Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Dr. Harry Polkinhorn | Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy

Who Am I? 

Currently I am a writer, visual artist, and psychoanalyst. Beginning in my teenage years, I have written poetry, prose, essays, and articles for over 50 years. In the late 1970s and early 1980s I co-founded Atticus Press and co-edited Atticus Review. 

Some of my books are available through Amazon. 

In the visual arts I followed studio courses in painting and color theory at the Kunstgewerbeschule der Stadt Zurich, and while living in Europe visited galleries and museums throughout the Continent. I studied with Oskar Kokoschka’s protégés in the “Schule des Sehens” at the Salzburg Summer Academy in Austria. My first solo exhibition was in a private gallery in Eglisau, Switzerland, in 1977. Later I received a Master’s in art from San Diego State University with an emphasis in printmaking. My photographs have been exhibited at the city museum of Quito, Ecuador, and published widely. Also I pursued courses in printmaking and photography at the San Diego Academy of Fine Art (1978), and the University of California at La Jolla (1978). 

In my psychoanalytic work I am a marriage and family therapist (MFC 40094) licensed in California with many years of experience in the field of psychotherapy for individuals, couples, and families. Interests in Jungian psychoanalysis and in ego structural work lead to required academic preparation for a Master's degree in counseling psychology, which entailed coursework in child abuse, family dynamics, counseling techniques, substance abuse, law and ethics, as well as in the areas of mythology, psychology, and literature. I did this work at the Pacifica Graduate Institute. 

I am a graduate of the adult analytic training program at the San Diego Psychoanalytic Center (2003-2011), an approved training institute of the American Psychoanalytic Association and the International Psychoanalytic Association. In addition, I worked for many years at San Diego State University as a professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature, where I was Director of San Diego State University Press. I hold a doctorate in English from New York University

Harry Polkinhorn 
San Diego, CA 92122 
telephone: (858) 395 4440 

Sunday, August 6, 2023

An Introduction to the Collected Writings of Ralph R. Greenson by Dr. Harry Polkinhorn

One of Harry Polkinhorn's lasting contributions to psychoanalytic letters is his decades long editorial project curating, editing, publishing Ralph R. Greenson's collected papers. Below appears his introduction to the ten volume collection -- volumes in the collection, part of the SDSU Press Psychoanalysis on the Couch book series are available here: https://sdsupress.sdsu.edu/couch.html


Harry Polkinhorn

Ralph R. Greenson

According to his son Daniel, Ralph Greenson was born on September 20, 1911, in Brooklyn, New York, and died on November 24, 1979, in Los Angeles, California. He was a twin. His father was a physician, his mother a pharmacist, so he came from a scientific background. After studying at Columbia University, and because Jews were still blocked from some American medical schools, Greenson pursued his medical training at the University of Bern between 1930 and 1934, where he met Hildi Troesch, whom he later married and with whom he had two children, Daniel and Joan. After medical school, Greenson began analytic training with Wilhelm Stekel in Vienna. Because he was not satisfied with his initial experiences, Greenson undertook further training in Los Angeles in 1938, where he had an analysis with Otto Fenichel. Greenson settled in Los Angeles and became an important member of the psychoanalytic community there, eventually achieving prominence as a scholar, lecturer, and teacher of analytic candidates and medical students. Greenson used his charisma and love of psychoanalysis to support various causes, such as the Center for Early Education, the Reiss-Davis Clinic, the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, and the Anna Freud Foundation. He also assisted with the founding of the San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Greenson served on various editorial boards of important journals in his field and was a frequent participant at national and international professional meetings. Greenson served on the Board of Professional Standards of the American Psychoanalytic Association and was President and Dean of the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, as well as Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at U.C.L.A. 

History of project

The series of publications that have come out of the Ralph R. Greenson Memorial Library at the San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute have an organic history. During the period of Alan Sugarman’s candidacy, he was chair of the library committee. At this time Emanuel M. Lippett arranged for Ralph Greeson’s widow Hildi to donate his personal library and papers to the Institute. Dr. Sugarman noticed an individually bound typescript collection of Greenson’s public lectures and realized these as yet unpublished materials would have both scholarly and popular interest among clinicians and others who valued psychoanalysis. During a dedication ceremony for the Greenson Memorial Library in September of 1985, Greenson’s widow was present, whom Dr. Sugarman asked about the possibility of publishing these lectures. She then graciously invited him to visit her in her home in Santa Monica in order to go through her late husband’s study to see if there was anything else that might be of interest. Mrs. Greenson had offered the San Diego Institute many of these materials, including tapes of the seminars in 1959 and 1960, as well as other recordings and miscellaneous documents. Other materials went to Special Collections at U.C.L.A. When Dr. Sugarman invited colleagues to participate in bringing out the materials, several enthusiastically responded, including Robert Nemiroff and Alvin Robbins, whose joint efforts were assisted by Daniel Greenson. The first two volumes resulted.

Volume 9 from the Greenson series -- click to expand.

As the editors’ explain in their introduction to The Technique and Practice of Psychoanalysis, 2, this work follows an outline of subjects Greenson himself had established for a follow-up volume to his influential The Technique and Practice of Psychoanalysis, 1, originally published in 1967. An outline and drafts of a few chapters were found among the papers in Greenson’s library. The editors of the second volume then solicited essays from colleagues covering the range of topics that Greenson had laid out, to which were added essays on related topics that the editors thought would be helpful to round out the discussion (preliminary contacts with the patient, analyzability, treatment goals, interpretation, abstinence, dream interpretation, working through, acting out, countertransference, the working alliance, termination).

Next, such of Greenson’s public lectures as had been preserved (24 in total, from 1955 to 1978) were then brought out as On Loving, Hating, and Living WellThe Public Psychoanalytic Lectures of Ralph R. Greenson, M.D., a second monograph (edited by R. Nemiroff, A. Sugarman, and A. Robbins) accompanied by an excellent biographical summary and brief section on Greenson’s scientific contributions to psychoanalysis. In the public lectures we hear Greenson at another register of discourse, somewhere between the greater informality of the seminars and the more rigorous style of the theoretical discussions. Victims of Abuse: The Emotional Impact of Child and Adult Trauma, edited by A. Sugarman (1994), was listed as Monograph 3 in the Monograph Series of the Ralph R. Greenson Memorial Library, although the contents bear no direct relationship to Greenson’s work. The next sequential volume in the Greenson series, edited by Lee Jaffe and entitled The Technique and Practice of Psychoanalysis, 3 (1994), presents seminar materials on the subject of the preliminary interviews with the patient. 

The current and subsequent volumes pick up where the third volume leaves off and follow with the rest of the seminars that roughly correspond to Greenson’s original outline of topics. Although it is clear Greenson was adhering to his outline, these fascinating discussions tend to be wide-ranging and of course appropriately clinically focused. Thus, Volume 4 starts off with a discussion of the analytic situation and is followed by seminars on analyzability, suitability for psychoanalysis, and resistance. Volume 5 presents the seminars on transference and empathy. The organization of Volume 6 follows a strictly chronological order, although Greenson allowed himself to deviate somewhat from his outline, depending on how each discussion developed. Thus, topics covered include dosage, timing, and tact although they are not thematically grouped. Volume 7 continues with rules for interpretation, interpretation from the structural point of view, acting out (one of Greenson’s liveliest set of seminars), and the all-important countertransference. In the eighth and final collection of seminars, Greenson covers working through and termination, to which I have appended his later notes (1973) on how to work with dreams as well as a clinical example of how he handled dreams, because of the connections with the preceding seminar topics. 

The final two volumes, 9 and 10, present a series of lectures, notes, and observations on related topics. First, there is a paper on the theory of instincts, followed by comments on the transition to psychoanalysis (1961). Then Greenson offers an extended continuous case from 1967, in which we see in detail how he worked with a patient, as well as his own thoughts about the process as it unfolded. The last volume illustrates Greenson’s interest in child development and the psychoanalysis and psychotherapy of children. His early (1946) outlines and notes for lectures on psychoanalytic child psychology are followed by undated thoughts on the anal phase, latency, puberty, and adolescence. These latter interests may have been central in his close friendship with Anna Freud, as well as with Hanna Fenichel, who was one of Los Angeles’s earliest child psychoanalysts and after whom the Hanna Fenichel Center for Child Development in Solana Beach, California, is named. 

Editing challenges

On discovering a cache of Greenson materials, I experienced a fascinating series of reactions. I knew these materials were valuable and would be of much interest to clinicians and historians of mid-century psychoanalysis, not to mention the wider public created by Freud’s discoveries and innovative system-making. But how was I to allow Greenson to speak for himself, given the gaps between the past and the present, the inevitable aporia caused by others along the way: poor initial recording quality, an anonymous transcriber, the massive amount of raw data, and so on? Similar factors enter into and affect the analytic process itself. Furthermore, Greenson’s engagingly personal voice practically leapt up off the time-worn typescript pages, demanding to be responded to with a full range of emotions. I was involved and no mere passive presenter of someone else’s mind, far from it. I somehow felt like I knew this man and found him profoundly human, the kind of person who cracks jokes, blows cigarette smoke all over the room, and dabs a tear of fellow feeling from the corner of his eye, all in the space of an analytic hour or a chance encounter at Schwab’s. As I got deeper into my initial reading of these engrossing seminar discussions, Greenson and his analysts in training brought me into the living texture of their interchanges with their frank challenges, openness to their patients’ most disturbing and powerful feelings and fantasies, their humor, their compassion, their human flaws and prejudices (making me extremely aware of my own), and their constantly renewed and humbling dedication to understanding another person’s soul. 

Psychoanalysis is simultaneously intimate and lonely, as many have wistfully noted in publications (ironically). In print one can talk about these feelings, but in important ways such talk must always remain a remembered account, in words, whereas to have the experience itself, you had to be there, feeling and participating in the subtleties of live expression with its rich registers of intonation, pause, rhythm, word stress, all the musical qualities of language, accompanied by expressive silences, silent weeping, shifts on the couch, the qualitative atmosphere of the time of day and season. But of course you (the third party) couldn’t be there. The door remains shut, despite incursions by insurance companies, the courts, the probation department, including, of course, the observant eye of the factually oriented research scientist. Greenson, a trained medical professional, struggled with this necessary condition of the practice of psychoanalysis; his nature was to be as direct and open as possible, but he was acutely aware of the fact that for the analytic process to take hold and grow, the vessel must remain as hermetically sealed as possible, since only when the “real world” is walled out, under the controls of the analytic scene, can the suffering heart begin to soften into its own painful interiority as inner and outer blur in the flow of free association. Freud recognized this, both in the observance and in the breach, as have a long line of thinkers on the subject since (and before; note the confidentiality of the confessional). The dilemma has been formulated as a matter of the clinical or therapeutic process of healing versus scientific or research interests, and the claims and prerogatives of each are different. Greenson straddled the divide and was comfortable with the conflicts it embodied. 

In order to do justice to both sets of demands, Greenson gave free rein to his creative instincts, and it is in this spirit of balance and compromise that I have shaped my editorial philosophy for the editing of these seminars. Given the reality that the printed page can only approximate what it purports to represent, I have allowed my understanding of Greenson’s intentions with these various documents to guide their presentation in published form. Greenson clearly conceived of a “seminar” in some way according to the original Latin (seminarium), seed plot or nursery. Greenson and his candidates move freely between theoretical and clinical levels, allowing one thought, insight, or concept to suggest the next, and so on, in an organically evolving process. 

Psychoanalysis is unique in that it is a fully human science, that is, one that foregrounds the human mind with as much of its complexity and depth as possible. Hence, Greenson himself, the grained voice of the man (he tells us he has been compared to Groucho Marx), becomes not a filter or distorting lens that obscures “the truth” of another person’s inner world but rather the medium in which that world can find itself and resume its unique, belated course. Consequently, an important goal has been to preserve the qualities of Greenson’s original expression, along with that of his candidates, captured as they have been in the typescripts. I have done the minimum to reshape the prose and left in repetitions, non-standard diction, broken syntax, the starts, pauses, changes of direction as thoughts spontaneously proliferate, since these very qualities contribute to creating the readerly equivalent of the genuine spontaneity of live speech in the setting of a training seminar or an analytic session. Furthermore, and out of a sense of scholarly ethics, I have made no attempts to sanitize either Greenson or his interlocutors, so we get to hear them speaking aloud in their own voices, regardless of whether subsequent generations might consider some opinions to be offensive or “unscientific.” After all, how will our own sacred cows be regarded in a few short years? 

In the end, Greenson’s guiding desire—as becomes clear to anyone who reads through these seminars, sessions, and lectures—is to infect us with his intellectual passion, to give us a sense of how the analytic process works. To this end he downplays theoretical considerations, although he has shown himself a master of complex theories, and always favors the clinical instance, and especially his trainees’ views thereof. Over and over he solicits their opinions, their formulations, their contributions from their own clinical practices. Over and over he makes theoretical assertions, only to find them challenged by the clinical instance, at which point he graciously backs down, unless he is convinced, when we hear him vigorously sticking to his guns. Clearly, Greenson was someone who enjoyed the conventions of pedagogical discourse, loved repartee and parry, but was not interested in merely winning arguments or destroying the opposition. The Socratic method gets modified and updated here, no doubt a direct influence of Greenson’s wide clinical experience seeping into his style of talking with his trainees, for the analyst enters into a dialectical and emotionally powerful relationship with his or her patient, but not one in which the goal is to illuminate the patient or to correct false thinking, even if such results do happen along the way. No, what Greenson was about with his trainees, and doubtless with his patients, was through their emotionally laden interactions with him to stir their curiosity in the functioning of their own and others’ minds. He warns his trainees against the blandishments of therapeutic zeal. Speculations about just how the process is mutative remain secondary in the clinical world Greenson presents here, important and fascinating, but always secondary. One feels the “alliance” Greenson is at such pains to nurture with his training candidates.

In order to remain faithful to my source documents, I have mostly left in ellipses, which indicate pauses in speech, or inaudible or unclear speech. The microphone was apparently placed closer to Greenson than to the student clinicians in the seminars, so we get less from the latter. I have provided minimal footnotes to assist the reader in identifying some relevant references by Greenson and his candidates, and the first references to figures important in the history of psychoanalysis receive slightly expanded notes with selected publications listed.


My debts are many, and it gives me pleasure to acknowledge them. First, I appreciate the care and encouragement with which the Board of Directors of SDPSI entrusted me with the Ralph R. Greenson Memorial Library. Among the Institute’s faculty who have been particularly supportive of my efforts, I especially would like to thank Alan Sugarman and Lee Jaffe, both of whom “passed the torch” of this project to my eager but then uncertain hands, as well as Bryan Bruns and Joanne Callan, past board presidents of SDPSI. Also, Michelle Spencer, SDPSI’s administrator, was most helpful in a variety of ways without which the project would have been stalled indefinitely. In addition, I have benefited from support from my academic colleagues at San Diego State University’s Department of English and Comparative Literature, as well SDSU’s College of Arts and Letters that houses it. Finally, on a more personal note I am grateful to my daughter, Cecilia, who accompanied me through a great portion of the journey down the oftentimes dark, twisted, beguiling, and lonely pathways of archival research. 


Morton Shane. (1980). “Ralph R. Greenson, M.D.: 1911-1979,” Southern California Psychiatric Society News, 27:5, 5, 10.

Ralph R. Greenson. (1967). The Technique and Practice of Psychoanalysis, 1. New York: International Universities Press.

_____. (1978). Explorations in Psychoanalysis. New York: International Universities Press.

_____.  (1992). The Technique and Practice of Psychoanalysis, 2. Ed. Alan Sugarman, et al. New York: International Universities Press.

_____. (1992). On Loving, Hating, and Living Well: The Public Psychoanalytic Lectures of Ralph R. Greenson, M.D. Ed. R. Nemiroff, et al. Monograph Series of the Ralph R. Greenson Memorial Library of the San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, Monograph 2. Madison, CT: International Universities Press. 

_____. (1994). The Technique and Practice of Psychoanalysis, 3. Ed. Lee Jaffe. Madison, CT: International Universities Press.

Sugarman, Alan.  (1994). Victims of Abuse: The Emotional Impact of Child and Adult Trauma, edited by A. Sugarman . Monograph Series of the Ralph R. Greenson Memorial Library of the San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, Monograph 3. Madison, CT: International Universities Press.