Mourning, Loss, and Grief

2-Year Certificate Program (2YCP)
2023-24, 4th Term — Mondays, 6:30-7:45pm
Christopher J. Keats, MD
Nancy Goldov, PsyD, LP, BC-DMT


Welcome to the last seminar series of your two-year program. Congratulations on reaching this occasion! This course and the readings found in this syllabus will provide a framework for thinking about mourning, loss, and grief. The material we will read and the themes inherent in mourning, loss, and grief, hold some of the most profound and basic issues that we as humans face: issues of existence and non-existence, life and death, love and loss, human and clinical limitations. Analytic wisdom on facing and dealing with all losses (developmental steps, transitions, separations, relationship endings, injury, illness, aging, termination, and death) is rich and varied.

Learning Objectives

Students in the course will:

  1. be able to identify aspects of grieving in themselves and in people coming to them for treatment, and to respond with empathy and compassion.
  2. appreciate the many manifestations of loss and the value of providing witness in the face of loss.
  3. be able to describe aspects of our own vulnerability working with loss and endings, and to list what is mutative in facing loss.

April 8, 2024 — Mourning and Melancholia

[22 pages]

Freud, S. (1917). “Mourning and Melancholia” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XIV, pp237-258.

April 15, 2024 — Naming the Nonexistent: Melancholia as Mourning over a Possible Object

[15 pages]

Dana Amir looks further into the actual (reality) and possible (psychic) dimensions in the experience of loss. While starting with Freud’s paper “Mourning and Melancholia,” she expands on how loss allows one to move into the realm of the possible: loss involves a return from the actual to the possible. Mourning involves not only lamenting what was lost but creating something new from that loss, or instead of what is lost from death, what comes to life from death.

Dana Amir is a clinical psychologist, supervising and training analyst at the Israel psychoanalytic society, faculty member and head of the interdisciplinary doctoral program in psychoanalysis at Haifa University. She is also an editor, poet and literature researcher. In addition to various articles, she is the author of six poetry books and three psychoanalytic non-fiction books.

Amir, D. (2008). Naming the nonexistent: Melancholia as mourning over a possible object. Psychoanalytic Review, 95, 1-15.

April 22, 2024 — "Too Early, Too Late?": Endings in Psychotherapy - An Attachment Perspective

[13 pages]

“Poised between past and future, every ending encompasses both hope and regret, accomplishment and disappointment, loss and gain. The inherent ambivalence of endings tests our capacity as therapists to tolerate ambiguity, to encompass both optimism and sadness in the face of loss, and to hold onto a realistic appraisal of our strengths and shortcomings. In theory therapy will come to a natural end when the problems troubling the patient have been partially or wholly resolved. In practice these ideal conditions are not always met: endings ‘happen’, sometimes unexpectedly, abruptly, or occasionally not at all as the treatment seems to drag on indefinitely.”

“The paper starts by a brief foray into endings in literature in the hope that this may animate the discussion and provide relevant examples. It then moves to discuss, as one must, Freud’s views on termination; thirdly, some empirical findings relevant to termination are surveyed; finally, an attachment-based model of ending is presented, depending on the transference/ countertransference pattern between patient and therapist.”

Jeremy Holmes was trained at Cambridge University and University College London. He practices as a Consultant Psychotherapist in North Devon. He also holds the post of Visiting Professor at University College London (UCL) and was Senior Clinical Research Fellow at Peninsula Medical School until 2003.

Holmes, J. (1997) “Too Early, Too Late?”: Endings in Psychotherapy – An Attachment Perspective. British Journal of Psychotherapy, 14:159-171

April 29, 2024 — Beginnings and Endings: Time and Termination in Psychoanalysis

[7 pages]

“This article addresses the complex process of termination in psychoanalysis. Implicit in self-consciousness is the knowledge of death; similarly, one begins treatment knowing that it must end. It is argued that the end is always present in the beginning of treatment and, conversely, termination leads back to the onset of analysis. It is also proposed that termination issues, rather than represent a phase in the treatment, are present throughout the analysis. Terminations are different from endings in that terminations are inevitably incomplete. A case is offered to illustrate these points and to show some of the challenges encountered even when termination is mutually planned and agreed upon.”

Danielle Knafo, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, a prolific author, and a popular speaker. She was a professor at LIU-Post in its clinical psychology doctoral program for 22 years, where she chaired a concentration on Serious Mental Illness (SMI). Additionally, she is faculty and supervisor at NYU’s Postdoctoral Program for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis and Adelphi’s Postgraduate Programs for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy. She writes and lectures on many subjects, including psychoanalysis, art, creativity, trauma, psychosis, sexuality and gender, and technology. She is a writing consultant and leads private writing groups. Dr. Knafo maintains a private practice in Manhattan and Great Neck, NY.

Knafo, D. (2018). Beginnings and endings: Time and termination in psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 35(1), pp1-7

May 6, 2024 — Making a Difference in Patients’ Lives: Emotional Experience in the Therapeutic Setting

[29 pages]

Sandra Buechler’s central impetus is the criticality of the emotional experience of both patient and analyst for emotional change. She integrates emotion theory and interpersonal psychoanalysis. She is more open than most analysts about her own emotional life. Grief has been an enduring theme running throughout all her writing. She describes it as exquisitely as any. In this paper she develops her vision of loss as an “ever-present, ongoing human experience, concretized and made manifest by a death.” P.148.

Sandra Buechler, Ph.D. is a Training and Supervising Analyst at the William Alanson White Institute. She is a Supervisor at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center and at the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy. She is a member of the editorial board of Contemporary Psychoanalysis.

Buechler, S. (2008). Grief. Making a Difference in Patients’ Lives. Emotional Experience in the Therapeutic Setting. New York: Routledge, pp137-165.

May 13, 2024 — Sonny’s Blues

[27 pages]

We are going to read James Baldwin’s short story, “Sonny’s Blues” (1957), keeping in mind the oppression and sorrow in the black community, and widened notion of grief which connects sorrow to the ongoing trauma of systemic oppression.

This has been described by Breeshia Wade in her book  called Grieving While Black (not assigned reading for this week). Also keeping in mind another non-assigned article, Lynn Layton’s “Transgenerational hauntings: Toward a social psychoanalysis and an ethic of dis-illusionment” in Toward a Social Psychoanalysis: Culture, character, and normative unconscious processes. (2020, New York, Routledge, pp255-298). In Layton’s piece, she asks us to look at the history of whites having and doing, and the raced and classed ethic which haunts America and psychoanalysis.

Baldwin, J. (1957). “Sonny’s Blues”, Originally published in The Partisan Review. Collected in Going to Meet the Man, New York: Vintage Books, 122-148.

May 20, 2024 — Climate Change and Loss, Grieving the Ungrieveable

[28 pages]

Ashlee Willox, an academic outside the world of clinical psychoanalysis, looks at the effects of climate change and human and non-human loss. While contemplating human and/or non-human lives and which relationships are deemed worthy, she highlights the important question of what is considered “grieveable.” Borrowing from Judith Butler who defines grievable life as life that is deemed worthy of mourning after it is lost, she argues that life, in order to be grievable, first has to be recognized as a life and that recognition depends on how that life is framed.

Ashlee Cunsolo, Ph.D., is the Founding Dean of the School of Arctic and Subarctic Studies at the Labrador Campus of Memorial University, and a climate change and health researcher.  She has an interest in the climatic, social, environmental and cultural determinants of Indigenous health, intercultural learning and dialogue, environmental ethics, and the social justice implications of social, environmental and health inequality.

Willox, A.C. (2012) “Climate Change as the Work of Mourning.” Ethics and the Environment, 17:2, pp137–164

June 3, 2024 — Incalculability of Endings

[16 pages]

Dodi Goldman is a lovely writer interested in Winnicott, potential space, paradox, vital sparks and the form of things unknown. In earlier papers he explores the strains related to the precarious and cyclical way in which potential space is generated in the analytic relationship. He asks us to attend to the importance of de-adaptation as well as adaptation, collision, and negotiation cycles.  In another beautiful paper he plays with Winnicott’s prayer, “Oh God! May I be alive when I die.” Here he wonders whether Winnicott was yearning for a psychic space in which he could hold both life and death. He conjectures whether Winnicott’s wish was to bridge the ultimate dissociation between life and death. In this paper Goldman raises the tension between accountability and desire, treatment and experience. Pulling from literature, philosophy, Freud, Winnicott, and Bion he raises the question of the incalculability of endings.

Dodi Goldman, Ph.D. is an analyst at the William Allison White Institute and the author of several books on Winnicott and numerous articles.

Goldman, D. (2010). Parting ways. In J Salberg (Ed.) Good Enough Endings: Breaks, Interruptions, and Terminations from Contemporary Relational Perspectives. New York: Routledge, pp241-256.