the local tavernas. This is perhaps one of the reasons that most of the Syros Summer Workshop participants come back for the next event.

> Pictures of the Workshop


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last modified: 2010-11-28