Understanding Primitive Mental States, New York

Arial photo of New York
New York City

Since 2009, Susan Finklestein, LCSW, PC, a psychoanalyst in New York, has been running a seminar for senior psychoanalysts focused on the study of Kleinian theory and clinical practice.

Understanding Primitive Mental States (UPMS) takes place in New York City and studies British object relations with an emphasis on Sigmund Freud, Melanie Klein, Wilfred Bion and contemporary London Kleinians. It meets over two sessions about once a month during the academic year.

Speakers and group members

The group invites analysts, mostly Kleinian but also some Independent, from London to lead clinical seminars and, sometimes, to give a paper to a larger group of analysts. A number of analysts from London teach for a weekend every year: John Steiner, Irma Brenman Pick, David Bell, Chris Mawson and myself among them. The members of the group pay speakers’ fares and for giving the clinical seminars. Any lectures or large group seminars are paid separately.

UPMS also sponsors annual conferences in New York that are open to the psychoanalytic community. These conferences include scholars from London on topics related to emotional thinking and experience. Scholars include David Bell, Irma Brenman Pick, Catalina Bronstein, Sira Dermen, Nasir Ilahi, Gigliola Fornari Spoto, John Steiner, Heinz Weiss and myself.

Study group members include: Susan Finkelstein, Director, Leslie Bornstein, Audrey Brockner, Ana Dybner Nancy Cromer-Grayson, Mary Edlow, Dvora Efrat, Debra Gill, Lynne Herbst, Eva Kantor, Janet Madigan, Judy Marcus, Marie Murphy, Donna Roth Smith, Ann Rudovsky, Marilyn Sande, Jacqueline Schachter, Gilda Sherwin and Betsy Spanbock.

Areas of study

UPMS members study the organisation of the mind, emphasising the primitive anxieties found in us all from birth onward, and how to assist analysts working with all persons suffering from these disturbing affective states. Transformation occurs in the shift from concrete thinking to symbolisation, the capacity to bear separateness and loss, lessening of the punitive superego, and containment of massive anxieties, which contribute to the internalisation of healthier object relations and identifications.

The work we do with these analysts is interesting and productive; they are a stimulating group to work with. It is a measure of Susan’s sensitivity as well as her outstanding organisational skills that the group continues to be so successful.

Priscilla Roth