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Psychoanalysis On and Off the Couch

Oct 31, 2021

"I decided I would try to understand things psychologically because it seemed to me that the current wisdom that people were acting as rational actors operating in their own best interests didn’t actually fit the facts. Many people and communities were doing things that were harmful to themselves.  I thought, ‘Well, one profession that spends a lot of its time exploring why individuals and indeed communities do things that harm themselves rather than operating in their best interest is psychiatry and indeed psychoanalysis’. So I went into medicine and qualified in medicine and then in psychiatry and later I went into analysis and tried to explore individual psychoanalytic work, but also group analysis, family therapy - any of the approaches that seemed to me would deepen our understanding."  


Episode Description: John begins by describing the early family influences on his interest in hearing others’ points of view. He developed this orientation and eventually trained as a psychiatrist and then received training in psychoanalysis which he has brought to the many negotiations in which he has participated. He learned to appreciate the centrality of relationship building in his political work. We discuss the fundamentals of analytic listening as it applies in the political arena which includes the expectation that disruptions inevitably characterize the back and forth of these tense collaborations. He describes his ongoing work in monthly IPA-affiliated meetings that are devoted to considering how a psychoanalytic perspective may ease struggles in the international arena. We close with his explaining the meaning of his title of Lord. 


Our Guest: John, Lord Alderdice FRCPsych is a psychiatrist who served as leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland for eleven years. Dr. Alderdice played a significant role in negotiating the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. He then stood down as Party Leader and became the first Speaker of the new Northern Ireland Assembly. As the first Assembly mandate was ending, he was appointed by the British and Irish Governments to be one of four international commissioners appointed to monitor security normalization and close down the illegal paramilitary activities in Ireland. He had been appointed in 1996 to the House of Lords where he chaired the Liberal Democrat caucus during the Liberal/Conservative Coalition Government in the United Kingdom. He was also for many years a psychoanalytical psychiatrist in Belfast where he established the Centre for Psychotherapy and a range of analytically informed trainings. Now retired from clinical work he is a Senior Research Fellow at Harris Manchester College, at the University of Oxford, and is the Director of the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict. 


Recommended Readings: 

Alderdice, John, Lord (2010) Off the couch and round the conference table, Chap 1, 15 – 32, in Off the Couch – Contemporary Psychoanalytic Applications, ed Alessandra Lemma and Matthew Patrick, Routledge, London, and New York ISBN: 978-0-415-47615-7 


Alderdice, John, Lord, (2017) Fundamentalism, Radicalization and Terrorism Part I: Terrorism as Dissolution in a Complex System, Psychoanal. Psychotherapy  


Alderdice, John, Lord, (2017) Fundamentalism, Radicalization and Terrorism Part II: Fundamentalism, Regression and Repair, Psychoanal. Psychotherapy, 


Alderdice, John, Lord (2021) On the Psychology of Religious Fundamentalism, Chap 11, 193 - 212, in A Deeper Cut – Further Explorations of the Unconscious in Social and Political Life, ed. David Morgan, Phoenix Publishing House, Bicester, UK ISBN-13: 978-1-912691-19-7 


Alderdice, John, Lord (2021) Conflict, Complexity, and Cooperation, New England Journal of Public Policy: Vol. 33: Iss. 1, Article 9.