Paul H. Elovitz, Editor Clio’s Psyche

Pauline V. Staines, The Psychohistory Forum

Paul H. Elovitz, PhD, was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  He is founder and Director of the Psychohistory Forum; past president of the International Psychohistorical Association (1988-90); editor of Clio’s Psyche; a psychotherapist in private practice; and editor of Historical and Psychological Inquiry (1990) as well as the author of numerous other publications.  Elovitz originated the Immigrant Psychodynamics Project and is the co-editor of the forthcoming Forum-sponsored book, Immigrant Experiences.  After teaching at Temple, Rutgers, and Fairleigh Dickinson universities, in 1971 he became a founding faculty member at Ramapo College where he offers courses on history, leadership, psychohistory, and the Holocaust.

PS: Why did you start Clio’s Psyche in 1994?

PHE: To further develop and leave a printed record of some of the ideas we as psychohistorians usually just talk about.  I felt a need to communicate more effectively with members of the varying Psychohistory Forum research groups as well as members-at-a-distance who kept joining an organization I had initially started as a New York-centered Philadelphia-to-Hartford group.  Currently, half of our membership is outside of this region with a number living around the world.  By 1994 the Forum had enough members to support a modest publication financially and with scholarly materials.  Associate Editor Bob Lentz’s willingness to work on all aspects of Clio’s Psyche made it possible to turn an idea I had been working on since 1990, into a reality.

PS: Is it a publication just of, by, and for the Psychohistory Forum?

PHE: No!  We actively seek to have articles of psychohistorical interest from a large variety of sources, within both the academic and clinical communities.  I like to see articles by colleagues from other psychohistorical groups.  Unsolicited articles from non-members are welcomed.  However, we are not inclined to have repeat articles by people who choose not to become members or subscribers since we are totally dependent on membership dues and gifts to cover our administrative, printing and mailing costs.

PS: How did you become a psychohistorian?

PHE: Partly by accident!  In 1968 while teaching at Temple University I meet Sidney Halpern, an ancient history professor.  When we spoke of the Western Civilization course we were each teaching, I realized he had a much more profound understanding of history because he was analyzing the unconscious dynamics of historical personalities and change.  This was not something I had learned in graduate school at Rutgers where one of my instructors drove out (to Harvard) the only student who spoke openly of psychohistory.  I audited Sid’s Western Civilization and American History courses and borrowed many books from him by Edmund Bergler, Norman O. Brown, and Freud.  Today I smile at the rather simplistic nature of Bergler’s books, but they were important to my self-education in the late 1960s.  Under Halpern’s tutelage I learned to begin to think psychohistorically.  When he died in 1994, I devoted considerable time to properly commemorate him with a thoughtful obituary and a Sidney Halpern Psychohistorical Award Fund.

PS: Was Professor Halpern the only reason you became a psychohistorian?

PHE: Certainly not!  As Sid was fond of saying, there are no accidents in the unconscious.  I had many profoundly personal reasons for becoming an historian and a psychohistorian, some of which I spell out in my family history chapter in the forthcoming book, Immigrant Experiences.

PS: What special training was most helpful in your becoming a psychohistorian?

PHE: My own psychoanalysis.  It enabled me to really understand the power of the unconscious and the incredible complexity of the mechanisms of defense.  Working with patients is also incredibly helpful in the same regard.  Ten years of psychoanalytic training was an enormous help.  I started out with an academic model, thinking that the five years of weekly psychoanalytic class work would be the important part of my task.  After about three years I realized that it was the case presentation seminars and the control analyses which were next most important after my own analysis.  In case presentation I, and my fellow psychoanalytic candidates, initially thought that there was one correct answer as we struggled to interpret the case one of us presented, mostly from patients in the Low Cost Clinic.  We soon learned that our varying interpretations, based on different theoretical frameworks, case loads, and personal experiences, each shed a variety of lights on the case.

PS: Why did you start the Psychohistory Forum?

PHE: To continue the Saturday Work-in-Progress Meetings which Alice Eichholz and I had pioneered at the Institute for Psychohistory from their inception in 1974.  In 1983 the Institute dropped the Saturday workshops when it decided to switch its format to one of public education with large lectures.  So, I, together with Henry Lawton as associate director, started the Forum.

PS: What happened to Alice Eichholz and Henry Lawton?

PHE: After a few years Alice moved to Vermont to work as an adult education teacher specializing in what I call psychogenealogy.  Henry was turning his energies to writing The Psychohistorian’s Handbook and to film studies.  Henry’s face would always light up when we talked about films.  About six years ago he started a successful, New York-based psychohistorical film group of which I am a founding member.

PS: I think the readers would like to know about the Forum’s Saturday work-in-progress meetings.

PHE: These were started in 1983 and have been happening about a half-dozen times a year ever since.  Usually ten to twenty psychotherapists (of the most varied theoretical frameworks), historians, and other academics and professionals as well as a few laypeople sit around for three or more hours and discuss a short paper that has been mailed out to people on our membership list a month before.  Almost all of our time is devoted to an in-depth discussion which usually spills over into a two-hour lunch.  Papers often have a surprisingly positive effect on members-at-a-distance since they keep rejoining the Forum and sometimes send in written communications.  Just the other day I received a letter from a colleague I have never met, who lives half-a-continent away.  He said that the Forum is his “favorite think-tank.”  He has just finished a book which Yale University Press is considering for publication.  I hope he will be able to present his materials to the Forum.

PS: What about the Forum’s research groups?

PHE: We started them so that we could grow, yet continue the tradition of small group work.  One example is the Communism < The Dream that Failed Research Group.  I consider it to be a great success because a small group of talented researchers have some wonderfully productive meetings which do not require my administrative involvement.  I especially recall one presentation when I was awed by the intellectual courage of  a colleague  who was probing his own familial, intellectual, and psychological reasons for being drawn to Marxism.

On the other hand, one group we tried to start was dropped because no one came to the organizational meeting and the subject matter was perhaps too close to that of another group.  The usual problem is, how do we get people who live in disparate parts of the country together to develop a common purpose and agenda?  Some groups meet at regular sessions of the Forum devoted to their subjects and others meet at the International Psychohistorical Association (IPA) convention panels sponsored by the Forum.  I would be delighted if we could make similar arrangements with the International Society of Political Psychology (ISPP) and the Group for the Use of Psychohistory (GUPH).

PS: How can the research groups become more effective?

PHE: We need to spread the administrative leadership to more people.  Because of my disparate interests and publications, I can co-direct several groups: The Childhoods and Personalities of Presidential Candidates; Teaching Psychohistory; and War, Peace, and Conflict Resolution.  But for the groups to achieve their full potential, more people have to accept administrative responsibility as coordinators or directors.  I would like to step down from two of these groups.  Apocalypse, Cults, and Millennialism is a new group with which half of our incoming members want to affiliate and which has already done some good work, yet we still need a coordinator.

PS: What do you think will ensure the importance of psychohistory to future generations and the permanence of the Psychohistory Forum and Clio’s Psyche?

PHE: Individual people die.  Ideas survive.  Psychohistory will thrive in the future because it helps people have a better grip on their internal dynamics and societal reality.  There is need for multi-disciplinary exchanges based on depth psychology to think more profoundly and solve individual and societal changes.  On this basis the Psychohistory Forum and Clio’s Psychewill live on long after the deaths of Paul Elovitz and many others who have made it possible.

I am a strong believer in applied psychohistory.  Robert Jay Lifton with the Center on Violence and Human Survival and Vamik Volkan with the Center for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction have led the way in showing the practical basis of psychohistorical knowledge in dealing with concrete contemporary issues of war and peace.  When we help society with its problems it will pay more attention to our ideas.

Founding organizations and publications such as the Forum and Clio’s Psyche is rather like becoming a parent.  You always mention your children — especially in your will.  You do all you can within your power to help create an environment of permanence.  Other people who have a powerful emotional stake in what we are doing may respond similarly, but money is never enough.  One needs valuable ideas and living, breathing people to provide the next generation of leadership.  Consequently, I encourage my students, younger colleagues, and most people who come to our organization to step into the shoes of leadership.

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