Vamık D. Volkan, M.D., DLFAPA, FACPsa.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
APPRECIATIONS
 
 
 
 
 
 
Marvin Margolis
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Published in Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association (JAPA). Vol.56, Issue.4.
 
 
 
 
 
In the post-9/11 world, we are justifiably preoccupied with the threat to our survival posed by ethnic and religious hatred. Can the insights of psychoanalysis offer any hope that the dark forces of destruction can be somewhat contained and ameriorated? In this moving book, Vamık Volkan provides a cautiously hopeful message of the potential of psychoanalyic understanding to effect positive change in the troubled lives of groups caught up in seemingly intractable violence and massive trauma. Volkan is arguably the leading aouthority on the application of psychoanalytic theory to the wide rande of international conflicts hes has staked out for intervention.
 
Volkan’s thirty years of unique contributions powerfully demonstrates how one psychoanalyst and a group of collaborators have significantly contributed to resolving group tensions adversely impacting the lives of thousands around the world. In 1987, he estabilished the Center for the Study of the Mind and Human Interaction (CSMHI) at the Medical School of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. It became the bas efor his years of international efforts.
 
This volume contains many examples of Volkan’s experiences in the international arena, as well as a presentation of the innovative concepts he has applied to group data unfamiliar to the average clinician. It is only after conflicts that have led to violence, terror, and war have been successfully terminated by military force that we see the long-lasting sequelae of massive trauma and the possibilities od mediation through intervetion. Volkan is at times stunning in his understanding of global conflicts; frequently he provides clinical insights the most experienced clinical analysy could learn from. I hope that many my selections from this multifaceted work will do justice to its richness.
 
The book’s first section deals with Volkan’s experiences in Georgia, a nation located between Russia and Turkey. Georgia became independent of the Soviet Union in the immediate post-Cold War area. It is one of many many multiethnic nations whose secretarian tansions were formely kept in check by the might of the USSR. These chapters focus on the pligt of Georgian refugees who had once lived peacefully with their Abkhazian neighboors in the Northern part of Georgia. The Abkhazians went to war to gain their independence from the newly independent state of Georgia. After bitter fighting, ethnic Georgian refugees had to flee South to Tiblisi, tte capital of Georgia. The refugees lost their homes, their sense of security, an deven their sense of competency, as well as treasured family memorabilia and possesssions, which were a vital part of their selves.
 
Volkan and his associates were invited by representatives of the Georgian Goverment to help ameliorate the refugees’s plight. On arrival, Volkan and his team found a demoralized group of several thousand traumatized refugees unable to complete the work of mourning and begin a new life. They had become perennial mourners. They dreamed of returning to the affluent and peaceful lives they had enjoyed while living harmoniously with their non-Georgian Abkhazian neighbors. That world, however, no longer existed. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, their neighbors had become their killers, as ethnic hatred came out of hiding. These Georgian refugees felt betrayed and were profoundly angry but unable to examine their psychological state. Instead they silent; regressed psychologically, they were profoundly disfunctional.
 
Vamık’s methodology reflects the values and perspectives of a serious analytic clinician. He and his team visited this comunity every five months for five years. Vamık always began with teachers, mental health workers, and gatekeepers-they must work through their own conflictual issues as traumatized refugees before they could deal effectively in this area with their fellows. He spent much of his time working with key families in the community. He interviewed family members in a deep, compassionate manner, even soliciting their dreams. His kindly, sensitive, and avuncular manner led to his being accepted as a special family member. For example, he regularly visited the Kachavaras, a prominent family who were deeply traumatized, as were all the others. Volkan helped them identity their anger and deal with their survivor guilt. He encourared Dali Kachavara and others not to keep secrets, but tos hare concerns openly with their loved ones. Dali was psychologically gifted; she organized groups of refugee women and functioned as their therapist, much as Vamık had done with her. Then one day Dali became ill and was literally dying. It was thought that she had suffered a stroke and could not be helped. There were many similar cases in this refugee community at that time who had already died. Vamık correctly diagnosed her condition as a profound depressive state. He understood her psychological condition as a failure to complete the mourning process. He told her he would not allow the die, only to live; her family and her people needed her leadership and love. Vamık’s understanding and forceful intervention literally turned her back from death’s door. She recovered and then helped other refugees complete their mourning work and accept their new reality. Absent Vamık’s emergency intervention, Dali would likely have died.
 
His method is far removed from thet of the superficial and trendy debbriefing technique of most trauma specialist. Vamık archives his analytic insight from a deep immersion-five years of work-in this community. He was attuned to the sociocultural context, as well as to the specific psychodynamics of the Kachavara family. He clearly understood the helplessness, sense of betrayal, shame, and survivor guilt that was at the core of their refugee experience. He ultimately influenced thousands by intimately working with key individuals who then carried his insights and compassion to ever widening circles in the refugee community. Vamık’s demonstration of the need to identify and work eith incomplete mourning in association with group trauma is one of the major contributions of this book.
 
The second section of the book delas with societal trauma and transgenerational transmission. For example, he considers the fate of the 183,000 American orphans whose soldier fathers were killed in World War II. He notes how many could only incompletely mourn their father’s death. Primilary this was due to their inability to talk about their fathers; the subject often was too painful for their widewed mothers, who had had so brief a maried life. Since their mothers could not vent their disappointment, even anger, at their hero husband, the orphans were left to bear the task of mourning by themselves.
 
Vamık notes how valuable group help was  in this regard. He refers to the American World War II Orphans’s Network (AWON). Their meetings allowed the orphans to Exchange experiences. It was here that many discovered or could acknowledge that the incomplete mourning of their mothers compromised their mothering functions. Analysts often do not appreciate the indispensable role of group mourning processes or cultural rituals. Vamık clearly demonstrates how AWON and the establishment of the World War II Memorial in Washington and attendant ceremonies ably served these functions. Healing of trauma occurs, not in forgetting, but in properly and adequately memorializing the dead and keeping them in memory. Volkan is also very sensitive to the special role of anniversary reactions in mourning. For example, he notes that many of these orphans did not begin their search for information about their fathers until their own children has reached the age at which their fathers had died.
 
This section contains one of Volkan’s most illuminating insight, namely, the role of transgenerational transmisssion of trauma that is incompletely resolved and mourned. His thesis is that a “chosen trauma” becomes the mental representation of historical traumatic group events and can become the core identity of groups habe been rendered helpness, humiliated, and shamed by their defeats and loses and move on. They therefore pass on these tasks to future generations. His central example is the loss of Constantinople by Christian Europe to the Ottoman Muslims in 1453, which was followed by the spread of the Otoman Empire into Southern Europe. After several hundred years, this led to the reactive pushback by Christian Europe and the eventual defeat of the Otoman Empire in World War I. millions of lives were lost on both sides, millions of refugees were created, and a legacy of embitterment, hurt, and longings for revenge remained among both groups. Because the losses could not be mourned adequately, Vamık posits this as the basis for continuing conflict between the Western world and fundamentalist Islam. Successive generations carry forward their memories of these traumatic historical experiences anda re unable to resolve them. Even worse, some turn to “exaggerated entitlement ideologies” and wage endless wars of revenge. The major case in point is certainly bin Leden’s al Qaede movement, which longs to restore the caliphate that was lost in the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Vamık’s analysis is dark and discouraging for those who long for peace in our world. He wisely acknowledges that psychoanalytic interventions are incaple of resolving such intractable struggles, hundres of years in making; they remain at the center of global terrorism and war in the Middle East. However, he does believe that many smaller international conflicts have been ameliorated by the services of his team, particularly during the time that CSMHI was functioning.
 
In the last section of this book, Vamık summarizes the basic methodology (the “tree model”) of his sytle of international intervention, as illustrated by his Estonian-Russiaan Project. When invited to intervene, he began by assembling o group of outside facilitators including diplomats, historians, and mental health professionals. He concerned this group to develop a diagnostic assesment of the psychohistorical issues involved. This facilitator group then brought together leaders of  the conflict, who for several years met for three of four days, every three of four months. His plan is rich in detail. For example, he recognizes that the opposing groups are concerned about losing their identity. They are usually former enemies, who are very wary of each other. From experience he has learned that they need time to talk about past glories and past trauma before they can move forward and consider working together. He allows time for formal and informal talk. From these understandings will come specific projects undertaken by local leaders. Regular consultation will be provided by the facilitator group. This model requires a time line of several years. Volkan likens it to an analytic experience. It leads to the creation of local projects with specific goals (e.g., reducing ethnic tensions between Estonians and Russians, who learned to work together in democratic mode).
 
These interventions occured in European settings where the opposing ethnic and national groups had a common religious background (Christianity) and were of democratic persuasion. Some of the local participants also had a psychoanalytic, or at least a mental health, background. Do Vamık’s interventions then depend on such common core values in order to succeed? The application of his methods to non-European conflict situations is possible, but would involve another level of complexity.
 
Volkan is creative and charismatic pioneer who has brought psychoanalytic understanding to the field of international relations. His work has earned him several Nobel Prize nominations. In 2002, he retired as director of CSMHI, which unfortunately closed three years later. At the moment, the future of his work is uncertain. The center he founded needs to be reestablished. It behooves our national and international leadership to address this challenge. APsaA and IPA funding of institutions like CSMHI can be crucial in continuing the work that Vamık has so ably begun.
 
In closing, I strongly recommend this book, for several reasons. It shows that the application of psychoanalytic insights can make major contributions to the reduction of international conflict. Vamık’s methodology could also be applied toward the resolution of group conflict in the cities of America.
 
Our institutes, outstanding in their preparation of candidates to be clinical analysts, unfortunately give scant attention to other Professional possibilities. They ought to provide a sound introduction to the possibility of analysts’ participation in efforts to resolve international and national tensions. Our candidates deserve to become acquainted also with the application of analysis to academic interdisciplinary studies and to consultations in the corporate/business world. We need institutions like CSMHI to serve a foci training, research, and projects that involve such application of psychoanalytic perspectives. Our clinical interests will only be enriched by these efforts.   
 
This book can remind clinicians of the major role that large group identity plays in the lives of our patients, particularly when trauma has occured. Vamık’s work adds support to these among us who feel that culture, trauma, and reality in their lives of nations and individuals influence significantly the development of our psychic lives. As our patient population and candidate cadres become increasingly diverse, these issues take on added weight. I feel that this book has added depth and nuance to my clinical work and hope that my sampling of its contents will interest others to read this excellent volume.     
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
REFERENCE:
 
1- KILLING IN THE NAME OF IDENTITY, By Vamık D. Volkan, Charlottesville, VA: Pitchstone Publishing, 2006, 307 pp.DOI:10.1177/0003065108326765.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Copyright © Vamık D. Volkan and Özler Aykan 2007.
 
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Last modified on: Apr 20, 2016