As I thought about my journey as a psychoanalyst, musical performer and writer, so many things came to mind that it felt quite overwhelming to condense this into such a small space. After all so much that is central to my life is entwined despite containing very differently defined aspects of myself and the roles that I play. For some, many of these things may come more easily but for me it has been a lifelong struggle to allow myself to travel this journey because of my upbringing and experience. However, I have been very fortunate that an indispensible part of this landscape has been the unconditional support of my husband and life partner who has for 34 years supported and challenged me to improve as a writer, singer and performer and always strive for advanced training and excellence in any of my endeavors. Without his support and sacrifice, I would never have gone to social work school or completed psychoanalytic training, nor complete two books of poetry (Angry June Moon Says Hello and The Bridge of Love) or performed three solo cabaret shows (You've Got a Friend in Me, I Love to See You Smile, and The Rainbow Connection) that he produced and wrote! Miguel has always supported my vision and helped me work to make them happen. So you see, he has also been an indispensable part of my journey. Of course, it is vital to understand that much of this has also been due to my dream to sing and play guitar since I was very young. This brings me to a central part of all of this and that is the importance of having a sense of urgency and drive to make these dreams come true. This has motivated me to be these things along with how I view them from an analytic and creative perspective and the functions that they have played in my life and in the lives of others.
As I said before, this has not always been easy or smooth sailing. It has largely been trial and error, success and flight from success that has marked my journey along the way: much of it due to traumatic fear, fear of failure, guilt and lack of confidence. Suffice it to say that I had my singing debut when I was 11 years old at a junior high school assembly where I was so scared that I lost my voice until I finally forced myself to go out on stage to sing. That was a success but there were times that I would get on stage and completely bomb and felt so ashamed. Later I took up the guitar at 13 and would sing church, folk and protest music. It was in High School that I discovered that I could write poetry and began writing everything that came into my head; much of it overblown abstractions and pretensions. Quite frankly, expressing my feelings was not very easy for me to do since I was very afraid of my deepest feelings, particularly my sexual identity. It was much easier to be a religious pacifist, afraid, guilt-ridden and confused by my sexuality. In a real sense music became my refuge from all this but I always kept it at a self-conscious distance. Of course this all eventually changed after my being gay had been viciously exposed and mocked in an anonymous letter to my father in 1975 written by a musical colleague and "friend." All of this occurred when I was in my first gay relationship. But with the confrontation of my father over its truth and the rejection by many of my friends, I ended the affair and withdrew into myself while I tried to heal in therapy. Prior to my being outed, I had been on television several times in a folk group, played in various rock bands (often quitting in guilt and confusion) and writing many songs. However, my final coming out did not really occur until I entered another serious relationship in 1976 and later became part of a gay Franciscan community called the St Matthew Community in 1977. Later in 1979 I entered a mainstream Roman Catholic Franciscan order where I stayed until I finally left religious life in 1983. By then I had become quite the church musician but of course I wanted to broaden my musical horizons and I wanted to find someone that I could share my life with out of the closet.
Being the analyst and person I am, a large part of my journey has been trying to make sense of these things, my drive to create and perform and the creative process itself. This has led me to see these things through Winnicott’s lens of the True Self, to be who I really am with in-depth understanding of how my entire life has been leading me to be these things since I was a young child (I am 66 years old now). As one can see this journey has been a very important part of my analysis for many years. It has been in great part through analysis that I was able to better consolidate these different aspects of myself and allow myself not to box myself in by other’s nor my own limiting expectations. Thus, I was able to have a clearer sense of what the creative process really means for me, not just as a therapist and social worker but as a poet and musician. This allowed me to enter more deeply into these various acts of creation, giving private and public witness through the use of self and the discerning and expressing the story of my object world and the object world of others.
This is what I believe I do as an analyst, performer and singer and instrumentalist and as a poet, whether it is the creative act of helping a patient transform their unconscious life into insight and change or as an artist who gives voice to the inner word that wants to express itself in song, or poetry. I have always had a deep yearning to tell my story especially in poetry and song. This yearning longs to be spoken about and shared, it longs to be written about and told. It longs to be sung and improvised and composed about! To me it is all about transforming my life and the lives of others. In other words it is about resurrection and reparation of the self and others!
By the time I was 39 years old, I had consciously begun to also yearn to hear others’ stories and learn how to help them as a therapist (as I had been helped). It is why I adore being an analyst and supervisor: helping others find their paths towards helping others as we put into words the patient’s journey which so often can feel so ineffable, confusing or empty. This is the transforming power that words can give. For words can give a sense of control and allow the ego to begin to make sense of the unconscious powers of the Id and Superego thus increasing one’s sense of control, autonomy and harnessing the power of dreams! My journey as an analyst and artist has taught me to be attentive to a vision fueled by the power of my dreams. Staying close to our dreams keeps us connected to our deepest selves. For as Freud said, "Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious." and as Oscar Wilde in The Critic as Artist stated, “Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” In my world this is the dawn of self-realization and expression.
Kevin Burke is currently working on a new cabaret show: Dreaming Away and on a book of poetry entitled, Xuleca Lounge: Songs of Creation and Experience. He is a senior supervisor and faculty member of the Training Institute for Mental Health and has a private practice in NYC. Kevin is also a manager and supervisor for New York City's Administration for Children's Services.
With the exception of one other, 2017 was the hardest year of my life. In January my uncle, with whom I was the closest of any member of my family, died. Five weeks later my father also died. With their deaths, seismic shifts occurred in my family of both an emotional and financial nature. My mourning process has been protracted due to numerous loose ends, not the least of which is a contested will that has at times threatened to fracture my remaining family. The year 2017 felt like it delivered one blow after another.
The past year’s events have reawakened some of the emotional upheaval that I experienced as a child. In my family of origin, I was not able to provide nor receive what I needed emotionally. Like many therapists, I entered the mental health field in search of a corrective experience. For me, this has not only been my work with patients, but also with colleagues. We all hunger for a community in which we feel we belong and can be ourselves, and I have found this at TI.
After I graduated from TI’s psychoanalytic training program, I set off in private practice. After several years, I realized that this experience was too solitary and I became more involved with TI. Acting as first the Assistant Clinical Director, and then the Clinical Director, collaborating with colleagues and supervising students provided me with a collegial and supportive environment that private practice alone could not.
Since I first set foot on TI’s premises in 2001, the TI community has become my surrogate family. During these years I have settled into a community where I felt at home with my colleagues and myself. In Winnicottian terms, I am able to show my “true self”.
During the past months, there were days when I was felled by the enormity of my grief and unable to function. I would attempt to push myself only to be encouraged by colleagues to be authentic and vulnerable. I was reminded time and time again that they, and the community, could tolerate my grief. They assured me that no matter what needed to be done someone would step in to help.
The support I received from my fellow directors and from TI’s students has been profound. During my absences to attend to family matters, I was never made to feel guilty, only missed. On the days, of which there were many, when I pushed myself to come to work, I was rewarded with genuine feelings of caring and concern. All this has reaffirmed my belief in TI as an extraordinary community, one that I am exceedingly grateful to be a member.
Christine Grounds has a private practice in psychodynamic psychotherapy and is the Director of Clinical services at The Training Institute for Mental Health, a position she has held since 2009. She graduated from TI’s 2 year program in supervisory practice in 2005, and the 4-year program in psychoanalysis in 2006. Prior to entering social work school, she was an Assistant Vice President at the auction house Christie’s, where she worked since graduating college.
Why do seniors commit suicide? That was the topic of a recent workshop I attended. They don’t attempt it more often, but their “completion rate” is much higher. “Completion” being the brave new world term for ‘success’ in suicide. Adolescents attempt 50 times/death, seniors 7 times/death. The senior statistics break down to 3/1 for men who tend to use guns or hanging and about 10/1 for women who tend to use pills.
Which brings me to the subject of retirement.
It will come as a surprise to no one, (though it was a little bit to me), that I got depressed after my retirement last summer. Nothing major, but a noticeable loss of interest in those activities that I had hoped to pursue after retirement. It lasted about three months and the ideas that accompanied it were the familiar litany of older people. A tiredness that my doctor assured me was the ‘most common complaint’ of people past seventy-five (he’s 82), and for the first time acknowledging the reality that it was downhill from here. This realization was hastened by the death or severe illness of a number of friends and neighbors. People who were energetic and quick-witted when I first knew them, but who became frail, and vulnerable before my eyes. At some point life changes from looking forward to, to hanging on as best one can. Hope for the future becomes a quiet dread of the future.
When I began my private practice, my whole life lay before me. Libby and I had our first child the following year (he’s 51 now). But it was not only the sense of looming losses, it was the losses I was already experiencing that influenced my decision. That and pride. I did not want to be forced to retire by a sudden illness in my wife or myself and I certainly did not want to die with an active caseload – I’ve been through that with older colleagues a number of times and it is very difficult for everyone involved. I also did not want to be someone who has ‘stayed past his time’. In short, I wanted to stop before my patients were taking care of me. (An all too common occurrence in our field.)
I didn’t want to ever retire, but more importantly, I wanted to leave when I was still more or less intact.
Howard Kogan is a psychotherapist and a former Executive Director of the Training Institute for Mental Health as well as one of its Trustees. He is also a published author and accomplished poet. He and his wife, Libby, live in the Taconic Mountains in rural Upstate New York. His poems have appeared in numerous magazines, poetry journals and collections. Of A Chill in the Air, his third collection, Howard says, "readers familiar with my earlier publications will see some of the same themes continued: family and friends, the so-called real and imaginary world I inhabit, and increasingly as I age, poems about aging and death. I wrote these poems for you, to engage and seduce you, to draw you close so I would feel less alone."
As I drove to the retirement party of a former NYPD colleague, I removed my tie and threw it on the seat next to me. I figured I'd be overdressed as I usually am at work occasions nowadays. When I parked and got out of the car, I changed my mind; not wearing a tie to an event just didn't feel right. As I fastened it back around my neck, I felt anxious about going into the affair. All sorts of thoughts ran through my mind, "Who would I see? It's been years since my own retirement from the job; I must look older; what if people don't remember me?"
When I walked into the busy catering hall, I was immediately greeted by a cop I used to work with, "Sarge! What's up? Great to see you!" I remembered his smile from years ago and after a bear hug and a few back slaps, he walked me into the big dining room. After some handshakes and a few laughs about my new beard, I settled into the room and noticed that every single man in the room was wearing a suit and tie; my instincts from my former life had served me well!
A hush came over the dining room as a man stepped to the microphone and welcomed everyone. He introduced the NYPD Ceremonial Unit in their impeccable dress uniforms, displaying the colors and proudly standing tall. Our National Anthem was sung as all the people in the room of different races, genders and nationalities put their hands on their chests. When the uniformed singer was finishing his honored task, the room erupted in applause. I got goose bumps. I was in the right place.
Then there was the benediction, with a reverend leading a prayer for the safety of the men and women of the NYPD and those serving in the military. All the people in the room of different faiths and beliefs bowed their heads, creating a shared sense of stillness and peace. I felt a great sense of pride standing with them. I had forgotten what it was like to stand with this group of people, united by a vocation, a way of life, with a purpose higher and more important than our personal differences. I realized at this event that I really missed that. I also came to understand why I felt a sense of loss after I retired. I couldn’t quite find a reason for it then, but it felt like a loss. I was happy and grateful to retire and move forward, but somehow something was missing.
Since I retired from the Department, I have become a clinical social worker and I see patients in a private practice. It took years of school, but it was worth all the work. When I began my new career, I appreciated my colleagues who were intelligent, compassionate people, but somehow I felt different, like I just didn’t quite fit in. I didn’t have to wear a uniform, show up at 0600 hours for work, or wait for my “RDOs” to get anything in my personal life done; my schedule was my own. It sounds like a dream, and it was great, but I missed the structure and regimented way of life that I was accustomed to as a member of the service.
The retirement party that I attended that night, and my indecisiveness about wearing the tie, made me realize something important as well. The feeling that I had when I retired that “something was missing,” was actually my own doing. I had been trying to deny who I was. I knew for years that I wanted to be a psychotherapist and specialize in trauma treatment; I knew where I wanted to go. But when I achieved that goal, I had forgotten where I came from, and for years, even tried to keep the fact that I was a retired sergeant separate from my new life. That was a mistake. I am proud to be a former member of the NYPD, and I don’t hide that fact; however, as I realized, wearing the tie is okay. It means that I can keep some of my old ways that are comfortable and make them new. The best part is that I can keep what I want from my experience on the job, and now as a civilian I can let go of what I don’t want to keep.
I understand that my anxiousness and indecision at the beginning moments of that retirement party was a symbol of what I had been going through since retirement – not knowing how to embrace the past while moving confidently forward towards the future. That was holding me back – the identity crisis of yesterday versus today; and I think this happens to other members of the service upon retirement. The important thing for me, as for all of us, is to have a goal for retirement; however, we should also acknowledge the hard work it took for us to reach that milestone of retirement from the police department. Remember what you have accomplished, and acknowledge it with pride. There is a reason they call it “The Job,” because it’s unique to any other profession. There are not many people who have that distinction. We should take pride and build upon that unique foundation a new independence and greater sense of individuality after retirement. You earned that distinction over your many years of service. Wear it with honor and let it drive you forward in all your future endeavors.
These are some ways to help with the retirement transition:
- Set goals: You can still keep a regiment by setting goals for yourself. They could be daily, weekly or long-term; but what’s important, is to take aim and focus your energy and ambition on specific goals!
- Take care of yourself: You gave so much for others; now take care of yourself. Join a gym and gradually start a routine. Get more sleep and work towards eating healthier, now you can!
- Use your time wisely: That “day tour, four to twelve, or midnight tour” is now yours! Take time with your family and enjoy things together (like all the holidays that you couldn’t before). Pursue what interests you and start a new hobby. Work hours that fit into your new life. Take a class (there are lots of adult education classes out there).
- Reflect positively: Reflect on your accomplishments, and retiring from the NYPD is a tremendous one. There are negative aspects to every job, but when you really think about it, there are a lot of positive memories to reflect on as well; so you decide!
- Embrace change: Change is good, although it can be challenging at first; challenge can help us grow. Remember, retirement from the police department is a huge change in your life; acknowledge it, and move towards a positive new life!
Richard Handibode, Jr., LCSW-SEP, graduated from the Training Institute for Mental Health in June 2017 and along with his awesome classmates, has forged on to the fourth year of study. In addition to studying psychoanalysis, he has been certified as a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner by the Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute. Richard graduated from Fordham University with a masters degree in clinical social work and before becoming a psychotherapist, completed a twenty-one year career with the New York City Police Department having retired in the rank of Sergeant Special Assignment.