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Psychoanalysis On and Off the Couch

Jul 17, 2022

"I think every encounter with the patient is a potential re-humanizing experience, also for me as a therapist. Because when we are slowly experiencing this kind of positive emotion, especially when it comes to turning points, where the patient  realizes that it is possible to trust another human being, that is a really remarkable experience with these patients who have all reasons to not believe that it is possible to trust other people - who have been disappointed, failed and maltreated so many times. So that is a re-humanizing experience that happens between the therapist and the patient -  this is the best way to describe the process of a positive outcome of this type of psychoanalytic therapy because they have been dehumanized in so many ways and to such a degree, that for some of them it is a wonder to have normal feeling left." 


Episode Description: We begin by appreciating Sverre's work on the torture-induced impingements on intrapsychic meaning-making. We also learn about the role of community and culture in supporting renewed meaning-making - a vital aspect of rehuminazation. We consider the case of Hassan and come to understand the impact on him of the horrific abuses he suffered and what it means to the analyst who comes to hear about and 'experience' such depths of depravity. We discuss survivor guilt, mourning, and disillusionment. Sverre shares with us aspects of his own childhood that have contributed to his interest in this work. We conclude with learning about the Norwegian Psychoanalytic Society and its involvement in assisting colleagues in Ukraine.


Our Guest: Sverre Varvin, MD, Dr. Philos is a training analyst at the Norwegian Psychoanalytical Society. He is a professor emeritus at Oslo Metropolitan University. He has had several positions in IPA. Currently, he is chair of the IPA China Committee and a member of the refugee subcommittee of the Humanitarian Field committee. He has been working with traumatized refugees for more than 30 years: clinically, with research, and in the humanitarian field. He has done human rights work as chair of the Norwegian Medical Association’s committee on human rights in the Balkans (former Yugoslavia), Turkey, and China. He has tried to understand the impact of atrocities on individuals and groups and has been specially occupied with dehumanization and re-humanization.


Dr. Varvin will be a keynote speaker at the IPA Congress in Cartegena, Colombia in July 2023.


The Congress website is<>


Recommended Readings:

JOHANSEN, J. & VARVIN, S. 2019. I tell my mother that … sometimes he didn’t love us— Young adults’ experiences of childhood in refugee families: A qualitative approach. Childhood, 26, 221-235.


VARVIN, S. 2020. Gender, family, and intergenerational transmission of traumatization. Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in China, 3.


VARVIN, S. 2021. Psychoanalysis in Social and Cultural Settings: Upheavals and Resilience, New York, London, Routledge.


VARVIN, S. & LÆGREID, E. 2020. Traumatized women—organized violence. Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in China, 3.


VARVIN, S., VLADISAVLJEVIĆ, I., JOVIC, V. & SAGBAKKEN, M. 2022. “I have no capacities that can help me“. Young asylum seekers in Norway and Serbia. Flight as disturbance of developmental processes. Front. Psychol. , 12.


JOVIC, V. 2018. Working with traumatized refugees on the Balkan route. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 15, 187-201.


ROSENBAUM, B., JOVIC, V. & VARVIN, S. 2020. Understanding the refugee-traumatized persons. Semiotic and psychoanalytic perspectives. psychosocial, 43.