Our Work and What the Award Means to Us: 2021 Sigourney Award Winners

,

These 2 Sigourney Award Winners share their journey to success.

The Sigourney Awardis a highly valued recognition of exceptional work that advances psychoanalysis around the world for the betterment of humankind. Colleagues wanted to nominate us for the prestigious Sigourney Award some years ago, but we thought we still had work to do. By 2021, we felt ready, but were daunted to discover that the application was now by self-nomination. It was uncomfortable at first to put ourselves forward, but, as we answered the questions, we realized the extent of what we had done and still have to offer.

Whether selected or not, we benefitted from undertaking a 10-year review of our contributions and collaboration with valued colleagues who continue the vision of the International Psychotherapy Institute (IPI) that we founded in 1994. As our work is so closely aligned with the mission set out by Mary Sigourney, we were honored to be among the 2021 recipients after all. From the innovative and controversial edge of our field, where we had always perched, this award brought us and our application of psychoanalysis securely into the psychoanalytic middle. It gives us both a valued honor and a welcome feeling of belonging.

We were always on the edge, founding a center for psychoanalytic thinking that welcomed analysts and psychotherapists on an equal footing, all gathered to study object relations psychoanalysis and its application to couple, family, and group understanding. We developed a signature pedagogical method, the Group Affective Model, using group dynamics as illustrations of concepts under study. Since participants came from all over the United States, we offered in-residence teaching/learning weekend experiences; monthly Master Speaker lecture-workshops, which David designed; and 2-year certificate programs in individual, couple, and family psychoanalytic psychotherapy.

Soon affiliate groups sprang up in Long Island, Salt Lake City, Panama RP, Indianapolis, and Philadelphia. We had to find ways of communicating between onsite meetings, reaching participants across the country, first on teleconference, then videoconference using technology provided by our partners at Westminster College in Utah, and ultimately via the internet. Object relations theory, the bridge between individual and family therapy, was also the bridge between psychotherapists and psychoanalysts, between teachers and learners, and between Washington and other states, Canada, Central America, and the United Kingdom.

By 2004, some psychotherapy colleagues wanted psychoanalytic training. So, Jill founded the International Institute for Psychoanalytic Training (IIPT) at IPI, based on object relations theory, but including a wide span of ideas from Freud to contemporary approaches. We developed teleanalysis as a staple of analytic training to make it accessible to candidates from remote areas. This put IIPT at odds with the International and American Psychoanalytic Associations. Thanks to Charles Hanly, then IPA president, Jill was made chair of an International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA) Working Party on Teleanalysis, meeting monthly to study technology-mediated treatment. Thanks to Rich Zeitner, now chair of the IPI Board and then cochair of a committee to encourage new groups at the American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA), we worked with APsaA until it welcomed IIPT as its 33rd institute in 2019.

IPI had now become a membership distance-learning analytic community, able to take full advantage of overseas partnerships we had developed, first with the Clinic and Marital Studies branches of the Tavistock in London. Beginning in 2011, David’s chairing of the IPA’s Committee on Couple and Family Psychoanalysis further helped us develop a global learning matrix for applied analysis.

From this base, we could respond to requests from China and Russia for in-person training. Sadly, because of COVID-19, we cannot currently do in-residence training abroad as we did before COVID and plan to resume when possible, but we continue entirely online, providing certificate programs in individual, couple, and family therapy with group consultation in individual, adult, and child psychotherapy, in both countries.

During COVID-19, our expertise and Jill’s edited books on technology-mediated treatment and training reached more therapists who were now forced into working online. Our publications on theory and practice in individual, couple, and family psychoanalytic psychotherapy, translated into Chinese and Russian and several other languages, helped us spread the insights of psychoanalysis to the global community. In 2009, we were appointed editors at www.freepsychotherapybooks.org, founded at IPI by our former publisher Jason Aronson, to make free psychoanalytic texts accessible to any mental health professional who could connect to the internet. We are proud that more than 1000 titles have been downloaded more than 2,000,000 times in 200 countries and territories.

Our work in disseminating psychoanalysis widely in these ways was fully acknowledged when we received the 2021 Sigourney Award, for which we are honored and deeply grateful.

David Scharff is a cofounder and former codirector of the International Psychotherapy Institute (IPI) and clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University and Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Jill Savege Scharff is a cofounder and former codirector of the IPI and clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University.