Dignity: Part 3 of 3 – The Application of Dignifying Principles Beyond Riggs



At the recent American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA) conference in New York City, Gerard Fromm, Ph.D., Senior Consultant to the Erikson Institute for Education and Research of the Austen Riggs Center, gave a stirring presentation on Dignity. This series of blog posts will examine dignity as it relates to the clinical work carried out here at Riggs and beyond.

The work at Riggs, which places the dignity of the patient at its center, is difficult but rewarding. When we look inward, it is easy to become absorbed in that work and sometimes to feel a deep sense of accomplishment. When we look outward, we have the opportunity to engage those around us in a learning dialogue, but we also encounter the enormity of the problems within mental health more broadly.

How do we take what we are learning beyond our smaller circle of existence? Dr. Fromm states that “this is the task of applying our learning to the larger world; it’s the task of the Erikson Institute.” Dr. Fromm points out the following conundrum, “On the one hand, psychoanalysis stands for the dignity and complexity of the individual; on the other hand, in doing so, how do we take into account the problem of scale, the ‘so many’ who are outside our purview?” Sometimes we encounter professionals “who cannot listen to a dynamic perspective, not because it isn’t persuasive to them; on the contrary, to the extent that they are captivated and moved by it, they have to reactively dismiss it. A version of cognitive dissonance comes into play. They cannot let themselves value what they do not have the resources, within their treatment systems, to carry out.”

This very understandable problem is nevertheless a real challenge for the Erikson Institute, one that has implications for the dignity of so many suffering people. It merits a thoughtful consideration, perhaps even a conference, on how the core elements of Riggs treatment – the importance of relationships, the search for meaning, the patient’s authority – might be adapted to the problems of scale and of resources in the larger mental health world.

For Dr. Fromm, he has found himself inclined toward two related directions for psychoanalytic application: understanding the dynamics of organizations – in essence the task of helping the holding environments and helping trapped members see more clearly how they have become crippled in the ‘undergrowth’ of the organization – and the effort to bring psychological understanding to societal conflict.

Fromm concludes by observing, “a psychoanalytic framework on trauma and a process that engages the live – and often negative – feelings dignifies all involved by virtue of our experiencing, surviving collectively, and attempting to give words to the deep pain behind these feelings.” Dignity must inform both our treatment efforts and how our learning from those efforts is carried forward into the rest of the world.

This concludes our blog post series on Dignity. Thank you for tuning in!

Here are links to the earlier blog posts in this series: