On April 2, 2023, the Sándor Ferenczi Center at The New School for Social Research will host its first Jeremy D. Safran Memorial Conference. The daylong gathering will be hosted on Zoom and celebrate the scholarship, teaching, and supervision of the late Jeremy D. Safran, a co-founder of the Ferenczi Center, a former NSSR Psychology professor and director of clinical training in Psychology, and an internationally renowned psychotherapist.
Following Safran’s death in 2018, the Center has honored him by hosting a yearly talk by prominent psychoanalysts, including Nancy McWilliams, Peter Fonagy, and Donnel Stern, on topics related to Safran’s work and legacy. This new conference will expand on that effort by hosting conversations on Safran’s wide-ranging research interests, including Buddhism, will, rupture and repair, Relational psychotherapy, the integration of psychotherapeutic methods, among others. The conference agenda includes panels and talks on these topics by scholars and practitioners, as well as by former colleagues and students of Safran. “We’re hoping that this conference will foster an appreciation of the impact that his work had across the span of his career,” said Jennifer Hunter, a clinical psychologist and Safran’s widow. Hunter is planning the conference together with Ali Shames-Dawson, clinical psychologist, and a former student of Safran who received her PhD from NSSR in 2021.
In 2008, Safran founded the Ferenczi Center alongside Prof. Adrienne E. Harris — prominent psychoanalyst and faculty and supervisor at New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis — and the late Prof. Lewis Aron, former Director of the NYU Postdoctoral Program and founding president of the International Association for Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy.
The Ferenczi Center preserves the cultural memory of Hungarian psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi, who spent four months during 1926 lecturing at The New School. The Center broadly supports scholarship relevant to Ferenczi’s clinical innovations and promotes his legacy of social and political progressivism. It also indexes the important historical role that Ferenczi played in instituting psychoanalysis in the United States.
The Ferenczi Center focuses on three goals:
- It sponsors lectures, conferences, and workshops relevant to Ferenczi’s legacy of clinical innovation. Many workshops are geared towards clinicians and lead by Dr. Anthony Bass.
- It promotes Ferenczi’s legacy of social and political progressivism, with events that touch on the political significance of Ferenczi’s legacy, such as a conference on émigré analysts and American psychoanalysis in 2019.
- It contributes to the ongoing vitality of psychoanalysis as a cultural, intellectual, therapeutic discipline.
However, the DNA of the Center is not only defined by the work of Ferenczi but also the vision that Safran and his co-founders had regarding the relevance of Ferenczi’s work. Miriam Steele, Marrow Professor of Psychology at NSSR and co-chair of the Center with Harris, explained, “Ferenczi came to The New School about 100 years so there’s that connection, but I think you know, it was really Adrienne, Lew, and Jeremy’s vision to see the importance of Ferenczi’s work in the Relational psychoanalytic movement, which is a thriving part of psychoanalysis today.”
Relational psychoanalysis is a school of thought that emerged in the 1980s which emphasizes the psychic role of relationships over those of the sexual and aggressive drives. Perhaps its biggest impact was in the realm of clinical technique, where it introduced the idea that, above all, the main factor in a treatment is the tenor of the relationship between analyst and analysand. The founders of the Center saw in Ferenczi’s work, especially his paper, “The Unwelcome Child and his Death-Instinct,” an important precursor to Relational thought.
In fact, the idea to start the Center came to the founders from one of the main figures in the Relational movement, Stephen A. Mitchell. “Mitchell had all these ideas, and he would tell us, the sort of new generation in the movement, ‘Why don’t you do something on Ferenczi?’ The first conference I went to on Ferenczi’s work, never having read a word of him, I sat in the auditorium and thought, ‘Oh my god, this is incredible! This is really what attachment theory is about. This is this could be our psychoanalytic grandfather,’” said Harris.
After Safran died in 2018, Aron died in 2019. Harris, the last surviving founder of the Center, says: “I feel a sadness that Jeremy and Lew didn’t get to see what this all came to be and what it grew into. Theirs were very early, unexpected deaths. It is painful to recount, and I’m sure that’s true for Jeremy’s students and the many people he mentored. It was a shock to us all.”
Yet, their work lives on as the Ferenczi Center supports a new generation of scholars. Two NSSR Clinical Psychology PhD alumni, Ali Shames-Dawson and Matthew Steinfeld, currently sit on the Center’s board. And this year, in conjunction with the conference, the Center awarded two younger professionals in psychoanalytic training with the inaugural Safran Memorial Fellowship. These fellowships include mentorship by members of the Center and support in producing works related to the fields of Safran’s inquiry. The two fellowship recipients, Nick Fehertoi and Ariel Yelen, mentored by Barry Magid and Dodi Goldman respectively, will offer short presentations on their projects at the conference. Fehertoi’s talk will focus on agency and its relationship to authenticity, in the spirit of Safran’s multidisciplinary pluralism and an eye toward bridging the gaps between psychoanalysis and neighboring fields. Yelen’s talk, entitled “Psychoanalysis of the Unspectacular,” will develop Safran’s ideas about the paradox of non-duality. The Center plans to continue to offer these fellowships in Safran’s name for years to come.
The day will conclude with a keynote by Darlene Ehrenberg, followed by a toast to Safran. “He loved to have a glass of wine,” said Hunter with a laugh.
In addition to his academic work, Prof. Safran also strongly supported making graduate study of Psychology more accessible. The Jeremy D. Safran Fellowship helps tangibly carry that legacy forward. You can learn more about and donate to the Fellowship here.