For the Love of the Work: E. Virginia Demos, EdD, Looks Back
by Aaron Beatty
“It is the love of the work that keeps people here; the work keeps them here” said E. Virginia Demos, EdD, reflecting on her long and successful career at Riggs as a therapist, teacher and learner as she prepares for her upcoming retirement.
Dr. Demos arrived at the Austen Riggs Center as an Erikson Scholar at a time when Erikson Scholars spent an entire year at Riggs. When her successor was unable to fill the role, Dr. Demos was asked to stay on for an additional year, which proved enough to convince the Riggs staff and her that serving as a therapist at Riggs was a meaningful path forward.
Dr. Demos has been a teacher and clinical supervisor for over twenty years and has authored more than twenty articles and book chapters on affective development in early childhood and the central role of affect in shaping psychic organization. She has been a director at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a director of a private psychotherapy practice in Boston and an assistant clinical professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
When asked what she will miss most about Riggs, she first spoke of her colleagues, “the informal conversations in the hallways or at lunch” and the team structure at Riggs; “it’s been a really valuable thing, to hear different points of view and has taught me an appreciation for listening to the broader implications of what is being said,” Dr. Demos stated. In addition, she described the case conference, the culmination of each patient’s initial six-week treatment and evaluation period at Riggs, as “a really remarkable thing,” which allowed her to see her patients more fully.
In speaking about what she has learned from working at Riggs, Dr. Demos first mentioned the nursing staff as both “extraordinary” and “essential” in her learning and in the treatment offered at Riggs, remarking at length on their “openness” and how, early on in her career at Riggs, she worked alongside nurses to “understand how to listen.” Dr. Demos went on to say, “I have learned how to stay in my role [as therapist] and have learned a great deal by listening to patients in terms of what helps and what does not. Having to present my work has been a good learning experience and I have learned a great deal about the meaning of behavior and the translation of behavior into feeling.”
“It takes a special person to bear the deep trouble and intense feelings, but I have thrived here; I love working with intense feelings from an empathic basis,” Dr. Demos stated.
As for what is next for Dr. Demos, she will maintain a small private practice for a short time and then will travel with her husband to Pasadena, California next year where he will be a visiting scholar. During this time, she hopes to work on a book, in which she aims to put psychoanalysis on a scientific framework, exploring how early the psyche develops and how trauma attacks and violates the most basic idea of how the world should work. In her mind, affect organizes experiences; feelings organize the brain. Her book will examine a longitudinal study she has been involved in with a set of infants, following how they have diverged because of different life experiences in how they were raised and what the clinical implications are of her findings.
It was her work as a developmental psychologist and her work with children that brought her to the Erikson Scholar program at Riggs. Then it was her love of the work at Riggs that turned a temporary visit into a lasting and meaningful part of her career. “They accepted me and I was not like them. They took a chance and made room for my voice,” Dr. Demos said. While Riggs will certainly miss her voice, it is grateful to her for her many contributions and wishes her all the best in her retirement.