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Psychoanalysis Minor Looks Within, Grows Externally

By Laurie Laker ’12

Did you know that CC’s minor in psychoanalysis is nationally recognized as a flagship program in psychoanalysis at the undergraduate level? Featured in several national publications and the recipient of a highly selective foundation grant, the minor serves as a model for other university programs across the country. Such is its success that its leaders, Classics Professor Marcia Dobson and Philosophy Professor John Riker, were elected as co-chairs of the American Psychoanalytic Association’s Committee on Psychoanalysis and Undergraduate Education.

Dobson and Riker, with the help of Philosophy Professor Jonathan Lee, founded the minor in psychoanalysis, called Theories of the Unconscious, in 2000, and have been at the helm since its beginnings. One of its first classes, Dobson’s Discovering the Unconscious: Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, had a 60-student waitlist. “The hunger for this subject matter was there from the beginning,” Dobson says.

Incorporating other classes across CC’s liberal arts curriculum into the fold, Dobson describes the minor as “a real liberal arts entity.” The program has established itself as one of the most pioneering — one of only three or so organized programs offered in the entire country.

“In 2015-16,” Riker explains, “there was a real shot in the arm when a $10,000 a year grant for three years was received from the O’Donaghue Foundation. We were one of only five colleges or universities to receive the grant, and it was withdrawn from two of the colleges for their failure to develop adequate programs for using the money.”

CC has used the grant both to create a psychoanalytic salon, a regular gathering of students and experts, which meets each block at Dobson’s and Riker’s home, (the two professors are married) as well as to bring to campus some of the most famous psychoanalysts in the country to speak to classes and give highly popular all-campus addresses. Several of the all-campus lectures have had audiences of over 100 people, with the average being 70. They have been attended not only by students but also by therapists up and down Colorado’s Front Range, furthering goodwill between CC and the wider community. “Over the years, students have commented that one or another of the lectures changed their life course and deeply affected how they see the world,” adds Dobson.

“We have had everyone from prominent Jungians to Freudians to philosophers and contemporary psychoanalytic clinicians come to speak. It represents a really strong spectrum of fields and professions, and continues to do so. Crucially, everything had to involve the students, from day one. We made sure to have a psychoanalytic salon right from the start,” Dobson explains.

The minor, though small, remains significant for its output of graduates who go on to further clinical study. Between three to five students are involved in the minor each year, and of that pool an average of two per year will go on to practice clinical work. This prolific study-to-career ratio is due, in part, to the courses that students have access to during their time in the program. Chief among these is the Summer Session class, which takes place at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis and has been taught there for 11 years.

“During the summer, students collaborate with 12-15 professional clinical psychologists, read and examine cases, and work together, and learn how to engage in that world and with clients,” says Riker. “Of all the courses we teach, this one has by far the most compelling effect on students.”

The course has been recognized as unique not only in the United States but also internationally — no other college or university has an undergraduate course taught at a psychoanalytic institute. The uniqueness of the course has been profiled in the newsletter of the Chicago Institute and in the publications of the American Psychoanalytic Association.

The immersive nature of the Block Plan is what makes this class as special as it is. “It’s so in-depth, not just in the curriculum, but beyond the classroom as well,” Riker explains. “The students are living together during the class, so they’re also carrying the course material far beyond the classroom and into their personal discussions and friendships.”

Outside the classroom, the group immerses itself into the local Chicago culture, seeing plays and musical performances that have psychoanalytic content. This past summer the class went to see “Harvey,” a 1944 drama about a man whose best friend is an imaginary six-foot tall rabbit, as well as a dramatic production of “Moby-Dick.” They’re also regulars at the Art Institute of Chicago, where they learn how to interpret the latent meanings and impacts within the great works displayed there.

Dobson and Riker remain as involved with the program at CC, and indeed the development of similar programs nationwide, as ever. In their work as the chairs of the Committee on Undergraduate Education — a committee that includes professors from Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Brandeis University, and Boston College — they gather information on psychoanalysis programs across the country. Among the many projects in the works is a website that other scholars and clinicians around the world can use to foster psychoanalytic education. In their research, they have discovered that CC ranks very highly.

“We surveyed the programs nationally, and we’re top of the class!” Riker adds with a proud smile. “We’ve also been asked by the Psychoanalytic Inquiry journal to produce an entire issue on psychoanalysis here at CC, which is a great honor and we’re excited about that.”

Dobson and Riker are intent and eager to ensure the future of the program.

“We’re hoping to secure funds to support a professorship in psychoanalysis before we both retire,” Dobson says, “and we’ve been working hard to bring younger faculty into the program as well, including Scott Krzych of Film and Media Studies, William Davis from Comparative Literature, and Rick Furtak of Philosophy.”

Colorado College is an innovator and respected leader in undergraduate education and the minor in psychoanalysis at CC is one of the ways in which the college truly stands out.