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Kuriloff, E. (2001). A Two-Culture Psychology: The Role of National and Ethnic Origin in the Therapeutic Dyad. Contemp. Psychoanal., 37(4):673-681.

(2001). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 37(4):673-681

A Two-Culture Psychology: The Role of National and Ethnic Origin in the Therapeutic Dyad

Emily Kuriloff, Psy.D.

David, the Jewish immigrant boy in Henry Roth's novel Call It Sleep (1963), cringes when his mother shamefully speaks halting English to shopkeepers and schoolteachers who ignore and exploit her. At home, however, in italicized passages meant to indicate her native Yiddish, she is eloquently expressive, a sage. Thus we experience the pain of the alien, the mother who feels publicly disenfranchised and without agency—the object of others' reflections and no longer the subject of her life—her private history minimized against a vastly different, outer world.

But why are there so few psychoanalytic discussions of the destabilizing immigrant experience? And especially because so many of our founding fathers and mothers themselves endured this journey as a result of Hitler and world war? Certainly there are many reasons. Our theory and practice favor the personal over the political, focusing on projective processes in an attempt to help analysands take responsibility for their experience of the world “out there.” In fact, this is the revolutionary contribution of Sigmund Freud—the notion of an inner, private consciousness. It is what distinguishes the psychoanalyst from the sociologist. With its “archeological” concept of surface to depth, classical psychoanalysis has been somewhat devaluing of the external. It has indeed been a challenge to include the environment without forsaking our unique and powerful perspective.

And there are still more quandaries. Often, purveyors and consumers of our craft share values and sensibilities, and so these things become invisible, a point I elaborate later. Finally, at its inception, Freud attempted to make his a universal science. Examining culture would only deflect from the purported universality of the Oedipus complex, for example.

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