Psychologist and teacher Dr. Monique Bowen believes that the benefits of psychoanalysis extend far beyond the healing and personal growth that can come from exploring one’s unconscious. In a country built on whiteness and systemic racism, the act of analyzing unconscious thoughts and behaviors can provides an opportunity for community healing across communities. Having a safe space to have these conversations is essential. In this conversation, Dr. Bowen discusses how therapy can be a place of healing not only for the patient but also for the therapist—and for the community at large.
Visit Antioch University’s website to learn more about the PsyD in Clinical Psychology.
To learn more about Dr. Monique Bowen click here.
Recorded August 16, 2021 via Riverside.fm. Released September 22, 2021.
The Seed Field Podcast is produced by Antioch University.
The Seed Field Podcast’s host is Jasper Nighthawk, and its editor is Lauren Instenes. Special thanks for this episode goes to Karen Hamilton and Melinda Garland for their contributions.
[00:00:21] Jasper Nighthawk: This is the Seed Field Podcast, the show where Antiochians share their knowledge, tell their stories and come together to win victories for humanity. I’m your host Jasper Nighthawk. Today we are joined by the psychologist scholar and teacher Monique Bowen. Monique is a professor in the department of clinical psychology at Antioch University in New England. We’re excited to have her on the show to talk about psychoanalysis, Trauma and the ways we can use psychological insights and techniques as we work to heal our communities.
Monique is a great person to help explore these questions. She’s a working psychologist. Before coming to Antioch, she worked in a forensic psychiatry service. She also has an extensive research background working in areas of familial and interpersonal violence, coping and resilience across childhood and adolescents, forensic assessment and clinical interviewing and the application of psychoanalytic ideas to social problems.
Here at Antioch, she has been serving over the last year as the co-chair of the university-wide anti-racism task force. In the wider world of psychology, she was selected as an early-career scholar by the Society for Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Psychology. She’s recently been publishing book reviews in the journal Psychoanalytic Psychology. Monique, welcome to the Seed Field podcast.
[00:01:47] Monique Bowen: Thank you, Jasper. Thank you for having me.
[00:01:49] Jasper: I’m really excited to talk with you today about your specialization within psychology and the ways that we can use psychological knowledge in community healing. Before we get into all of that, I would love to know more of your story. How did you come to spend your career as a psychologist and as a teacher of psychologists?
[00:02:08] Monique: That’s a great question and helpful in terms of orienting our conversation. I think I knew pretty early in my adolescence that something about both the life of the mind, so being curious and being encouraged to be curious both through conversation and getting to know people but also through book and article reading. Just following my own interests and being encouraged to see them through to their natural end. I think the journey toward academia, scholarship, teaching, and research was a good fit for me. I think I also knew pretty early on that I had a uniquely tuned ear for trauma and pain and wanting to be present for that exploration, that needed exploration. Something about this field gave me room to consider how I could maybe be of help as people journeyed toward you healing.
[00:03:19] Jasper: That’s so beautiful. I see two sections to what you said there of loving this life of the mind. There’s something internal to the mind to be a curious person and to be curious about almost the organ of curiosity but then to also find that you have this gift around trauma and healing. I’m curious, you said you this eye for trauma. What did that look like? How did you know that you had this gift?
[00:03:46] Monique: Well, actually, I would say ear more than eye tuned my hearing. How did I know? I guess the way most people end up knowing most things about themselves is through their familial others, the people around you, the kinds of conversations, the things that are privileged within families in terms of conversation or what has meaning versus what’s said to not be important. The things that people don’t want to attend to become noteworthy. Why is it that we’re not talking about this particular issue that’s come up in the household? What is it about the thing I’m talking about that’s triggering some familial or familiar sense of related experience that is too difficult to approach. I think I was just acutely aware of my parents and my family members’ life experiences that were deeply rooted in both American slavery but also in the European colonization of the African continent. Those aspects of experience were greatly informing the things that were talked about and not talked about in my family.
[00:05:01] Jasper: Yes. Thank you for disclosing that. It seems to me having that emotional intelligence is a gift but also it can be a heavy thing to take on. It can be intense to have access and to be able to to hear the notes of people’s emotional distress that other people might be able to just let flow by on their way to the park or something. I wanted to ask you – your specialty within psychology is psychoanalysis. How did you come to study psychoanalysis and to find that as your most useful psychological framework?
[00:05:40] Monique: Well, Jasper I would say that rather than the study of psychoanalysis, my training was in one of the few remaining programs that has as its organizing framework psychoanalysis. I think that they would probably say psychodynamic psychology is more apropos as a descriptor for that training. The part where our psychoanalysis became more of a feature for me was really more toward the middle and tail end of my training. As I began to explore my dissertation topic that really revolved around experiences of revelry, imagination and interior monologue on the part of the therapist in the context of the therapeutic encounter. At that point really diving head long into the literature of over a hundred years of writing about transference and countertransference experiences as well as reading literature and other areas of analysis like philosophy, mathematical philosophy to understand some of the things that I was trying to appreciate about communication and the communication within therapy.
[00:07:05] Jasper: Can we just back up and define what psychoanalysis is? What that idea is? How it maybe differs from other therapies and therapeutic modalities that are used today?
[00:07:18] Monique: Yeah,I think probably the most helpful understanding of psychoanalysis I think has to do on an insistence on seeking. Seeking that which isn’t known and the transformational power that can come from discovery. That insistence, that work of understanding our own journey, our mutual journeys with others and as a culture society of people there’s so many areas of research and discipline that look at aspects of communication. Within psychoanalysis, the way that we explore that communication is multi-determined but the base idea of it is to reach a place of a deeper knowledge that comes from the things that we’re not thinking about that are not top of mind.
[00:08:26] Jasper: This is what we would call the unconscious. The idea that there are-
[00:08:30] Monique: Yes.
[00:08:30] Jasper: -these ideas or desires or drives that we have but that we’re not consciously aware of. That aren’t top of mind but that might be motivating or underlying our actions. Is that-
[00:08:43] Monique: Yes.
[00:08:43] Jasper: fair?
[00:08:44] Monique: It is fair. You’re hearing me give the description that I often give to my kids and to people who are not psychologically minded who are like what is this business? I know Freud and that seems really distant from anything that I’d want anything to do with in terms of going into a therapy with anyone. If psychoanalysis is the version of a therapeutic experience that you work with, I don’t really relate to that. I don’t think a lot of people do. I also think folks don’t know a lot about Freud and his own beginnings. My point being that psychoanalysis is a process. It is a way that we can look at and potentially explain certain phenomenon not unlike other areas of therapeutic analysis that one might participate in.
I guess what really I find helpful in it again is that attempt to make space for the exploration of the unknown aspects, the things that we’re not holding in front of mind that are key to our decision making, key to our approaching certain relationships or challenges, and key to backing away from others and the more that we can appreciate our own position and the various ways that that position is influenced by things that are not front of mind, we have an opportunity to know more about ourselves in relationship to others.
[00:10:35] Jasper: Thank you so much for backing up and giving that explanation which makes sense and I think for me, who I’ve read some Freud, and I’ve had some exposure to these ideas, but I’ve never heard it expressed quite like that and that makes sense why you would be interested in this process of seeking these underlying or deeper motivations and causes. I think I interrupted you when you were talking about how this comes to play in communication. How do you see psychoanalysis informing a deeper understanding of communication between different people or among communities?
[00:11:13] Monique: At the heart of it, the word connection is coming to mind, and how one maintains a connection to self and others. A big part of a successful psychotherapy, let alone analytic treatment, is the kind of compassion for oneself and for others that’s necessary for quality engagement to occur and for the kind of collaboration that, I think, is a hallmark of good communication. That you’re acknowledging your conversational partner, that you are hearing them and being available for things that may be difficult to hear, and that you’re listening as a conversational partner in that communication, that unique communication, that can occur within a therapy treatment, being open to learning something about yourself, that comes from that communication with that partner.
[00:12:16] Jasper: That’s beautiful – the idea that true communication involves a revelation of the self almost. Well, I wanted to move our conversation to the idea of using psychoanalytic ideas to address social problems. We live in a time where social problems are on the front page of the newspaper all the time and just to the front of so many of our consciousnesses at the front of mind really for a lot of us. From police murders of Black people to the persecution of migrants and ongoing gun violence, and even the political violence in the capital. I was curious how you see psychoanalytic ideas helping us to understand these problems, and maybe to work towards some resolutions.
[00:13:12] Monique: Jasper, I think one thing that’s important and useful to just begin this conversation is that I don’t imagine that the intent at the beginning of the psychoanalytic applications in the clinical sphere was ever meant to address social ills or problems directly. I think that we can all agree in our field anyway that the main criticism of psychoanalysis over the decades has been its relentless focus on the internal experience and the explanation of one’s internal experience for the phenomenon that we see in the world that it’s–
[00:14:07] Jasper: That what we call navel-gazing?
[00:14:10] Monique: [chuckles] Well, yes. I think in its most elitist and the most critical view of psychoanalysis as an elitist activity, yes, very much so, and that psychoanalysis has also been largely neglectful of looking at power, and how power functions within relationships, and the centrality of power as part of our own psychic. The way we make sense of the world often is through our understandings of our own position being agentic and having power or not and so that knock on psychoanalysis is fully earned in its earliest iterations.
The reason I am interested and have been interested in the application of psychoanalytic ideas to the problems I see and that we all are experiencing is that it’s that same sense of not looking at a problem, that is exactly why we should use these techniques to explore this problem. It is made from the willing and willful lack of exploration and lack of naming in a fully aware way the power of the relationship to heal the relationship that’s been formed based on power differential, the relationship that’s been formed around race, and other aspects of identity that should be contested in the therapy space are opportunities for people to actually engage with another person’s subjectivity and make meaning where these things can be contested with the understanding that it’s occurring within a space that can hold it. Where safety is the understanding that the other person is willing to look at their own subjectivity as well as yours and how we are communicating with each other given that interaction. So rather than continue to do the thing, that I think had been the Hallmark description of the field, which was this sort of tabula rasa blank slate analyst looking at and pointing to the challenges of the patient, or the things that are interrupting their ability to be successful in life, that once the therapist is included or the analyst is included in that exploration, a more even playing ground can make established. Their opportunities are endless for the kinds of projections that get played out between people to be explored.
[00:17:13] Jasper: That’s such an interesting expansion of the idea of the unconscious and of the underlying causes of behaviors or of worldviews, it sounds to me almost like what you’re describing is what we call like implicit bias or internalized racism, or internalized homophobia or these underlying these things that oftentimes people will have like workplace trainings to try to help people become aware of the ideas that underlie their behaviors, but you’re explicitly unpacking them maybe in a more exploratory way.
[00:17:52] Monique: Jasper, that’s so interesting that you went to a place of talking about bias and race. I really wasn’t thinking about that in that moment, but I guess that’s my point. That there is something very basic about our communications and ways in which we at our most human are prone to find differences between ourselves and others to win in some way, if we’re in a more individualistic society, or if we’re in a more collectivist one, perhaps more around maintaining of boundaries and sense of the collective over the individual.
Just to go back to your point about the ways in which the internal processes are operating, even when we’re not wanting them to be and certainly not consciously offering them up in certain situations, that it’s important for the therapist to recognize the existence of ideologies that exist within our world that are pro-racist, that are exclusive, that are elite, and creating a separation between us and them.
When I say I privilege the communication between the therapist and the patient, there is less “us/them” in that as opposed to “they” or “we” and looking for opportunities, to bring into awareness, all the ways that the various things that should keep us from being in relationship with each other, we can actually use that as an opportunity to connect and understand something and heal.
[00:19:52] Jasper: I wonder if there’s like an example you could point to. I know that there’s therapist-client privilege, obviously, but what might this look like in practice? If you were in a therapy session as the therapist, what relationship might you be creating and how would you elicit this conversation?
[00:20:11] Monique: I’m having a particular case in mind that was a one-session therapy. It was one session before – the decision for it to be one session was decided by things outside of my control or the patient’s control but had everything to do with how the patient came to me, and how they were prepared, and how I was prepared for the transfer of this case to my care. From the beginning, the client was very clear that they could not work with me, the assumption had been that because of our shared ancestry, racial history, that we would be a good pair. In fact, the patient wanted to be very clear that that could never be the grounds for our work because there was nothing about their racial story as an African with my racial story which to them was as a Black American and never the twain shall meet. [chuckles]
[00:21:28] Jasper: They felt such an experience of the difference of your backgrounds, they felt like that was insurmountable?
[00:21:33] Monique: Insurmountable is a good word. That despite the compassion that I could bring to the treatment, curiosity about their experience, an acknowledgment of our lack of sameness, even though it was assumed, the anger the patient felt about the transfer, which was partially about race because it was the thing that was not talked about between the patient and their therapist, a White European person, and the thing that was immediately being talked about in this engagement, and all the things that that transfer was about, which were not on the nose about race but certainly were about the differences between the former therapist and the patient.
The patient was told the wish, on the part of the therapist, that this would be the work that would be ahead for them. That that was the thing that they had not explored in that treatment, and therefore, the place to do it would be in this next one with someone of a shared background. Coming to that one session was out of respect for the therapist having tried to do this but really to tell me that it would never work. That I had been chosen for all the wrong reasons and that as a result, I had to be rejected. I spent much of that session really listening and trying to empathize, and it didn’t take much to empathize, to empathize with that experience of rejection and loss and real frustration at being seen on, what for them felt like a very surface level.
[00:23:26] Jasper: It sounds like this was an opportunity for reflection on your part as a therapist, did you feel like you had accomplished anything in that single session with that patient?
[00:23:38] Monique: Yes, I stayed connected as much as I could to their experience. I did my best to maintain a sense of compassion for this patient, but also for their therapist who thought they were doing right by them. I thought a lot too about what this conversation between me as a bicultural person of West African descent directly and descended from American slavery directly and how that was not part of this person’s experience of me but certainly informed some of my understanding of how I was being rejected by this patient. The ways in which Black Africans and Black Americans have lots in common and lots unknown to the other. There was a part of me that hoped for the opportunity to form a more active conversation with this person, so that we could do that exploration and work together, and maybe in our own way, heal some of that rift that exists.
[00:24:56] Jasper: I think what’s interesting listening to you tell this story is, the way that the therapeutic space really is like a place for conversation and growth, not just healing on the part of the patient, but maybe a deeper understanding of the world, for both the patient and for the therapist.
[00:25:17] Monique: It’s healing for the patient, for the therapist, and for the world that I’m talking about.
[00:25:31] Jasper: Hi, I’m going to cut away from the interview for a second here to let you know that the Seed Field podcast is produced by Antioch University. Let’s make the world better together, complete your bachelor’s or your masters or study for a doctoral degree with us here at Antioch University. When you join Antioch, you will be joining a community with 160 years of commitment to social, environmental, and economic justice. Win one for humanity, learn more at antioch.edu.
I was thinking about the ways that as a white man, growing up in the 1990s, this largely white culture I was growing up in basically handed me a lot of these degrading stereotypes and even pathologies about Black communities, especially like urban Black communities that said that there was almost this psychological explanation for differences in wealth, for differences in career outcomes, whether families were able to stay together, and dependence on government programs. It seems to me that psychology has the opportunity to almost be weaponized.
[00:26:50] Monique: Mhm. It has been.
[00:26:52] Jasper: Psychology and this language of pathology can be weaponized to stifle community healing.
[00:27:01] Monique: That’s right.
[00:27:02] Jasper: Taking that history in mind, how can the practice and tools of psychoanalysis be powerful vehicles for communities to in fact heal?
[00:27:11] Monique: The equipping piece comes in the recognition that we cannot abandon our individual histories or our respective politics, and political viewpoints, our connections to power. That none of these things really are ours to let go of as though they are without impact. That that awareness, that distinct awareness about the ways in which our individual subjectivities are in constant push-pull with others, that the therapeutic relationship or a relationship grounded in compassion, and a relationship built on empathic relating.
That those are the places where issues and history and power and other influences that stand to separate us can be discussed, and that there isn’t anything that’s off-limits about those conversations. That no one is going to die, to be literal, by having those conversations but people have been greatly hurt and wounded by them. We have an opportunity with empathy first, and compassion first, and training in how to both hold a boundary, but also hold a reality sense about the harms that have been done by racism in this country. This ideology or thing called psychoanalysis cannot be separated from the power structures in which this was created.
A lot of harm has come from psychological “research” that named people as limited, as primitive, as somehow disconnected or irrational, pathologized language that still exists that people are still attempting to heal from. If we could pull back from that and acknowledge its harm and create spaces that are not predicated on the kind of malicious use of power differentials and instead lean into our shared humanity.
That’s not easy. I’m saying that and it sounds all, Ooh, but that’s not easy. That is hard work. It is hard work to stand in a space like that given the historical weight of history. That’s a double statement, historical weight of history, but you get my point.
[00:30:26] Jasper: Yes. It’s a big prescription to ask people to be very forthright about their own prejudices or their own places that they’re coming from that may be harmful and to be honest and unafraid and compassionate with all of that.
[00:30:45] Monique: Well, I don’t know about unafraid. I think there’s fear in this but if your traditional stance is using this nothing affects me or tabula rasa, like I have no history. It’s all about you the patient and what I see, which is nonsense, frankly, in a contemporary framework.
[00:31:10] Jasper: We don’t come out of nothing.
[00:31:12] Monique: We don’t come from nothing. If part of the history in this country has been, that one group has told another group, or one group has told many other groups that you come from nothing or nothing that you should be particularly proud of, and that all sets of decisions within a society get built around that, then it’s the job of the analyst. It’s the job of the therapist, it’s the job of the teacher to acknowledge and recognize a change point can occur. That one’s own subjectivity can be to not stand in that position of ignoring history. That act alone, I think is groundbreaking for many people to say, yes, that happened or I don’t know the full history on that and I want to learn more about it, but I’m not going to reject your truth because I lack that knowledge.
[00:32:17] Jasper: Thinking about healing communities through this search for truth and search for the underlying motivations, the deeper things that are behind us, I was wondering what you would view a truly healthy community as being if it would be one in which these conversations were safe to be had or safer? What we should be striving for as we use these tools to heal our communities?
[00:32:47] Monique: When you’re a kid, I don’t know if this is familiar to you from your cultural traditions, but one thing that I remember and that I know I have passed on both consciously and unconsciously, when my kids were young was about hands and not hitting another kid. Keep your hands to yourself, but it would come more in the form of hands are for loving and healing, not for hurting.
I guess the thing that comes to mind in response to your question has to do with tools being used for healing and for loving and not for harming. Making a point to access history and politics and power for healing, for reconciliation versus punishment, harm directly preventing someone from achieving as part of holding onto some sense of self, as powerful and agentic over another person versus in relationship to another person. The sharing that would need to happen, the honest revealing and potentially self-effacing.
One might be embarrassed to say the things that they thought, that they thought were based in something real or that they think may be based in something real, but they’re not sure. Is there a place where they can do that? I don’t think that every place is the place for this. The thing that we’re talking about is a radical shift, and I don’t think it pops up on street corners, but I do think that there are enough people of goodwill to want to start somewhere, who want to harm less versus harm more.
[00:34:50] Jasper: Well, I think that that might be a beautiful place for us to leave this conversation is with that idea of using our hands and our words and our presence in a space for healing, not for hurting. Thank you so much, Monique. It’s been a pleasure talking with you today.
[00:35:06] Monique: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
[00:35:19] Jasper: You can learn more about the doctorate in clinical psychology by visiting Antioch’s website, and we’ll have a specific link in the show notes. We post these show notes on our website, theseedfield.org, where you’ll also find full episode transcripts of prior episodes and more.
The Seed Field podcast is produced by Antioch University. Our editor is Lauren Instenes. A special thanks to Karen Hamilton, and Melinda Garland.
[00:35:55] Jasper: Thank you for spending your time with us today. That’s it for this episode, we hope to see you next time, and don’t forget to plant a seed, sow a cause and win a victory for humanity. From Antioch University, this has been the Seed Field Podcast.
[00:36:29] [END OF AUDIO]