We often focus heavily on the acquisition of skills and capacities when discussing career paths. However, the vitality, fulfillment and expansion of our professional expertise comes to life through our collaborations, our on-going learning and our integration of new perspectives. In this interview with Leslee S. Brown PhD, founder and president of MindBodyPassport Inc., we see an illustration of professional vitality and expansion in a psychologist’s experience collaborating and learning with other psychologists from around the globe.
The trips you both organize and attend offer you an incredibly unique perspective on diverse therapeutic theories in practice in addition to meeting practitioners from around the world who are learning and sharing experiences from their respective work. How have these diverse experiences enhanced your own therapeutic position(s), your work and your view of psychology itself?
Every time I step on a plane for one of my amazing international courses/ trips, I have already learned many things about the topic and the respective work and cultures of the participants who have registered. It is an amazing feeling to be in a room (or an online course) with like-minded people from all over the world, irrespective of the topic we are immersing ourselves in and learning about.
One thing that strikes me on each course: don’t assume anything! We all come from different cultures and perspectives. We must be curious, ask questions and more importantly listen.
I would like to give an example: I was lecturing on the history of psychoanalysis in Vienna for professionals from all over the world. This was a highly educated group of professionals with a variety of capacities in psychology/ psychotherapy. As I was in Vienna, and Freud’s home, I concentrated on Freud. As I showed photos from the late 1930’s and discussed The Holocaust (the reason Freud was forced to escape Vienna for London), the room was increasingly silent and blank stares permeated throughout the audience. I thought perhaps I was speaking too fast or perhaps they didn’t fully understand. I stopped the lecture to check in with the group. I asked how many knew why Freud was forced to leave Vienna and if they knew what The Holocaust was. Over 75% of these well-educated psychologists did not know that Freud was Jewish and forced to leave Vienna or face the concentration camps and death. It was not because they weren’t educated, or that English was not their first language, but that their home countries did not teach or talk about The Holocaust. A wonderful discussion and exchange of ideas ensued. By the end of the lecture many tears were shed and I humbly accepted a standing ovation.
When we travel we take ourselves out of our comfort zone and open up many new challenges and wonders we never expect. After every trip I am changed and learn so much. I am most at home “in the world” and love the meeting and melding of ideas, cultures and people. This is my passion and equally seductive to everyone who travels with Mind Body Passport. I came across a German word a few years ago, which doesn’t really have an English translation. The word is “fernweg”: essentially it means homesick for other places, experiences, cultures. This is such a rich concept and really encapsulates how people feel once they have been on a course with me.
Transformation from these trips sometimes occurs immediately. Sometimes days, weeks or even months may pass and we notice the changes that have transpired through the experience of traveling and immersing with others in an international setting.
This leads me to ask about your interest in international psychology and your wanting to develop and promote “psychologists without borders”. Can you elaborate on this?
We live in a fast-paced global community where we are connected in an instant. Our online and live real-world courses offer all of us, clinicians and those in related fields or interested in the topic, an opportunity to cross paths where we would not otherwise have the opportunity. This brings us together and teaches us so much about ourselves and the world at large.
We must be international in our scopes of practice because we have so many people coming into our offices from around the globe. We must find a way to narrow the gap and experience lives from a global perspective. Not just from a text book lens, but from a real life experiential place that we can only find after experience in other places and cultures. I am extremely passionate about developing psychologists without borders and connecting us in our global community. It is a wonderful, enriching experience to meet and exchange ideas with those from across the globe. It brings us together and offers an opportunity to experience life from another’s viewpoint and walk in the shoes of those we would not normally be exposed to.
An interesting experience occurred on one of my courses in London this past July. The course was titled Dream Analysis: Dreaming at Freud’s House London. We were immersed in cultural differences as the group was represented by many nations. One of the women was Muslim and wore a headscarf. While walking through beautiful, historic and wealthy Hampstead; a woman with children jumped out of the path of our participant in fear, and muttered something distasteful to her children. We immediately became a small village, a tribe of our own, and became very protective of this lovely woman. Our discussion later that evening opened so many interesting perspectives and truly enlightened our group. These kinds of live experiences are what truly make us “psychologists without borders”
Next week I am off to Paris where we will be learning about trauma and the road to resilience. Our group and speakers are literally from every corner of the globe and I am super excited for this journey! We will look at migration and immigration which is such a big part of practicing psychotherapy today as we have people pouring into our offices from countries all over the world.
One of your trips to Argentina introduces participants to a program called Tango Therapy which therapists have introduced to patients at a psychiatric hospital in Buenos Aires. Reading one of your accounts of this trip, I was so captivated by the stages of engagement with patients using tango, one of which is “the embrace”. This is such a powerful phrase. It brings-to-mind a profoundly human expression in addition to the many components of human engagement and development: relation, dialogue, trust, intimacy, shared space, awareness, perception. Can you comment on how you experienced this program and share some your own thoughts on “the embrace” as therapy?
This was such an amazing trip and experience. Throughout the week we had lectures and workshops on psychoanalysis. There is in fact a joke in Buenos Aires that there is an analytic institute on every corner! They say there are two analysts for every Porteno (Person from Buenos Aires) and psychotherapy and psychoanalysis is the price of a cup of coffee! Everyone has either been in or is in therapy and it is viewed as a sign of health not mental illness.
Along the same lines, tango is also everywhere and is an important part of the culture developed alongside immigration and psychoanalysis. They share a symbiotic relationship. I wrote an article about it, which can be found at: http://www.mindbodypassport.com/psychoanalysis-tango-psycho-tango/
As Freud was developing psychoanalysis, Argentina was developing the tango. Freud in Vienna working with “Anna O” discovered “the talking cure” as the Argentine Tango was being danced in Buenos Aires. Tango and psychoanalysis both became a cure for longing, desire and connection.
Tango was born from an immigrant society moving from their motherlands to find a better life in Argentina. Psychoanalysis was also born and developed by Freud having to move from his birth home in Pribor Czech Republic to Vienna, where his family was also escaping political oppression and prejudice and looking for a better way of life.
During WWII Freud was once again forced to move from Vienna to London. The Nazis outlawed psychoanalysis, many of Freud’s books were burned and many analysts were forced to immigrate or be sent to the death camps.
In Argentina the peak of tango was in the 1940’s. After the military take-over in Argentina during the 1970’s and early 80’s, tango disappeared and was outlawed. Tango and all arts including psychoanalysis were banned, and over 30,000 people disappeared in crimes against humanity. In 1983 the dance of tango re-emerged and was taught to a new generation.
We pour our emotions into the tango as we do into psychotherapy. In the tango the follower must surrender her/himself to follow. For this to occur the leader needs to direct and support her/his physical being by the frame of the embrace. This relationship is analogous to the analytic relationship. The leader must also surrender to the music and if there is too much control or not enough control, the follower is left lost.
The embrace and the rhythm of two people moving through space is very important. Leading and being led is about trust, letting go and following yet also holding your own space and boundaries, giving your partner space, freedom and creativity to enhance the dyad. Sounds a lot like psychoanalysis, doesn’t it? Psychoanalysis like tango can be viewed as an intimate non-verbal conversation.