2nd Prague conference
otto fenichel

Psychic change
Individual - Institutions - Society

20. - 22. 10. 2017

Radioactive Identifications: In the Clinic and in the Social Field (A Panel Discussion)

Lecturer: Adrienne Harris Date of the lecture: 04. 08. 2017

moderator: Adrienne Harris

Panelists: Adrienne Harris & Eyal Rozmarin; Andrea Ritter; David Holub; Joseph Dodds; Martin Babík  (3 speakers giving 2 papers)


Discussant: Jeanne Bernstein


Abstract: Four brief presentations from psychoanalysts functioning in quite different analytic and political contexts (Hungary, Czech Republic, Israel ,and United States. Each presentation will consider how elements in the social and political field invade and poison  the individual, and the clinical dyad. We consider these radioactive forces as they enter psyche, soma, dreams, transferences and clinical process.  We are also interested in how radioactive forces at the level of the culture reactivate and activate individual trauma and intergenerational effects.


Adrienne Harris:  introduction

Since, the early 1990’s, Yolanda Gampel has been doing important theoretical and clinical work in situations of social and political violence and has written now a number of influential essays developing a term she names ‘radioactive identifications’. Whether we think of the unspeakable and unrepresentable effects of local or social trauma, we must see the disruption of so much functioning in these moments and in particular in the clinical setting. As the world, macro and micro shakes and shudders, or as someone has written, the social glue melts, he frames and working assumptions of our work are all put into question, or free fall, or turmoil, or all at once. “I use the term “radioactive identification” or “radioactive nucleus” (Gampel, 1993, 1996a) to refer to phenomena that are comprised of unapproachable, nonrepresentable remnants of the memories of social violence that remain “radioactive,” ….These radioactive elements lie scattered about—hidden in images, nightmares, and symptoms—through which, however, they are detectable.” (Gampel, 1998). For a number of analysts and for their patients, the events around the election of Donald Trump as President were utterly uniquely destabilizing. This unsettling and disruptive experience was certainly not the same for everyone. But indifference or business as usual came to seem the most troubling symptom of all. The level of social fear, of hatreds and fear of the hatred of others, of shame, of feeling lost in time and space, were all in different analytic pairs, in different ways and degrees a fact of analytic life for some period. Analysts reported experiences of sudden confessions and worries about badness in some patients. Material appeared in the aftermath of the election results that surprised both patient and analyst. Fragile patients seem particularly vulnerable. Almost no one on either side of the couch was invulnerable. Extending these ideas more globally, I am interested in hearing from and learning from analysts n different political and institutional cultures about the effect and force of political and social circumstances: migration, rise of right wing ideologies, anti-semitism, military and political violence, instabilities and fears generated by crises in the environment and climate change. I come to feel that Gampel’s terms and her understanding of these kinds of situations (from time in Argentina, in Europe and in Israel) were potent for me in this historic moment and offered a unique opportunity to think about what these disruptions in practice might mean in regard to collective as well as personal life. This panel is an inquiry into analysts’ experiences of work in conditions of political and social stress, perhaps unprecedented in the past half century, perhaps still too familiar.


Reference: Gampel, Y. (1998). Reflections on Countertransference in Psychoanalytic Work with Child Survivors of the Shoah. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 26:34-60



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Česká psychoanalytická společnost


Ministerstvo kultury ČR

The conference is held under the auspices of Mr. Daniel Herman, Minister of Culture