The Expanding Reach of the South African Psychoanalytical Association

February 22, 2021
Elda Storck

Elda Storck is the current president of the South African Psychoanalytical Association. In 2001, she returned to South Africa after having lived in Switzerland for 30 years.

Thanks to a recent Sigourney Award, this association is achieving well-deserved recognition.

Being a recipient of The Sigourney Award-2020 is a huge boost to the South African Psychoanalytical Association, both financially and in terms of the important recognition of our mission. Namely, we strive to enhance diversity and inclusivity, and to increase the reach of psychoanalytic thought, education, training, and treatment in Africa.

The South African Psychoanalytical Association was established as an International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA) Study Group in 2009 and it achieved Provisional Society status in 2017. This is the first IPA-accredited psychoanalytic society on the African continent. There was an aborted attempt to establish one just prior to the rise of the Afrikaner Nationalists, who introduced the reviled policy of apartheid in 1948. From then onwards, South Africans wanting to train as psychoanalysts were obliged to do so abroad. Given the political situation at home, they unsurprisingly never returned. Now, at last, psychoanalysis has taken root in Africa.

We focused our activities initially on the wider psychotherapy community, by establishing a psychoanalytic psychotherapy organization and leading seminars for it (pro bono), thus fostering interest among therapists in psychoanalysis proper. This organization, the South African Psychoanalytical Initiative SAPI—which has since achieved IPA Allied Centre status—grew from 60 initial members to 190. There have recently been requests from groups in 2 other South African cities (beyond Johannesburg and Cape Town) to establish online clinical seminars led by us. We also established a national confederation of psychoanalytic organizations. From this organizational base, we have been able to reach broader audiences and achieve some influence in the public sphere.

We have increased public awareness of the value of psychoanalysis firstly through our 2 annual conferences, which focus a psychoanalytic spotlight on issues of relevance to the South African public: race, racism, apartheid, trauma, gender, identity, stigma, othering, criminality, corruption, the perversion of hope, inequality, conspicuous consumption, student politics, and human rights. The speakers at our conferences include leading figures in other fields (such as activists, journalists, lawyers, judges, religious leaders, politicians and academics) who engage in dialogue with psychoanalysts. This brings awareness of psychoanalysis’ value to these opinion-makers in fields of general interest.

Just as we believe that psychoanalysis needs to be embedded in the broader context of a psychotherapeutic community, so too we are convinced that psychoanalysis—as an approach, not a method—can be useful even in the most harrowing settings of community work. The importance of the inner world in a ravaged society, which all too readily assumes the damage can be put right by purely external reconstruction and development, needs to be promoted.

Our model uses a core of rigorously trained psychoanalysts who in turn teach psychotherapists, who in their turn train and supervise community workers using the core concepts of free association, transference, projection, holding, and containment.

This is not a one-way street. Among the frontline mental health workers whose interest in psychoanalysis is roused, some apply to train. Currently 33% of our candidates in training are people of color. What these candidates feed back into their training contributes uniquely to psychoanalysis by extending its horizons beyond its traditional cultural and social bounds, leading to new insights about the mind and the mind in society. Because the famous faces of psychoanalysis are almost all white, we have taken special care to establish good working relationships with the few senior black analysts in America and Europe, by, for example, inviting them to speak at our conferences and to serve as role models for our candidates.

We ensure that psychoanalytic training is available to individuals in our country who have been historically disadvantaged economically. It is widely known that we make special arrangements for training applicants who cannot afford to pay for treatment, supervision, and/or registration fees. Treatment and supervision costs are subsidized by our members individually, and privately, so it is difficult to obtain detailed figures, but it is not unusual for candidates to pay as little as $10 per session.

We have taken a similarly inclusive approach to the way that we make psychoanalytic treatment available to the general public. We have low-fee clinics in our 2 largest cities, staffed pro bono by our members, which make psychoanalysis (and psychoanalytic psychotherapy) available to anyone who can benefit from it, regardless of ability to pay.

In the current world climate, exemplified by the Black Lives Matter movement, the potential impact of the links we have forged between the IPA and Africa cannot be overestimated. Starting from a situation in which there were no analysts in Africa and no analyses being conducted here, we now have 24 analysts, 24 candidates, and approximately 200 ongoing full analyses, and we are growing all the time—also in terms of diversity. Some of our candidates, although residing in South Africa, come from other African countries and retain links there. Through these colleagues, we hope to expand the reach of our work still further. To this end, the recognition bestowed by the Sigourney Award greatly strengthens SAPA’s identity as a platform for education and collaboration, making us hopeful that psychoanalysis will soon extend further on the African continent.

Elda Storck is the current president of the South African Psychoanalytical Association. In 2001, she returned to South Africa after having lived in Switzerland for 30 years.