Reflections On A Challenging Career: Thanksgiving, 2017

As a young man, I was quite creative and chose Pratt Institute, School of Art and Design, for my undergraduate training. While there I was exposed to the field of psychology and returned to Pratt for my Masters in Art Therapy and Creativity Development. There I met Dr. Arthur Robbins who inspired me to continue my further training. I was looking for in-depth clinical training but, after sitting in on classes at two PhD programs in Clinical Psychology, I became convinced that the best preparation for private practice would be through a free standing, non-academic, psychoanalytic training institute. These Institutes required trainees to undergo their own personal analysis as part of their training. I believed this to be an essential step in preparation for private practice, which is what I wanted to train for. PhD training back then was about 4 years of academic work with some supervised clinical experience, and could not require students to undergo their own personal analysis as part of their training. I found this to be a serious deficiency. In classes that I observed, I found an atmosphere that was less introspective and more didactic. Psychoanalytic training, on the other hand, required 8 years of intensive coursework, personal analysis, clinical work with extensive supervision and 2 control analyses. These were intensive clinical experiences where the student would see one patient 3 times per week, for 50 weeks, and meet with a control analyst once a week to literally go over transcripts of each session. These control analyses had to be conducted consecutively, not concurrently, thus requiring a long period of training. However, after making my decision I discovered, at that time in the early 70’s, that finding an institute that would accept me with only a Masters in Art Therapy was another challenge. At that time, The Institute for Expressive Analysis did not exist. It was later founded by Dr. Arthur Robbins in the mid-70,s and would have been an excellent fit for me with my background in creative modalities, as it also promoted the use of expressive modalities within the psychoanalytic frame. So I needed to look elsewhere for my analytic training.

A bit of history: When psychoanalysis came to the USA in the late 1940’s, Theodor Reik, who was a psychologist and psychoanalyst trained by Freud, arrived in the USA and was met by opposition from the psychiatric medical establishment that wanted to create a monopoly on the practice of psychoanalysis in the US. Freud then decided to support Reik by writing his famous paper ‘On the Question of Lay Analysis’. There, he proposed that the best educational background for psychoanalysts was not the medical model of training, but rather a diverse background in creative fields. This opened the way for Reik to pioneer psychoanalysis in the US by founding the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis, which embraced Freud’s position and openly accepted people into training from non-medical fields. That was where I chose to do my 8 years of post-graduate training; back then, the equivalent of 2 doctoral degrees!

Unfortunately, while the training at The National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis, prepared me for clinical work, it was not an academic institution, and therefore did not lead to an academic degree. 

Fortunately, when an opportunity became available to join the graduate art therapy faculty at The College of New Rochelle in 1980, I was able to become a faculty member, on a tenured track with what was then, the terminal degree in the field of art therapy, the Master’s degree. This had placed me, over the years, in a unique position as I know of no one else who is a fully tenured professor, on the college graduate level, without a formal PhD!

Now, after over 40+ years of experience teaching and working clinically with private clients, I look back at my career, where I have made significant professional contributions to the fields of creative art therapy and psychoanalysis. I have published over 22 articles, 2 book chapters, 10+ book and video reviews and have had an opportunity to spend these years exploring creative ways to integrate expressive forms of communication within the psychoanalytic process. My experience teaching graduate students, has presented an opportunity to become a pioneer in the field of Phototherapy; the therapeutic uses of photography; as well as develop new ways to creatively explore dreams and a variety of other expressive modalities including stone carving, to access and explore unconscious material. Over these years, I have also made numerous professional presentations, both nationally and internationally, as a psychoanalyst, art therapist, fine art photographer and sculptor.

When Art Robbins decided to leave The Institute for Expressive Analysis, he asked me to take over as Director, which I did from 1995- 1997, and then again, 20 years later as President, where I remain today in that position. I have also been active professionally over these many years, having served as past president The New York Art Therapy Association, and I have served on the faculty of Pratt Institute, The National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis and The Institute for Expressive Analysis.

Finally, as of today, I am proud to be able to say that I have received professional recognition of my work by being awarded a clinical doctorate degree in Psychoanalytic Studies. This degree has been offered through the Parkmore Institute, in Capetown, South Africa. This unique degree program focuses on helping psychoanalysts to further develop and promote their clinical and academic work. It awards the degree, Doctorate of Psychoanalytic Studies for psychoanalysts who, like me, initially chose intensive clinical training through free standing, non-academic, psychoanalytic training institutes that did not lead to the awarding of any formal academic degree.

I am pleased to be the first person awarded this unique degree and I am proud to become a Fellow at Parkmore and become active in their effort to recognize those clinicians who had chosen this route of high quality in-depth training for clinical practice, and have been until now, unable to gain this type of recognition for their work. I strongly encourage other highly trained psychoanalysts in similar situations, to explore the Parkmore Institute as a possible way to gain the professional recognition that they deserve.

Dr. Robert Irwin Wolf

Doctor of Psychoanalytic Studies

Fellow, The Parkmore Institute

President, The Institute for Expressive Analysis

Professor, Graduate Art Therapy, The College of New Rochelle