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When the Container Fails: Is Psychoanalytic Witnessing a Professional Obligation or a Moral Imperative? Presented by: Ghislaine Boulanger, Ph.D.

  • 03/12/2022
  • 9:00 AM - 12:30 PM


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PRESENTER:  Ghislaine Boulanger, Ph.D.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

9:00 AM - 12:30 PM

(Continental Breakfast & Registration begins at 8:35 AM)

LOCATION: In-Person & Virtual ZOOM

Embassy Suites by Hilton in Boca Raton

61 NW 53rd St, Boca Raton, FL 33487



This presentation begins with the account of an interview with a young woman who was seeking asylum in the United States; the interview was undertaken at the request of a human rights organization. Against the background of the asylee’s painful story, Ghislaine Boulanger explores what it means to be a psychoanalytic witness. Is psychoanalytic witnessing a professional obligation or a moral imperative? Who is the witness? The person giving the account or the person listening? What are the psychological consequences for each of them? She argues that, as clinicians, we must distinguish between witnessing and recognition. Further, she suggests that the costs of being a witness are considerable and must be taken into account in undertaking this work.

This case offers us an example of massive psychic trauma, or Adult Onset Trauma as Dr. Boulanger describes it in her book, Wounded by Reality: Understanding and Treating Adult Onset Trauma. In the second part of her presentation, Dr. Boulanger will briefly review her theory of Adult Onset Trauma and address a number of questions and concerns that have been raised in connection with those ideas since then publication of her book.

Finally, we shall speculate about the increasing popularity of the term trauma in our everyday clinical work. Using examples from the audience and from Dr. Boulanger’s practice, we shall attempt to understand what cultural and/or psychological factors may have led to this startling increase in the use of the word and whether we should be more discriminating in our choice of words. As the concept of trauma is diluted in this way, does it present new problems for our clinical work? So much psychodynamic work takes place in the quotidian, yet it has become too easy to fall into the trap of believing that trauma renders the quotidian insignificant. When this happens, are we psychodynamic clinicians dismissing so much that is crucial about our work, or does the advantage of being able to treat massive psychic trauma, something that Freud said should not be attempted, outweigh this concern?


Ghislaine Boulanger, Ph.D. is a psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice in New York City, a member of the Relational faculty at New York University's Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, and invited faculty in Adelphi University’s specialization in Trauma. She is on the editorial board of the Division/Review and the International Journal for Applied Psychoanalysis. Topics of particular interest to her include working psychodynamically with immigrants, psychoanalytic politics, and massive psychic trauma. Since the publication of Wounded by Reality: Understanding and Treating Adult Onset Trauma, Dr. Boulanger has taught and published extensively on the psychodynamic dilemmas facing adults who have survived violent and life threatening events, and the clinicians who work with them.

Learning Objectives:

1. The participants will be able to distinguish between witnessing as a professional obligation and witnessing as a moral imperative.

2. The participants will identify ways to acknowledge and work with their own vicarious trauma.

3. The participants will be able to distinguish between adult onset trauma and childhood trauma.




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 This program, when attended in its entirety, is offered for 3 CE credits. 

SEFAPP is an approved continuing education provider by the Agency for Health Care Administration of the Florida Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy and Mental Health Counseling (BAP #587, expires March 31, 2023). Division 39 is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists.  Division 39 maintains responsibility for this program and its content. Division 39 is committed to accessibility and non-discrimination in its continuing education activities.  SEFAPP and Division 39 are committed to conducting all activities in conformity with the American Psychological  Association's Ethical Principles for Psychologists. Participants are asked to be aware of the need for privacy and confidentiality throughout the program. If participants have special needs, we will attempt to accommodate them. Please address questions, concerns and any complaints to SEFAPP Administrator at (954) 597-0820.


Please read the confidentiality statement below:

Ensuring the confidentiality of all clinical material presented at our meetings is of the utmost importance to SEFAPP. Attendance is contingent on an agreement to adhere to the following guidelines: Clinical material must not be discussed outside of the session in which it is presented and furthermore must not be recorded, conveyed, or disseminated in written or electronic form. Participants must agree to maintain a secure environment to be utilized solely by the registered participant and protected from intrusion by, or exposure to, unauthorized persons. Presenters of case material must have either obtained informed consent from the patient (or guardian) or taken other carefully considered measures to safeguard confidentiality. If at any time a participant suspects he or she may recognize the identity of a patient in a case presentation, the participant must leave the session immediately. Failure to observe these guidelines constitutes a breach of APA’s ethical principles and may be cause for disciplinary and/or legal action. In order to register, you must acknowledge and agree to the terms described above.


In order to receive CE credits for this conference, participants must attend the event in full. Due to potential unforeseen technical issues that may arise, registration will open 15 minutes prior to the start of the event and we encourage you to connect in advance to avoid tardiness. Please verify that your name appears in your Zoom window as you would like it to appear on your certificate of attendance. To receive CE credits, you must arrive no later than 10 minutes of the start time and must stay until the end of the event when a moderator will take a final tally of complete attendance. Please note that it is not possible to award partial credit to any APA sanctioned CE event.  In order to register, you must acknowledge and agree to the terms described above.


Masks must be worn for the entirety of the presentation. Additionally, attendees must present either proof of being fully vaccinated defined as having two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine at least 14 days before the conference. Alternately, attendees can present documentation of a negative Covid-19 PCR test conducted within 72 hours prior to the conference, or a negative Covid-19 antigen test conducted within 24 hours of the conference.

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