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Peltz, R. (2008). Learning From History: An Interview with Robert Jay Lifton. Psychoanal. Dial., 18(5):710-734.

(2008). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 18(5):710-734

Learning From History: An Interview with Robert Jay Lifton

Rachael Peltz

On April 10, 2008, Rachael Peltz conducted an interview with psycho-historian, psychiatrist, and political activist Robert Jay Lifton. Dr. Lifton is best known for his creative and profound studies of both the extreme and ordinary psychological effects of the rapid, destabilizing, the sometimes catastrophic social changes of our times—including Chinese thought reform, the Nazi concentration camps, the atomic bombing of Japan, Japanese cult groups, the Vietnam War, and recently, the war in Iraq. All of these offer invaluable conceptual tools for clinicians to approach the inner effects of traumatic historical events in everyday life as well as in those who have suffered extraordinary duress. Here, Lifton discusses the positions of the American Psychological Association regarding the role of psychologists in military interrogations and detention sites. The interview also offers a strong introduction to many of his specific concepts, including “atrocity-producing situations,” “the Protean self,” “symbolic immortality,” and many others. Taken together, these offer an exemplary model to understand the interweaving of history and the psyche.

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