Anna Freud, her Father, and Gay Conversion Therapy

by Anne Ihnen

I came across a post in the Ms. Magazine blog today, about Rebecca Coffey’s 2014 debut novel, Hysterical: Anna Freud’s Story. Based on historical accounts, it tells the story of Anna’s analysis by her father, Sigmund Freud, which included attempts to “cure” her lesbian tendencies.

According to Coffey, the analysis actually happened. At the time, Sigmund was universally acknowledged as the leading expert on sexuality, and he considered lesbianism to be a highway to mental illness that, fortunately, was curable by psychoanalysis.

This sounds like a fascinating and entertaining read – a glimpse into an early attempt to treat homosexuality as a disease (an idea that has been soundly debunked) along with an exploration of the questionable ethics of working on sexual transference with one’s own daughter.

It’s an especially timely read, too, with many US cities and states banning gay conversion therapy and a woman being chosen as the democratic party’s candidate for president.

I am definitely adding this one to my reading list!

“Therapy Wars”: Some thoughts about current psychotherapies

by Judy Koven

In Therapy Wars: the Revenge of Freud (, January 7, 2016), Oliver Burkeman details the shake-up caused by recent research challenging the assumption of the superiority of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). He cites several examples, including Norwegian research that found that the effects of CBT wore off over time, a large British National Health Service study that found an 18-month course of psychoanalysis more effective than CBT, and a Swedish media report that auditors there revealed expensive investment in a CBT methodology to be ineffective.

For the first time in years, the primacy of this modality is being questioned. Neuroscience discoveries support the idea that the brain processes and integrates information more quickly than we’re consciously aware of; this suggests that not everything can be known and measured quantitatively.

Because CBT is a quantitative approach that treats symptoms, it’s easily measurable. For example, you can keep a journal of your negative thoughts and episodes of physical symptoms of anxiety and measure your progress by looking at changes after you’ve cognitively reframed a thought or applied a behavioral technique. It’s much harder to assess changes such as an increase in one’s internal experience of self-satisfaction or healthy engagement with the world.

It would seem that fewer psychoanalysts, at least here in the western US, still practice in a classic Freudian mode. Analysis has blossomed in many directions, and the emphasis has shifted to other ways of understanding our psyches. The psychodynamic therapists I know focus on the connection between mind and body, “relational” work using the therapy relationship as a framework for exploring our experience of self and other, and the various ways our early life experiences impact our attachment styles. I don’t hear anyone talking about penis envy or such.

We live in a culture that values quick fixes, easy results, and action, and we are more comfortable doing than being. I think CBT speaks to that habit. Exploring and understanding the underpinnings of what makes us tick seems a more lasting approach to how we express our difficulties, but it’s work that can unfold slowly. That being said, I think CBT and related approaches have a real place in the healing modalities. For some people, it’s all they want or can tolerate. And what’s wrong with finding tools to manage or alleviate emotional distress? I just don’t think it’s the panacea that our medical, academic and health insurance systems seem to think it is.

Here’s what psychiatrist Jerome Frank (“Case Study”, Psychotherapy Networker November/December 2015) lists as the essentials for therapeutic success:
• Confiding relationship with a helping person
• Healing setting
• A rationale or mythology that accounts for the client’s symptoms
• Plan that both client and therapist believe can work

These ring true to me and I think argue for no one method being the magic pill. That’s why Women’s Therapy Referral Service emphasizes goodness of fit and congruence of values.

Lessons from Star Wars

The Characters of Star Wars have been with us for almost 40 years, and many of us have grown up with them. The stories in these films are woven into every aspect of popular culture.

So what can the lives of the Leia, Luke and Han teach us about ourselves? Through the lens of family therapy and intergenerational trauma, Rebecca Bloom, LMHC and Dr. Kirk Honda take a deeper look at how slavery, abandonment, and divorce impact people in the real world.


Niche Market Therapy?

A story in the February 7 New York Times Style section highlights the relatively recent phenomenon of therapists gearing their practice to a specialized, and sometimes narrow, demographic, e.g. LGBTQ clients, newly married clients, or those in the tech industry, the last especially prevalent in urban centers such as Silicon Valley and metro Seattle.

The piece concludes, though, with what we in the therapy field have long known, that the crux of successful therapy is the power of the healing relationship between therapist and client.

Daring Greatly: How The Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms The Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead

by Peggy Shafer

Don’t let the cumbersome title of Brené Brown’s latest book discourage you from reading it. The title is the only snore in a lively work that is rare in its relevance for every single one of us. We’ve all felt shame. Most of us have shuddered a bit faced with the word vulnerability, even more in imagining ourselves doing vulnerability. But vulnerability—not oversharing, not purging—is at the heart of connection. In order to experience what is most deeply human—connection—we have to work through shame by learning shame resilience and thereby the courage that allows us to feel worthy of love.

Brené Brown’s work is based on research, but her writing is anything but dry. It’s intimate and story-laden and contains the maps we need to follow in order to become more courageously connected to ourselves and to the people we love.

For a quick introduction to her work you can find two of her talks on

Interview with Dianne Grob, LMHC

by Anne Ihnen

Last month, I met with Dianne Grob, LMHC, to talk about a 12-month group she’s starting this year, “The Intimate Geography of Sexuality”. We discussed her background and how it led to her interest in human sexuality, and she shared with me the ways her mentors and teachers have inspired her.

Dianne has been interested in the topic of human sexuality since she was an undergraduate intern at the Human Sexuality Center in Boston. She belonged to a cohort of 15 students who worked under a sex educator to provide peer counseling to other students around sexual issues. Dianne’s experiences as an intern opened her eyes to a diversity of people: “It was great… the group of 15 of us was mixed racially, in gender, and in sexual orientation. It was a fantastic learning experience.” Dianne stayed with her internship for 3 years. The group became close, and Dianne is still friends with some of those people.

Toward an intimacy-based model

After getting her Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, Dianne began working as a couples therapist. She found a mentor, Michael Kelch, a psychotherapist and certified sex therapist, and from him she learned a intimacy-based developmental model for couples therapy. This model opened Dianne’s eyes to a new way of thinking about sexuality.

When Dianne was first learning about sexuality as an undergrad in the 70’s, “..everything was about orgasm. Everything: who could have the most, who could have the best.” In contrast,  in the intimacy-based model she was learning, “ … sex became about an energetic expression of loving between two people. This was the primary goal, and orgasm was the secondary goal.” 

This new paradigm dramatically changed the way Dianne worked with couples. She began to cover intimacy in all its realms: emotional, psychological, intellectual, physical, erotic, sexual, and spiritual. “Over and over, I began to hear from women, especially pre-menopausal and menopausal women and women who’d been in 20-year + relationships, that they felt ‘broken’, or that ‘something was wrong’ with them, or that they ‘didn’t like sex'”. After hearing these kinds of statements from women for several years, she came to see that “.. the whole paradigm around sexuality is trying to change… my mentor had taught me that there’s a collective shift that’s trying to happen, and it’s getting expressed through women first”.

Dianne began to tell her women clients that they weren’t alone, that many women report feeling broken, and they often responded with tears and a feeling of relief.


Four years ago, Dianne began to study with Thomas Hueblwhose teachings combine spiritual and psychological approaches. Dianne has witnessed him working one-on-one with people, and “…watching him work gave me a sense of how much more is possible in psychotherapy. His skill level, mastery, precision, and compassion are unmatched by anybody I’ve ever watched, and his influence sparked my inspiration to do this group.”

Structure and Intention for the group

Dianne feels that women need to be talking to each other about sex. “Most of the women I see in therapy with their partners aren’t talking to anybody because they have too much shame.”

Dianne’s group is for women who have done some work in therapy and who feel ready to talk about sexual issues. Group members will engage in a gradual process of getting in touch with their unique sexual identity and life energy, using movement, art, video presentations, and practices that will be taught in the group and then practiced at home. The group will meet once a month for a year, and through this process, group members will make conscious the nuanced aspects of sexuality that they may not even be aware of.

The arc of this year-long project will be from the suffering of feeling broken to a discovery of the longing that is hidden beneath it, with the understanding that each member’s suffering and longing will be unique.

Dianne is offering a one-day workshop on February 6 for women who may be interested in participating in this year-long group. For more information, click here.