The Contributions of Don and Helen Meyers to Psychoanalysis

by Glen O. Gabbard, M.D.

To analysts of my generation, Don and Helen Meyers have always been fixtures in the American psychoanalytic scene. From my earliest days of attending meetings of the American Psychoanalytic Association, I remember noting that Don and Helen were ubiquitous. If I attended a council or a committee meeting, one of them was there. When I joined the JAPA Editorial Board, Don was there and Helen had just left. When I attended discussion groups, either Don or Helen or both would frequently be present, speaking up and making provocative comments that facilitated the discussion. Later when I became a training analyst and was trying to help recent graduates get certified, I turned to Don and Helen on the Certification Committee to help advise the applicants for certification on writing up their cases.

A partial listing of their activities within the American underscores why the impression of ubiquity was so prominent. Helen has served as a fellow of the Board of Professional Standards, a Councilor-at-Large on the Executive Council, a member of the Committee on New Training Facilities, a member of the Committee on Certification, a member of the Program Committee, chair of the International Relations Advisory Committee, and chair of the COPE Study Group on issues in the psychoanalytic education of women for 12 years. She also served on the JAPA Editorial Board from 1988 to 1991.

Helen has never been shy in making her opinion known in whatever committee she is serving. I remember vividly an instance in which I was sitting next to Helen during a heated Program Committee meeting. When it finally came time to vote on the panels, the committee chair asked us to indicate our preference for a specific panel with a show of hands. When I tried to raise my right had to vote for a panel that Helen was against, she grabbed my arm so it would not be seen by the vote counters. When I tried to compensate by raising my left arm, she grabbed that one too. Fortunately, I was rescued by the Program Committee chair, who indicated to Helen that the committee operated on democratic principles and that I was free to vote for whichever panel I preferred.

Don served on the JAPA editorial board from 1991 to 1993. In addition, he has served as a member of numerous committees, including the Certification Committee and the Board of Professional Standards, the Committee on Psychoanalytic Education Study Group on Progression, the Committee on Affiliate Societies, the first and second Joint Committees on External Credentialing, and the New Psychoanalytic Centers Committee. He has also been Councilor-at-Large on the Executive council. He is a current member of the Board of directors of the American Psychoanalytic Foundation.

Although I have not listed their activities in the International Psychoanalytic Association, the Meyers are both equally active in that organization. But beyond their participation, they exude a number of qualities that have made them popular teachers, supervisors, and mentors. Both Don and Helen are characterized by a generativity that has won them teaching awards and made them highly sought after supervisors. They are remarkable free of envy and therefore able to nurture the personal and professional development of younger colleagues without feeling threatened, challenged, or bitter. When they visited the Topeka Institute, Helen made a special point of meeting with the women candidates and helping them with their struggles to balance personal and professional responsibilities.

In an era when psychoanalysis is under attack, Don and Helen have avoided the siege mentality of some of their senior colleagues. Both have a broad vision of psychoanalysis and have sought to expand it and make it more available. Similarly, they have eschewed theoretical rigidity and modeled an open-minded and pluralistic approach to the clinical situation.

In their travels around the country and abroad, Don and Helen have been extraordinary ambassadors for psychoanalysis. They have maintained a fierce dedication to psychoanalytic understanding when others are disillusioned with the sad state of health care economics and the emphasis on ‘‘quick fix’’ remedies. Both have struggled with some serious health problems in recent years, but they continue to travel and teach, undaunted by physical infirmities. Throughout all of their professional pursuits and personal travails, Don and Helen seem to grow closer together each time I see them. After their visit to the Topeka Institute, one of the candidates said to me, ‘‘The two of them really seem to love each other.’’ For those of us who had seen them in action during the series of conferences, dinners, and presentations, it was difficult to reach any other conclusion.