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Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute & Society

Channing T. Lipson, M.D.


The Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute is privileged to claim Dr. Channing Lipson as one of our pre-eminent clinicians. Dr. Lipson has been immersed in the practice and teaching of psychoanalysis in our community for over 50 years, and he is widely admired and much appreciated for his wisdom and skill in the art of analysis.

At the core of the analytic identity, Dr. Lipson has said, is "the physicianly attitude," a collection of characteristics which is not exclusive to physicians, but derives from wanting to be a caretaker and from being concerned about the people you are caring for. His own particular early role models for caretaking came not only from the those responsible for training him, but also from his earliest life. His father, a successful businessman, "took care of everybody. He brought people from Europe, found them jobs," and joyfully cared for his family, his customers, and his whole community. Dr. Lipson has developed this attitude of fundamental respect and concern for his fellow man as well, and in conjunction with their mother and grandparents, he has conveyed this attitude to his children.

It was perhaps inevitable given his caretaking emphasis that Dr. Lipson would gravitate to the position of Chairman of the Candidate Progression Committee, where he served for many years, shepherding several generations of new analysts through their coursework and cases, always trusting them to find their own voices and develop their own unique gifts.

Absent from Dr. Lipson's accounting, but very much present in the example he set for all of us, is his adherence to the classic admonition, "Physician, heal thyself." Dr. Lipson has maintained a second, parallel career throughout his long years of analytic practice and teaching. As a violinist, Dr. Lipson has always found time to practice and opportunities to perform. A careful and attentive listener by day, he is a "speaker" through his music by night, and in so organizing his life, he has taken care of and enriched himself.

Dr. Lipson is semi-retired now, having phased out his analytic practice, but he continues to perform regularly and--to the delight of his former students--to transmit his knowledge through the written word. His most recent publication is a study of one's own auditory imagery: its genesis and its functions. One hopes this is but the overture to a lengthy series to come.

Hopefully expressions of his outlook can be sensed in the essay which follows. Dr. Charles Burch reports upon his recent meeting with Dr. Lipson and reflects upon his years-long association with this gifted teacher and clinician.

An Afternoon with Bud Lipson

By Charles Burch, Ph.

As I drove along Middlebelt Road on my way to Channing “Bud” Lipson’s home to have a conversation for this profile, I recalled the first occasion of visiting him. Thirteen years ago, when I was a candidate at MPI, Dr. Lipson invited all the candidates to a brunch at his home to discuss and exchange ideas about the experience of being a candidate. At that time, Dr. Lipson was the Chair of the Candidate Progression Committee, a position he held for 18 years. While I can’t remember what we discussed, I do know that he was as interested in hearing from us about our experiences as we were in hearing from him about getting the most out of our psychoanalytic education.

In recalling that brunch, I was reminded of my first learning experiences with Dr. Lipson years ago at the Detroit Psychiatric Institute where he was a consultant. He chaired a seminar in Emergency Psychiatry for the psychiatric residents, but those of us in other disciplines like psychology and social work were welcome to sit in and participate. In addition to observing how quickly Bud could develop a psychodynamic formulation to aid in understanding a complex clinical problem--and an urgent one--I was struck by the genuine respect he had for the clinical opinions of those present, while also offering his own views for consideration. The atmosphere he created, one of mutual respect, of struggling to understand complex clinical phenomena and of finding ways of helping someone in distress, was a model of teaching and learning that has led many of us to seek out Dr. Lipson as an analyst, supervisor, teacher and consultant over the course of his career.

When we settled in to talk in Bud’s cheery and comfortable study, we both acknowledged we didn’t know quite how to proceed with this profile project. Neither of us had any experience in doing this kind of work. I had written a few questions to serve as a guide but was unsure how useful they would be. Mostly we had a conversation that covered a good deal of ground with respect to Dr. Lipson’s views and experiences in and about psychoanalysis, spanning over fifty years. I will try to capture some of the highlights of our conversation in what follows. For convenience, I’ll frame it in a question and answer format, as Bud responded to a range of topics.

CB: Could you comment on some of the current struggles in our field, especially as reflected in the American Psychoanalytic Association?

CL: With respect to the question of Certification, it’s no secret that I have been opposed to it. I can understand there should be something by which we can be assured of maintaining certain standards for our graduate analysts, but I am more “pro” the independence of Institutes. I am not in favor of a lot of federalization of these matters, though it’s complicated, since any organization that grows in size almost invariably becomes more structuralized and begins to put more emphasis on the rules by which things are to be done. Certification does serve a purpose, although I’m not sure in looking over the past fifty years that it’s produced the intended results. The evidence for that is not convincing. For example, has certification resulted in improving the level of creativity or ethical behavior among our analysts? I don’t see that this has happened. Some of the most creative analysts I’ve known or have read were not certified and this has been so over the course of time in psychoanalysis.

Of course, the certification question is linked with the issue of training analyst appointments. Some years ago I had a colleague who said he thought everyone who was graduated should be a training analyst. The problem there, as another colleague pointed out was, “Would you want him analyzing a candidate?” Did you ever hear Kubie's definition of a training analyst? A training analyst is one who pretends he doesn’t know everything. I recall that during a Site Visit--not the most recent one, the one before that--one of the comments was that the screening process for Training Analyst selection was too daunting but that the quality of supervision of the candidates was excellent. This suggested to me that we’re doing a fine job of preparing our analysts locally to become good analysts and supervisors but that we’ve made it very difficult to advance our analysts to training analyst positions.

As I think about it, the biggest problem is pretending there isn’t a problem. We need to make some attempts to deal with this differently, more effectively.

CB: I wonder what you think makes for a competent and effective analyst?

CL: That’s difficult to say. I’m unsure there’s any way to judge that. Analysts that others were ready to dismiss have done some of the most creative and successful work I’ve seen over the years. I recall one individual who put off just about everyone and yet, the patients did well. How are we to know? No one really knows what’s going on in the consulting room.

We don’t hear enough of, “I might be wrong.” I’ve been reading, am nearly finished with an excellent book by Jerome Groopman, M.D., How Doctors Think. Briefly, he described a serious problem: many doctors, trained in the finest of techniques, display a kind of thinking which leads them to make errors in diagnosis and other aspects of patient care. In other words, we can be led into finding what we expect, that there are fallacies in our thought process we need to pay attention to. Groopman advises that doctors have to learn to think outside the box in order to counter the effects of faulty thought processes in trying to figure out what’s going on with a patient.

I think we can use this approach in educating analysts. I’m reminded of sitting in on Treatment Clinic meetings discussing the question of analyzability of a patient being presented. To me, the question might more appropriately be: “Analyzable by whom?”

CB: With respect to psychoanalytic education, what are your thoughts about the curriculum or course work?

CL: I’ve been on the Curriculum Committee recently and I have reservations about a highly structured curriculum. We have had this plan of candidates coming in and going through the course work as a group, though that’s been changing in the past few years with recent candidate groups being merged. I favor as much individualization as possible. I think we should aim to be flexible in our approach to course work. Some candidates may be prepared for some of our courses much earlier than they can take them in the schedule.

When I was in training at the Chicago Institute of Psychoanalysis, we had a combination of lectures and seminars. I think both are good. We shouldn’t necessarily restrict ourselves to the seminar method only. I had some wonderful instructors in my training. Heinz Kohut gave excellent lectures and that’s what he did, lectured. Some- one asked him why he didn’t ask the candidates to participate and he said they wouldn’t have anything to add!

CB: Speaking of your training, how did you become interested in psychoanalysis and get started in the field?

CL: I didn’t begin in psychiatry; I began with Internal Medicine .When I entered the army at Percy Jones Hospital in Battle Creek, MI, I was put in charge of an outpatient clinic where we were treating reservists who had been recalled to staff the hospitals as well as their families. Many of the illnesses or conditions we saw were emotionally determined, so I was frequently seeking psychiatric consultation. The two psychiatrists at Percy Jones who had a strong influence on me were Tom Petty and Viggo Jensen. They introduced me to unconscious motivation, dynamics, and Freud. At that point I became 'hooked' and, at my request, I was sent to Fort Sam Houston in Texas for four months psychiatric training headed by a Menninger graduate, and from there to Korea. In Korea, after having my books shipped over, I did a lot of reading in psychoanalysis, Freud and others. When I returned, I went to work at Detroit Receiving.

There was a wonderful attitude at Detroit Receiving under Tom Petty’s direction. There were numerous analytic discussions; all analysts in the community were invited in for teaching, not just those representing one point of view. Subsequent to completing my analytic training, I joined MAP, one of the area’s three local analytic societies. It was under this auspices that I had the opportunity to plan and administer analytically-based seminars for members of the larger therapeutic community. This was an outreach program in the spirit of Richard Sterba’s approach to community relations. While this program was very successful, it was ultimately attenuated and finally discontinued as MPI developed the extension division with faculty that taught in both programs.

CB: Can you say whether there were other analytic thinkers that had a strong influence on you?

CL: Between the experiences I had in the army and those that were a result of the dis-accreditation of the first Institute, there were no heroes left, so I can’t say that certain authors or analytic thinkers have particularly influenced me. Certain names from the past come to mind that have left a lasting impression. These would include Richard Sterba, Ernst Kris, Heinz Kohut, David Rapaport, as well as many contemporary authors.

CB: What do you think about the diversity of mental health disciplines that has emerged in analytic training over the past two decades? CL: I like the diversity. You know, that’s how it was from the beginning. There were physicians, of course, but a lot of the early analysts came from wide ranging fields. I do think it’s good to have some candidates who are doctors; I don’t mean just medical doctors, though they do add something from their training, but individuals who have had the rigorous training that goes with attaining a doctoral degree.

CB: I wish we could talk longer, but I have to get to Ann Arbor for my afternoon appointments.

Dr. Lipson and I walked out together, admiring a spectacular spring day and the azaleas that were coming into bloom in his front courtyard.